Quite a nice day here in Portland. I worked with my friend Morgan yesterday delivering beer to pubs. Quite a bit of fun in its own way. More of that coming up. I guess I will be getting in physical shape with it all!
The Four Points Of Pondering Of This Day For Yours Truly:
How do we make the world more beautiful for our passing through this life?
Who is it that we touch?
How do we do less harm?
What is the nature of love?
Perhaps these are the eternal questions… but I like the running of them through my mind.
Working on a new website, hopefully soon it will be revealed!
If you haven’t downloaded the magazine, you don’t know what you are missing! 8o)
On The Menu
Deirdre of the Sorrows
Poetry: William Butler Yeats…
Deirdre of the Sorrows
By Megan Powell
Fedlimid the bard hosted a festival for his lord King Conchobar of Ulster, while in the same house Fedlimid’s wife cried out in pain.
At the end of her labor, a servant entered the room where Fedlimid, Conchobar, and the rest of the guests celebrated. “The child is a girl,” she told Fedlimid.
While a boy would have been preferable, this news in itself was not disastrous. But then the druid Cathbad stood.
“She will grow to be beautiful,” Cathbad announced, speaking not only to Fedlimid but to the entire room. “Her name shall be Deirdre, and she will be the most beautiful woman in the world. But that beauty shall bring death to many heroes, and much sorrow to Ulster.”
Having uttered his prophesy, Cathbad sat. Conchobar’s warriors demanded that the child be killed.
“I will not allow it,” Conchobar said. “Such beauty will not be destroyed needlessly. I will arrange for Deirdre’s care, and when she is of a suitable age, she will be my wife.”
Fedlimid nodded eagerly. Such a match was a great honor, and it was only Conchobar’s intervention that guaranteed the girl’s survival.
Conchobar hid his prize deep in the mountains, away from the eyes of other men. As she matured, Deirdre only saw three people: a nurse, a fosterer and a teacher.
One day, Deirdre watched as her fosterer killed a calf to eat. The calf’s blood ran bright red in the snow, and a raven swooped down.
“If there were a man with hair as black as that raven, skin as white as that snow, and cheeks as red as that blood, I would wish to marry him,” Deirdre said, in what was perhaps the first manifestation of her second sight.
“There is such a man,” replied her teacher, Levarcham. While she was intelligent, Deirdre was also innocent; and since it was approaching the time when she was to marry the king, Levarcham supposed that she should know something of the world. “His name is Naoise, a son of Usnach. He is of the same race as the king your husband.”
“I should like to meet this man,” Deirdre said.
Her teacher hesitated. Deirdre was indeed as beautiful as Cathbad had predicted, and Conchobar wanted a virgin bride.
“I have never met Conchobar,” Deirdre continued. “Perhaps this Naoise can tell me something of him, and what I can expect as his wife in Ulster.”
Levarcham was convinced of Deirdre’s innocent intentions, and Naoise had an honorable reputation, so the meeting was arranged.
On the appointed day, Deirdre’s teacher escorted Naoise to meet her. “You are ideed beautiful, lady,” Naoise said in amazement, for he had not imagined that such beauty existed. “You are fit to be the wife of the king.”
“I had hoped that you might speak to me of my husband, and the other heroes of Ulster,” Deirdre said. So Naoise began to relate tales of great deeds, and eventually Deirdre’s teacher withdrew.
“Naoise,” Deirdre interupted. “I thank you for your stories, but they are not the true reason I wanted to see you.”
Naoise looked puzzled.
“I have never met Conchobar,” Deirdre said. “I have heard tales of his great deeds–your tales and others’. But all that I truly know of him is this: he took a babe from its parents, and kept his future wife as a prisoner with only the company of the animals and three people. I do not wish to be married to such a man, Naoise. I wish to be married to you.”
Naoise could not believe it. He would never have hoped to win such an unbearably beautiful woman’s love.
“You are the king’s,” he said, knowing as he spoke the words that he did not care. “If I took you away from him, we should have to live as exiles.”
“Exiles from what?” Deirdre asked. “Exiles from a land where we cannot possess what we most desire. I would embrace such an exile.”
“As would I,” Naoise said, and took her in his arms.
“Then come for me tonight,” Deirdre said. “I have never caused trouble; they will not expect me to try to escape.”
“I will be here,” Naoise promised. “And I will ask my brothers to join me as well.”
That night, Deirdre met the sons of Usnach outside the few buildings which had been the only home she had ever known. No one cried out in alarm; her disappearance was not noted until the morning, by which point Deirdre, Naoise, Ardan and Ainle were well on their way to Alba.
They formed an alliance with one of Alba’s kings. In return for aiding him in his battles–for the sons of Usnach were accomplished warriors–the exiles were allowed to wander freely.
They lived off the land, following the deer, and finally settled on the shore of Loch Etive. Deirdre had never been so happy. The first real decision of her life had been the right one. For their part, the sons of Usnach were satisfied. Their free lifestyle was welcome. Ardan and Ainle loved Deirdre as a sister; they felt no less priviledged than Naoise to have met her and won her affection.
Upon hearing of Deirdre’s abduction, Conchobar was outraged at the betrayal of the sons of Usnach. Later, when Deirdre’s complicity seemed undeniable, he raged inwardly at her as well. But he did not speak of his anger, and instead waited.
When he judged enough time had passed, he posed a question to his warriors as they feasted at Emain Macha. “Have any of you heard of a nobler company than those of us assembled here?”
Laughing, the heroes shook their heads.
“Yet we are not as great as we might be,” Conchobar continued. “The prowess of the sons of Usnach is well known. Why, they alone could defend Ulster against any other province. It is shameful that they remain exiles, especially for so pointless a reason as the fickleness of a woman. I would gladly welcome them back.”
The rest of the company nodded. “We would have counseled this, save for the heat of your anger,” they said.
“My anger has cooled,” Conchobar replied lightly. “I shall send a champion to fetch the sons of Usnach.”
After the feast, Conchobar privately summoned Conall the Victorious. “Tell me, Conall, what would you do if you were sent to bring back the sons of Usnach, but they were killed despite your promise of safe conduct?”
“I would kill the man that killed them,” Conall replied, “as well as any man who had a part in the plan.”
Conchobar nodded, and dismissed Conall. Then he secretly called Cuchulainn, son of Sualtam, and asked the same question.
“No man who performed such a deed would be safe,” Cuchulainn vowed. “Not even you could offer me a bribe sufficient to quell my wrath.”
After Cuchulainn left, Conchobar summoned Fergus, son of Roy, and posed the question a third time. “Such a foul deed would be avenged,” Fergus said. “I would slay any man–save you, of course, my lord–who had conspired to perform such murders.”
Conchobar smiled. “I am anxious to see the sons of Usnach again. Set out tomorrow, with all speed, and do not return without them. Return to Ireland at the Dún of Borrach, and do not linger. In fact, even if you yourself meet with some delay, send the sons of Usnach forward without you, for I weary of their exile.”
Fergus set out in his galley for Alba, accompanied by his two sons, Illannn the Fair and Buinne the Ruthless Red. When they reached Loch Etive, they debarked, and Fergus called out.
Naoise, Deirdre, Ardan and Ainle heard Fergus’s cry. “That was a man of Erin,” Naoise said, looking up from a game of chess.
Deirdre felt a sudden dread. “No,” she insisted. “That is a man of Alba. Pay no attention.”
But her warning was ignored, and Ardan went down to the shore and met Fergus and his sons. He brought them back, and the brothers were overjoyed at the message of friendship Fergus bore.
“The king wishes you to return from exile,” Fergus said. “I personally offer a promise of safe conduct, should you return to Ulster.”
“I wish to greet our fellows again,” Ardan said.
“Are they any more beloved than your brothers and I?” Deirdre asked.
“I long for the sight of the land I knew,” Ainle said.
“How can it compare to the beauty of Alba?” Deirdre asked.
“When it was a choice between Ulster without you, and exile with you, I gladly chose exile,” Naoise said to Deirdre. “But if I can again be welcome in Ulster, with you by my side, how could I do otherwise?”
“Listen to me,” Deirdre pleaded. “This will end badly, I am sure of it. We must not return.”
But the sons of Usnach were determined to return to their own land, so unhappily Deirdre boarded the galley with them the next morning. “We shall never see this land again,” she predicted quietly.
They landed at the Dún of Borrach, as Fergus had arranged with Conchobar. Unknown to Fergus, Conchobar had spoken to Borrach, ordering that he hold a feast. Unable to refuse Borrach’s hospitality, Fergus decided that he must send his charges on without his company.
“For the king was very clear, and said that nothing must delay you,” Fergus said. The sons of Usnach were annoyed at this change of plans; Deirdre was terrified. “My sons shall accompany you, and guarantee your safety.”
A vision came to Deirdre: Naoise, Ardan, Ainle, headless, and Illann dead as well, under a cloud of blood. “No, I beg you. We must not go. At least let us wait for the end of the feast.”
But once again, her advice was ignored, and they continued to Emain Macha. Conchobar received them splendidly, and placed the palace, the Red Branch House, at their disposal.
That evening, Conchobar summoned Deirdre’s old teacher, Levarcham. “Go and see Deirdre, and tell me if she is still the most beautiful woman in the world.”
Levarcham kissed Deirdre, who wept to see her teacher once more. “Beware the king,” Levarcham said. “He is kind and hospitable now, but he plots treachery.” She took her leave quickly, and returned to Conchobar. “It is sad,” she told the king. “She lived a hard life in the mountains of Alba; it has ruined her.”
Conchobar’s jealousy cooled, and he considered letting Naoise keep this woman who was no longer beautiful. But later, after he had drunk more wine, he sent a second messenger to bring him news of Deirdre’s appearance.
This messenger went in secret, and peered in a window. Deirdre glimpsed the spy, and cried out in outrage. Enraged, Naoise flung a chessman at the man, and put out one of his eyes.
“Truly, her beauty is great,” the wounded man told Conchobar. “Though it cost me one eye, I would gladly have stayed and gazed upon her with the other.”
These words rekindled Conchobar’s rage. He ordered his warriors to set fire to the Red Branch House. “Slay all within,” he shouted. “All save Deirdre!”
Fergus’s son Buinne ran outside as the first firebrands were thrown. He put out the fire, and slaughtered those men who came within reach. Seeing the prowess of only one of the five men inside the House, Conchobar called Buinne to him.
“I offer you land, and my friendship,” Conchobar said. “I am king; they are exiles. Abandon their cause.”
Buinne hesitated, and accepted Conchobar’s offer. He survived the night, and expected to become rich. But the land that Conchobar gave him, which had been green and fertile, turned barren that night, indignant that it was owned by a traitor.
After Buinne’s defection, Illann ran outside and continued the slaughter. “He will accept no bribe,” Conchobar predicted. So he turned to his son Fiacha, and gave him magic weapons, including his own shield. This shield was called “Moaner”, and roared whenever the man who carried it was in danger.
Fiacha fought Illann, who proved the stronger warrior. As Fiacha crouched beneath the shield, it roared for help. From a distance, Conall the Victorious heard the roar, and feared for his king’s life. He ran toward the duelists and, without pause, drove his spear through the body of Illann.
“I did not seek the king’s death,” Illann managed to say, having guessed the reason behind Conall’s action. “The sons of Usnach are inside, who came here under my father’s safe conduct. I only seek to protect them.”
Conall believed Illann’s dying words, and suspected the king’s involvement in the treacherous attack. He turned and slew Fiacha, who should have died at Illann’s hand.
All that night, the sons of Usnach beat back Conchobar’s warriors. But they began to tire, and with the dawn light realized that they must escape the Red Branch House or soon die.
“Stand in our center, behind our shields,” Naoise told Deirdre. “We shall protect you.”
They emerged, and cut their way past many warriors. In despair, Conchobar called the druid Cathbad.
“They must not escape,” the king said. “Do something to stop them, place a spell on them.” And, when Cathbad hesitated: “I promise to spare their lives.”
Cathbad agreed, and cast the illusion of a stormy sea about the exiles. Naoise tried to bear Deirdre on his shoulders, and keep her above water, but the water continued to rise. The sons of Usnach dropped their weapons, and they swam.
Conchobar’s men seized the sons of Usnach. Despite his promise to Cathbad, Conchobar condemned them to death.
The men of Ulster had witnessed the bravery of the sons of Usnach, and knew something of the king’s treachery; they all refused carry out the executions. Conchobar had to enlist the aid of a Norwegian, whose father had been killed by Usnach and who wished revenge upon the family.
Though they did not protest their sentence, the sons of Usnach each begged to be the first to die, and so avoid witnessing the deaths of the others. “Wait,” Naoise said. “This bickering must end. I shall lend our executioner the great sword “Retaliator”, given to me by Manannán son of Lêr. We shall die together.”
The sons of Usnach knelt beside one another, and with a single blow of the divine sword, all three were beheaded together.
Deirdre wept over her husband and his brothers, and cursed Conchobar. “I hate you more than any man alive,” she declared. “Perhaps even more than the man that struck the blow that killed them.”
“You must also be punished,” Conchobar said. “And if you hate me so much, then that shall be part of your punishment. And after a year, I will give you to the Norwegian for a year, so that you may enjoy the company of us both.”
This pronouncement did not affect Deirdre in the least; all that she feared had already come to pass. As Conchobar bore his prize to his palace, she broke away and hurled herself from a great height, breaking her body on the rocks and following the sons of Usnach into death.
Conchobar saw the prophesy of the druid Cathbad fulfilled. The men of Ulster never again trusted him. Fergus, when he heard what had happened, slaughtered many of Conchobar’s warriors, including his son. He and his own men then fled to Ailill and Medb of Connaught, Ulster’s greatest enemies. Cathbad cursed the king and the kingdom.
Ulster continued for a time, diminished and tarnished, and then fell. The buildings went to pieces, and grass grew up over them, and wild animals lived where once great men had walked.
Poetry: William Butler Yeats
The Cap and Bells
The jester walked in the garden:
The garden had fallen still;
He bade his soul rise upward
And stand on her window-sill.
It rose in a straight blue garment,
When owls began to call:
It had grown wise-tongued by thinking
Of a quiet and light footfall;
But the young queen would not listen;
She rose in her pale night-gown;
She drew in the heavy casement
And pushed the latches down.
He bade his heart go to her,
When the owls called out no more;
In a red and quivering garment
It sang to her through the door.
It had grown sweet-tongued by dreaming
Of a flutter of flower-like hair;
But she took up her fan from the table
And waved it off on the air.
`I have cap and bells,’ he pondered,
`I will send them to her and die’;
And when the morning whitened
He left them where she went by.
She laid them upon her bosom,
Under a cloud of her hair,
And her red lips sang them a love-song
Till stars grew out of the air.
She opened her door and her window,
And the heart and the soul came through,
To her right hand came the red one,
To her left hand came the blue.
They set up a noise like crickets,
A chattering wise and sweet,
And her hair was a folded flower
And the quiet of love in her feet.
He hears the Cry of the Sedge
I wander by the edge
Of this desolate lake
Where wind cries in the sedge:
Until the axle break
That keeps the stars in their round,
And hands hurl in the deep
The banners of East and West,
And the girdle of light is unbound,
Your breast will not lie by the breast
Of your beloved in sleep.
Through winter-time we call on spring,
And through the spring on summer call,
And when abounding hedges ring
Declare that winter’s best of all;
And after that there’s nothing good
Because the spring-time has not come —
Nor know that what disturbs our blood
Is but our longing for the tomb.
SHE is foremost of those that I would hear praised.
I have gone about the house, gone up and down
As a man does who has published a new book
Or a young girl dressed out in her new gown,
And though I have turned the talk by hook or crook
Until her praise should be the uppermost theme,
A woman spoke of some new tale she had read,
A man confusedly in a half dream
As though some other name ran in his head.
She is foremost of those that I would hear praised.
I will talk no more of books or the long war
But walk by the dry thorn until I have found
Some beggar sheltering from the wind, and there
Manage the talk until her name come round.
If there be rags enough he will know her name
And be well pleased remembering it, for in the old days,
Though she had young mens praise and old mens blame,
Among the poor both old and young gave her praise.