“Do they die? Blake saw a fairy's funeral;
but in Ireland we say they are immortal.”
-W.B. Yeats, Folktales of the Irish Peasantry
Mood is a fickle goddess; at turns, She inspires us to drink the wine to the lees and take to the streets in libidinous revelry and, yet, as readily compels us to draw the shades to the sill and sit in silence as the gloaming steals the last bits of sun and nothing but the silver of the moon steals in upon the room in the slivers of window which the shades can never seem to seal. Then the teapot boils and hisses. And there it is: the boiling, hissing pot, namely sibilance.
All words and sense and sentence and sentience and sentitiousness serve but one master: rhetorical roundness, at which men's hearts gladden and ears prick. I share a sentence for illustration from a master, Billy Butler (in his native Sligo, he was better known as W.B. Yeats—I think he owned an office supply company, but I may be wrong on that front). Here, in his Folktales of the Irish Peasantry, he describes an old man, Paddy Flynn, from whom he learnt many stories:
"In the triple solitude of age and eccentricity and partial deafness he goes about much pestered by children."
The "triple solitude" anticipates the tricolon of descriptive attributes, enhanced by the dancing, subtly tippling joy of the assonance in "age and...and partial...about" and the guttural traipse through the tripping shorts of "eccentricity," "deafness" and "pestered." In addition to these sound elements, he achieves much in delaying the subject and predicate, giving Paddy's condition a gravitas and presence which grabs us by the ear and brain, forcing us to hear and think. It is a glorious sentence which gives one a sense of the paradox of that occasional cortège of children which attends or mocks an old man's solitude—that Greek chorus provides the bas relief against which the tragedy of age plays out.
Earlier in the same work, he argues for the reality of myth and legend which lies deep within our breasts, obfuscated by the seeming oppression of what we take for "here" and "now," symbolized best by that endlessly ephemeral mirror of such ideas—the newspaper:
"The Celt, and his cromlechs, and his pillar-stones, these will not change much—indeed, it is doubtful if anybody at all changes at any time. In spite of hosts of deniers, and asserters, and wise-men, and professors, the majority still are averse to sitting down to dine thirteen at table, or being helped to salt, or walking under a ladder, or seeing a single magpie flirting his chequered tail. There are, of course, children of light who have set their faces against all this, though even a newspaper man, if you entice him into a cemetery at midnight, will believe in phantoms, for everyone is a visionary, if you scratch him deep enough. But the Celt is a visionary without scratching."
Having segued successfuly from rhetoric to myth and legend, I would like to underscore the fundamental truth Billy Butler is driving at: the Celt—with all his belief in myth and superstition—knows something about death, confronted as he is by his megalithic cromlechs, which he cannot easily ignore. Joyce was onto something when he linked the Greeks and the Irish. Do not the Greeks have their cromlechs? They do; in Hellas, though, the tombs rise like great beehives and are known as such, i.e. qoloi. We must all serve the queen bee, boys. The queen is death and her hive is where we shall find our eternal employment. Get your working papers in order...soon your recollections will fade and with them your relationships will become like dust long ago trod across and scattered upon the floor of time. The tetra/palaispodih or "the dust of four ages of ago"—to which Callimachos consigned poor Heraclitos' Nightingales in his moving elegy for the Hallicanassian—is that to which we all are consigned.
Still, all myth and legend need not leave us in the doldrums. Maiming will suffice—a maiming which results from pure joy. Again, Yeats:
"Do not think the fairies are always little. Everything is capricious about them, even their size. They seem to take what size or shape pleases them. Their chief occupations are feasting, fighting, and making love, and playing the most beautiful music. They have only one industrious person amongst them, the lepra-caun—the shoemaker. Perhaps they wear their shoes out with dancing. Near the village of Ballisodare is a little woman who lived amongst them seven years. When she came home she had no toes—she had danced them off."
by Columbanus Bestrode