Apr 29 2017

Ireland in the Merry Month of May

Ireland in the Merry Month of May

Some final notes before I ship off to Dublintown:

The tourist busy season begins in May and reaches its peak in July and August.

On the mythology of May, starting with Robert Graves:

Five (V) was the number sacred to the Roman Moon-goddess Minerva. The month extends from April 15th to May 12th, and May Day, famous for its orgiastic revels and its magic dew, falls in the middle. It is possible that the carrying of sallow-willow branches on Palm Sunday, a variable feast which usually falls early in April, is a custom that properly belongs to the beginning of the willow month….[1]

The hawthorn, then, is the tree of enforced chastity. The month begins on May 13th, when the may is first in flower, and ends on June 9th. The ascetic use of the thorn, which corresponds with the cult of the Goddess Cardea must, however, be distinguished from its later orgiastic use which corresponds with the cult of the Goddess Flora, and which accounts for the English mediaeval habit of riding out on May Morning to pluck flowering hawthorn boughs and dance around the maypole. Hawthorn blossom has, for many men, a strong scent of female sexuality; which is why the Turks use a flowering branch as an erotic symbol. Mr. Cornish proves that this Flora cult was introduced into the British Isles in the late first-century B.C. by the second Belgic invaders; further, that the Glastonbury Thorn which flowered on Old Christmas Day (January 5th, New Style) and was cut down by the Puritans at the Revolution was a sport of the common hawthorn. The monks of Glastonbury perpetuated it and sanctified it with an improving tale about Joseph of Arimathea’s staff and the Crown of Thorns as a means of discouraging the orgiastic use of hawthorn blossom, which normally did not appear until May Day (Old Style)…. [2]

Christmas was merry in the middle ages, but May Day was still merrier. It was the time of beribboned Maypoles, of Collyridian cakes and ale, of wreaths and posies, of lovers’ gifts, of archery contests, of merritotters (see-saws) and merribowks (great vats of milk-punch). But particularly of mad-merry marriages ‘under the greenwood tree’, when the dancers from the Green went off, hand in hand, into the greenwood and built themselves little love-bowers and listened hopefully for the merry nightingale. ‘Mad Merry’ is another popular spelling of ‘Maid Marian’, and as an adjective became attached to the magician Merlin (the original ‘Old Moore’ of the popular almanacks) whose prophetic almanacks were hawked at fairs and merrimakes. Merlin was really Merddin, as Spenser explains in the Faerie Queene, but Robin Hood had taken his place as the May Bride’s lover, and he had become an old bearded prophet. The ‘merritotter’ is perhaps called after the scales (representing the Autumn equinox) in the hand of the Virgin in the Zodiac, who figured in the Mad Merry Merlin almanack: devoted readers naturally identified her with St. Mary Gipsy, for true-lovers’ fates tottered in her balance, see-sawing up and down….[3]

The main theme of poetry is, properly, the relations of man and woman, rather than those of man and man, as the Apollonian Classicists would have it. The true poet who goes to the tavern and pays the silver tribute to Blodeuwedd goes over the river to his death. As in the story of Llew Llaw: ‘All their discourse that night was concerning the affection and love that they felt one for the other and which in no longer space than one evening had arisen.’ This paradise lasts only from May Day to St. John’s Eve. Then the plot is hatched and the poisoned dart flies; and the poet knows that it must be so. For him there is no other woman but Cerridwen and he desires one thing above all else in the world: her love. As Blodeuwedd, she will gladly give him her love, but at only one price: his life. She will exact payment punctually and bloodily. Other women, other goddesses, are kinder-seeming. They sell their love at a reasonable rate—sometimes a man may even have it for the asking. But not Cerridwen: for with her love goes wisdom. And however bitterly and grossly the poet may rail against her in the hour of his humiliation—Catullus is the most familiar instance—he has been party to his own betrayal and has no just cause for complaint.[4]

From Frank O’Connor:

‘May Day’, so lovely that we have all tried our hand at translating it, exists only in one obscenely inaccurate transcript of which Kuno Meyer and Gerald Murphy have tried vainly to make linguistic sense. In spite of the fact that Meyer ascribed it to the ninth or early tenth century and Murphy to the eighth or ninth, I feel certain it was written by the author of the previous poem, scarcely earlier than the eleventh century, and that what Kenneth Jackson calls its ‘curious style’ is the deliberate archaism of an excellent scholar, who not only played with new metres, but omitted definite articles and the conjunction ocus.

Gairt cuí cruaid den
‘Is fochen sam saír!’
Suidid sine serb
I mbí cerb caill chraíb.

Cerbaid sam sruth snuad;
Saigid graig luath linn;
Lethaid fat fraích folt;
For-beir gort fann finn.

Fubair os scéith sciach;
Im-reith réid rian rith;
Cuirithir suan sál;
Tuigithir bláth bith.

Berait beich bec nert
Bert bonn bochtai bláth
Berid slabrai sliab,
Feraid seng sian sáith.

Seinm crot, caille ceol
Co ngrenn seol síd slán;
Sethair den do dinn;
Dethaid loch linn lád.

O’Connor’s translation:

The harsh, sturdy cuckoo calls, ‘Welcome, beautiful summer.’ The expanse of the heather’s hair spreads and the pale weak corn thrives.

The budding of the hawthorn threatens the deer; the sea tide runs smoothly; the sea goes to sleep and blossom covers the earth.

Bees of small strength carry a load of plucked blossom; the mountain sustains the cattle; the lean one sings a song of plenty.

The music of the wood is like harp-playing, a perfect peace of melody. The house is cleared of garbage, the flooded pool drops. [5]

From Jeffrey Gantz:

The first day of May, called Beltene, marked the beginning of summer; this feast has since given rise to May Eve[,] Walpurgisnacht and May Day. Beltene was a less important day, and consequently, less information about it has survived; the name seems to mean ‘fire of Bel’ (Bel presumably being the Irish descendant of the continental god Belenos) or ‘bright fire’, and there is a tradition that cattle were driven between two fires on this day so that the smoke would purify them. In any case, the rites of Beltene were probably directed towards ensuring the fertility of land and stock. The Welsh hero Pryderi is born on the first of May, and this fact coupled with the unusual circumstances of his birth (the concurrent birth of colts, the otherworld visitor) suggests that Beltene was also a day when the real and the fantastic merged.[6]

Owen Barfield on why the month of May is always “merry”:

Thus, when a Roman spoke of events as auspicious or sinister, or when some natural object was said in the Middle Ages to be baleful, or benign, or malign, a herb to possess such and such a virtue, an eye to be evil, or the bones of a saint to be holy, or even, probably, when Gower wrote:

The day was merry and fair enough,

it is true that these things were described from the human point of view, but the activity was felt to emanate from the object itself.[7]

Some May miscellany:

‘And now, Sally, I’m safe in bed. Stir the fire, my old darling.’ For although it was the first week in May, the night was frosty. ‘And tell me all about the Tiled House again, and frighten me out of my wits.’[8]

A shaven space of lawn one soft May evening. [9]

When I answered that I did not know, she said, “the month of May, because of the Virgin, and the lily of the valley, because it never sinned, but came pure out of the rocks,” and then she asked, “what is the cause of the three cold months of winter?”[10]

NOTES

[1] Graves, White Goddess – A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth. 1948. NY: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. Second Edition. 1975. p. 174.

[2] Graves, White Goddess – A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth 175–76.

[3] Graves, White Goddess – A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth 398.

[4] Graves, White Goddess – A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth 447–48.

[5] O’Connor, (A Short History of Irish Literature: a Backward Look. NY: Viking. 1967. pp. 77–78.

[6] Gantz, Jeffrey. Early Irish Myths and Sagas. NY: Penguin. 1981. 1988. “Introduction” 13.

[7] Barfield, Owen. History in English Words. NY: George H. Doran Co. 1926. p. 159.

[8] Le Fanu, Joseph Sheridan. The House by the Churchyard. London: Tinsley, Brothers. 1863. Reprint. Dublin: James Duffey. 1904. “Chapter XI – Some talk about the haunted house—being, as I suppose, only old woman’s tales,” 54.

[9] Joyce, Ulysses. 1922. Random House: NY. 1946. XIV [“Oxen of the Sun”] 414.

[10] Yeats, The Celtic Twilight. 1893. “Happy and Unhappy Theologians.”


Apr 24 2017

What I Read to Prepare for Ireland

What I Read to Prepare for Ireland

*

Things Previously Read and Re-reviewed

Beckett, Samuel. Waiting for Godot. 1954.

Burke, Edmund. Reflections on the Revolution in France. 1791.

Gantz, Jeffrey. Early Irish Myths and Sagas. NY: Penguin. 1981.

Graves, Robert. Oxford Addresses on Poetry. NY: Garden City. 1962.

  • —–. The White Goddess – A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth. 1948. NY: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. Second Edition. 1975.

Joyce, James. Dubliners. 1914. Penguin Classics with Notes by Terence Brown. 1992.

  • —–. Ulysses. 1922. Random House: NY. 1946.

Le Fanu, Joseph Sheridan. The House by the Churchyard. London: Tinsley, Brothers. 1863. Reprint. Dublin: James Duffey. 1904.

Lewis, Clive Stapes. “The Inner Ring.” They Asked for a Paper: Papers and Addresses. London, G. Bles, 1962.

  • —–. “De Descriptione Temporum,” They Asked for a Paper.
  • —–. “Correspondence: Spenser’s Irish Experiences and The Faerie Queene.” Review of English Studies. Vol. 7. No. 25. (January 1931.) 83–85.
  • —–. “Imagination and Thought in the Middle Ages.” Chapter 3 from The Discarded Image: Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature. Cambridge UP. 1966.
  • —–. The Allegory of Love. Clarendon: Oxford UP. 1936. Second Edition. 1946.
  • —–. A Preface to Paradise Lost. 1942. Oxford UP – A Galaxy Book. 1961.
  • —–. The Great Divorce: a Dream.  London: Geoffrey Bles. 1946.
  • —–. The Four Loves. NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. 1960.
  • —–. Studies in Words. Cambridge UP. 1960.
  • —–. An Experiment in Criticism. Cambridge UP. 1962.
  • —–. Mere Christianity. 1944. Macmillan, NY. 1952.

Patrick (Saint). Il Confessio. (Declaration of Patrick.) From St. PatrickHis Writings and Muirchus Life. Edited and Translated by A. B. E. Hood. Phillimore & Co. London. 1978.

Sterne, Laurence. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. 1756–1767. NY: Oxford World Classics. Edited by Ian Campbell Ross. 1983. 1998.

Thompson, E. A.. “Introduction” Who was Saint Patrick? Rochester, NY Boydell & Brewer Ltd. 1982. Electronic Edition 1999.

Swift, Jonathan. Gulliver’s Travels: Jonathan Swift. Edited by Albert J. Rivero. NY: Norton Critical Edition. 2002.

  • —–. Jonathan Swift – Major Works. Oxford World Classics. 2008.

Wilde, Oscar. The Picture of Dorian Gray. Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine. 1890. Barnes & Noble Classics Edition. 2003.

  • —–. “The Critic As Artist” Parts I & II (1891)
  • —–. “The Decay of Lying” in Intentions (Volume 7 of The Complete Writings of Oscar Wilde). New York: The Nottingham Society, 1909.

Books Read for the First Time

Beckett, Samuel. Murphy. 1938. NY: First Grove Press Edition 1957. First Printing, Collected Works. 1970.

Boswell, James. Life of Johnson (1791)

  • Read all passages regarding: Burke, Goldsmith, Sterne, and Swift.

Carleton, William. The Black Prophet: a Tale of Irish Famine. Belfast: Simm and McIntyre. 1847.

Davis, B. E. C. Edmund Spenser: a Critical Study. Cambridge UP. 1933.

Dillon, Martin. The Shankill Butchers: a Case Study of Mass Murder. London: Arrow Books. 1990.

Doyle, Roddy. Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha. London: Secker & Warburg. 1993.

  • —–.Bullfighting. NY: Viking. 2011.

Goldsmith, Oliver. The Vicar of Wakefield. 1766.

Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. 1916. NY: Penguin. Edited with an Introduction and Notes by Seamus Deane. 1993.

O’Brien, Edna. The Country Girls. 1960. NY: Penguin. 1963. 1975.

O’Casey, Sean. Shadow of a Gunman. 1923. Two Plays. NY: Macmillan Co. 1925.

  • —–Juno and the Paycock (1924).

O’Connor, Frank. A Short History of Irish Literature: a Backward Look. NY: Viking. 1967.

O’Hara, Maureen with John Nicoletti. ‘Tis Herself. NY: Simon and Schuster. 2004.

Spenser, Edmund. A View of the State of Ireland. 1596. 1633. Edited by Andrew Hadfield and Willy Maley. Blackwell, Oxford. 1997.

Shaw, George Bernard. The Doctor’s Dilemma. NY: Brentano’s. 1909. [and “Preface”]

  • —–Major Barbara. 1907. Bernard Shaw’s Plays. NY: Norton. Edited by Warren Sylvester Smith. 1970. [and “Preface”]
  • —–St. Joan (1923) [and “Preface”]

State, Paul. F. A Brief History of Ireland. NY: Facts on File Inc. 2009.

Yeats, William Butler. The Celtic Twilight. 1893.

Articles Read

Abravanel, Genevieve. “American Encounters in Dubliners and Ulysses.” Journal of Modern Literature. Vol. 33. No. 4. (Summer 2010.) 153–66.

Bierman, Joseph. “What The Quiet Man Said: Shifting Contexts and the Polysemy of the Text.” Journal of Film and Video. Vol. 63. No. 3. (Fall 2011.) 30–44.

Cremin, Kathy. “The Dispersed and Dismissed: the World of Irish Women’s Best-sellers.” Critical Survey. Vol. 15. No. 1. (2003.) 60–76.

Dobson, Henry Austin. “IX Oliver Goldsmith,” The Cambridge Encyclopedia of English Literature. 1909–1919.

Haliday, Charles. “On the Ancient Name of Dublin.” The Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy. Vol. 22 (1849.) 437–51.

Jackson, Alvin. “Unionist Myths 1912–1985.” Past & Present. No. 136. (August 1992.) 164–85.

Kirk, Robin. “Belfast: City of Walls.” The American Scholar. Vol. 80. No. 4 (Autumn 2011.) 7–11.

Kirkland, Richard. “The Spectacle of Terrorism in Northern Irish Culture.” Critical Survey. Vol. 15. No. 1. (2003.) 77–90.

Kittredge, George Lyman . “III.––Sir Orfeo.” American Journal of Philology. Vol. 7. No. 2. (1886.) 176–202 at 195–97.

Lysaght, Patricia. “Visible Death: Attitudes to the Dying in Ireland.” Merveilles & contes. Vol. 9. No. 1. (May 1995.) 27–60.

Markwick, Marion. “Marketing Myths and the Cultural Commodification of Ireland: Where the Grass is Always Greener.” Geography. 86:1. (January 2001.) 37–49.

Moorjani, Angela. “Andre Gidé Among the Partisan Ghosts in the ‘Anglo-Irish’ ‘Murphy.’” Samuel Beckett Today. Vol. 21. (2009.) 209–22.

O’Brien, Peggy. “The Silly and the Serious: an Assessment of Edna O’Brien.” The Massachusetts Review. Vol. 28. No. 3. (Autumn 1987.) 474–88.

Pierse, Michael. “The Shadow of Seán: O’Casey, commitment and writing Dublin’s working class.” Saothar. Vol. 35. (2010.) 69–85.

Rapuano, Deborah and Jessica R. Fernandez. “Remembering and Living Irishness: Tourism, Place and Memory.” International Review of Modern Sociology. Vol. 36. No. 1. (Spring 2010.) 1–21.

Townshend, Charles. “The Making of Modern Irish Public Culture.” Journal of Modern History. Vol. 61. No. 3. (September 1989.) 535–54.

Weston, Elizabeth. “Constitutive Trauma in Edna O’Brien’s The Country Girls Trilogy: the Romance of Reenactment.” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature. Vol. 29. No. 1. (Spring 2010.) 83–105.

Wikipedia articles:

Movies, Television, Advertisements

Trailer to The Field


Mar 10 2017

Seven Days Till Saint Patrick’s – Part 1 of 7

steeple

Seven Days Till Saint Patrick’s – Part 1 of 7

As I’ve currently undertaken a crash-course in Irish Literature, I’ll provide a quotation from an Irish author every day from today through St Paddy’s next week. The first quotation:

There is a war between the living and the dead, and the Irish stories keep harping upon it. They will have it that when the potatoes or the wheat or any other of the fruits of the earth decay, they ripen in faery, and that our dreams lose their wisdom when the sap rises in the trees, and that our dreams can make the trees wither, and that one hears the bleating of the lambs of faery in November, and that blind eyes can see more than other eyes.

–William Butler Yeats, The Celtic Twilight. 1893. “The Queen and the Fool.”

See also “Seven Days Till St. Patrick’s – Part 2 0f 7