Baile and Aillinn

  • A. Norman Jeffares


Yeats was writing this ‘half lyrical half narrative poem’ in July 1901 (L 353) and it was ‘just finished’ on 11 August 1901 (Y & TSM 2). It first appeared in the Monthly Review (July 1902). Yeats wrote a footnote to the poem which ran:

It is better, I think, to explain at once some of the allusions to mythological people and things, instead of breaking up the reader’s attention with a series of foot-notes. What the ‘long wars for the White Horn and the Brown Bull’ were, and who ‘Deirdre the harper’s daughter’ was, and why Cuchullain was called ‘the hound of Ulad,’ I shall not explain. The reader will find all that he need know about them, and about the story of Baile and Aillinn itself, in Lady Gregory’s ‘ Cuchullain of Muirthemne’, the most important book that has come out of Ireland in my time. ‘The Great Plain’ is the Land of the Dead and of the Happy; it is called also ‘The Land of the Living Heart,’ and many beautiful names besides. And Findrias and Falias and Gorias and Murias were the four mysterious cities whence the Tuatha De Danaan, the divine race, came to Ireland, cities of learning out of sight of the world, where they found their four talismans, the spear, the stone, the cauldron, and the sword. The birds that flutter over the head of Aengus are four birds that he made out of his kisses; and when Baile and Aillinn take the shape of swans linked with a golden chain, they take the shape that other enchanted lovers took before them in the old stories. Midhir was a king of the Sidhe, or people of faery, and Etain his wife, when driven away by a jealous woman, took refuge once upon a time with Aengus in a house of glass, and there I have imagined her weaving harp-strings out of Aengus’ hair. I have brought the harp-strings into ‘The Shadowy Waters,’ where I interpret the myth in my own way. (See also CW 11, which includes The Legendary and Mythological Foundation of the Plays and Poems.)


Great Plain Monthly Review Important Book Original Story Wild Apple 
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© A. Norman Jeffares 1968

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  • A. Norman Jeffares

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