Monday Night Poetry

Cuchulain’s Fight with the Sea

 

A man came slowly from the setting sun,

To Emer, raddling raiment in her dun,

And said, ‘I am that swinehard whom you bid

Go watch the road between the wood and tide,

But now I have no need to watch it more.’

 

Then Emer cast the web upon the floor,

And raising arms all raddled with the dye,

Parted her lips with a loud sudden cry.

 

That swinehard stared upon her face and said,

‘No man alive, no man among the dead,

Has won the hold his cars of battle bring.’

 

‘But if your master comes home triumphing

Why must you belnch and shake from foot to crown?’

 

Thereon he shook the more and cast him down

Upon the web-heaped floor, and cried his word:

‘With him is one sweet-throated like a bird.’

 

‘You dare me to my face,’ and thereupon

She smote with raddled fish, and where her son

Herded the cattle came with stumbling feet,

And cried with angry voice, ‘It is not meet

To idle life away, a common herd.’

 

‘I have long waited, mother, for that word:

But wherefore now?”

                                    ‘There is a man to die;

You have the heaviest arm under the sky.’

 

‘Whether under its daylight or its stars

My father stands amid his battle-cars.’”

 

“But you have grown to be the taller man.’

 

‘Yet somewhere under starlight or the sun

My father stands.’

                                ‘Aged, worn out with wars

On foot, on horseback or in battle-cars.’

 

‘I only ask what way my journey lies,

For He who made you bitter made you wise.’

 

‘The Red Branch camp in a great company

Between wood’s rim and the horses of the sea.

Go there, and light a camp-fire at wood’s rim;

But tell your name and lineage to him

Whose blade compels, and wait till they have found

Some feasting man that the same oath has bound.’

 

Among those feasting men Cuchulain dwelt,

And his young sweetheart close beside him knelt,

Stared on the mournful wonder of his eyes,

Even as Spring upon the ancient skies,

And pondered on the glory of his days;

And all around the harp-string told his praise,

And Conchubar, the Red Branch king of kings,

With his own fingers touched the brazen strings.

 

At last Cuchulain spake, ‘Some man has made

His evening fire amid the leafy shade.

I have often heard him singing to and fro,

I have often heard the sweet sound of his bow.

Seek out what man he is.’

 

                                           One went and came.

‘He bade me let all know he gives his name

At the sword-point, and waits till we have found

Some feasting man that the same oath has bound.’

 

Chuchulain cried, ‘I am the only man

Of all this host so bound from childhood on.’

 

After short fighting in the leafy shade,

He spake to the young man, ‘Is there no maid

Who loves you, no white arms to wrap you round,

Or do you long for the dim sleepy ground,

That you have come and dared me to my face?’

 

‘The dooms of men are in God’s hidden place.’

 

‘Your head a while seemed like a woman’s head

That I loved once.’

                                Again the fighting sped,

But now the war-rage in Cuchulain woke,

And through the new blades guard that old blade broke,

And pierced him.

                             ‘Speak before your breath is done’

 

‘Cuchulain I, mighty Cuchulain’s son.’

 

‘I put you from your pain.  I can do no more.’

 

While day its burden on to evening bore,

With head bowed on his knees Cuchulain stayed;

Then Conchubar sent that sweet-throated maid,

And she, to win him, his grey hair caressed;

In vain her arms, in vain her soft white breast.

Then Conchubar, the subtlest of all men,

Rank his Druids round him ten by ten,

Spake thus: ‘Cuchulain will dwell there and brood

For three days more in dreadful quietude,

And then arise, and raving slay us all.

Chaunt in his ear delusions magical,

That he may fight the horses of the sea.’

The Druids took them to their mystery,

And chaunted for three days.

                                                Cuchulain stirred,

Stared on the horses of the sea, and heard

The cars of battle and his down name cried;

And fought with the invulnerable tide.

 

–W.B. Yeats

 

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