The Coming of Cuculain
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The Coming of Cuculain


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The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Coming of Cuculain, by Standish O'GradyCopyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloadingor redistributing this or any other Project Gutenberg eBook.This header should be the first thing seen when viewing this Project Gutenberg file. Please do not remove it. Do notchange or edit the header without written permission.Please read the "legal small print," and other information about the eBook and Project Gutenberg at the bottom of thisfile. Included is important information about your specific rights and restrictions in how the file may be used. You can alsofind out about how to make a donation to Project Gutenberg, and how to get involved.**Welcome To The World of Free Plain Vanilla Electronic Texts****eBooks Readable By Both Humans and By Computers, Since 1971*******These eBooks Were Prepared By Thousands of Volunteers!*****Title: The Coming of CuculainAuthor: Standish O'GradyRelease Date: February, 2004 [EBook #5092] [Yes, we are more than one year ahead of schedule] [This file was firstposted on April 24, 2002]Edition: 10Language: English*** START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK, THE COMING OF CUCULAIN ***This eBook was produced by Charles Franks and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.THE COMING OF CUCULAINBYSTANDISH O'GRADYAuthor of"THE TRIUMPH AND PASSING OF CUCULAIN""IN THE GATES OF THE NORTH""THE FLIGHT OF THE EAGLE"ETC ...



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The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Coming ofCuculain, by Standish O'GradyCopyright laws are changing all over the world. Besure to check the copyright laws for your countrybefore downloading or redistributing this or anyother Project Gutenberg eBook.This header should be the first thing seen whenviewing this Project Gutenberg file. Please do notremove it. Do not change or edit the headerwithout written permission.Please read the "legal small print," and otherinformation about the eBook and ProjectGutenberg at the bottom of this file. Included isimportant information about your specific rights andrestrictions in how the file may be used. You canalso find out about how to make a donation toProject Gutenberg, and how to get involved.**Welcome To The World of Free Plain VanillaElectronic Texts****eBooks Readable By Both Humans and ByComputers, Since 1971*******These eBooks Were Prepared By Thousandsof Volunteers!*****Title: The Coming of Cuculain
Author: Standish O'GradyRelease Date: February, 2004 [EBook #5092][Yes, we are more than one year ahead ofschedule] [This file was first posted on April 24,2002]Edition: 10Language: English* START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG**EBOOK, THE COMING OF CUCULAIN ***This eBook was produced by Charles Franks andthe Online Distributed Proofreading Team.THE COMING OF CUCULAINBYSTANDISH O'GRADYAuthor of"THE TRIUMPH AND PASSING OF CUCULAIN"
"IN THE GATES OF THE NORTH""THE FLIGHT OF THE EAGLE"ETC.PREFACEThere are three great cycles of Gaelic literature.The first treats of the gods; the second of the RedBranch Knights of Ulster and their contemporaries;the third is the so-called Ossianic. Of the Ossianic,Finn is the chief character; of the Red Branchcycle, Cuculain, the hero of our tale.Cuculain and his friends are historical characters,seen as it were through mists of love and wonder,whom men could not forget, but for centuriescontinued to celebrate in countless songs andstories. They were not literary phantoms, butactual existences; imaginary and fictitiouscharacters, mere creatures of idle fancy, do notlive and flourish so in the world's memory. And asto the gigantic stature and superhuman prowess
and achievements of those antique heroes, it mustnot be forgotten that all art magnifies, as if inobedience to some strong law; and so, even in ourown times, Grattan, where he stands in artisticbronze, is twice as great as the real Grattanthundering in the Senate. I will therefore ask thereader, remembering the large manner of theantique literature from which our tale is drawn, toforget for a while that there is such a thing asscientific history, to give his imagination a holiday,and follow with kindly interest the singular story ofthe boyhood of Cuculain, "battle-prop of the valourand torch of the chivalry of the Ultonians."I have endeavoured so to tell the story as to give ageneral idea of the cycle, and of primitive heroicIrish life as reflected in that literature, laying thecycle, so far as accessible, under contribution tofurnish forth the tale. Within a short compass Iwould bring before swift modern readers the morestriking aspects of a literature so vast and archaicas to repel all but students.STANDISH O'GRADY
A TRIBUTE BY A. E.In this age we read so much that we lay too greata burden on the imagination. It is unable to createimages which are the spiritual equivalent of thewords on the printed page, and reading becomesfor too many an occupation of the eye rather thanof the mind. How rarely—out of the multitude ofvolumes a man reads in his lifetime—can heremember where or when he read any particularbook, or with any vividness recall the mood itevoked in him. When I close my eyes, and brood inmemory over the books which most profoundlyaffected me, I find none excited my imaginationmore than Standish O'Grady's epical narrative ofCuculain. Whitman said of his Leaves of Grass,"Camerado, this is no book: who touches thistouches a man" and O'Grady might have boastedof his Bardic History of Ireland, written with hiswhole being, that there was more than a man in it,there was the soul of a people, its noblest andmost exalted life symbolised in the story of oneheroic character.With reference to Ireland, I was at the time I readlike many others who were bereaved of the historyof their race. I was as a man who, through someaccident, had lost memory of his past, who couldrecall no more than a few months of new life, andcould not say to what songs his cradle had beenrocked, what mother had nursed him, who werethe playmates of childhood or by what woods and
streams he had wandered. When I read O'Grady Iwas as such a man who suddenly feels ancientmemories rushing at him, and knows he was bornin a royal house, that he had mixed with the mightyof heaven and earth and had the very noblest forhis companions. It was the memory of race whichrose up within me as I read, and I felt exalted asone who learns he is among the children of kings.That is what O'Grady did for me and for otherswho were my contemporaries, and I welcomethese reprints of his tales in the hope that he willgo on magically recreating for generations yetunborn the ancestral life of their race in Ireland.For many centuries the youth of Ireland as it grewup was made aware of the life of bygone ages, andthere were always some who remade themselvesin the heroic mould before they passed on. Thesentiment engendered by the Gaelic literature wasan arcane presence, though unconscious of itself,in those who for the past hundred years hadlearned another speech. In O'Grady's writings thesubmerged river of national culture rose up again,a shining torrent, and I realised as I bathed in thatstream, that the greatest spiritual evil one nationcould inflict on another was to cut off from it thestory of the national soul. For not all music can beplayed upon any instrument, and human nature formost of us is like a harp on which can be renderedthe music written for the harp but not that writtenfor the violin. The harp strings quiver for the harp-player alone, and he who can utter his passionthrough the violin is silent before an unfamiliarinstrument. That is why the Irish have rarely beendeeply stirred by English literature though it is one
of the great literatures of the world. Our historywas different and the evolutionary product was apeculiarity of character, and the strings of ourbeing vibrate most in ecstasy when the musicevokes ancestral moods or embodies emotionsakin to these. I am not going to argue thecomparative worth of the Gaelic and Englishtradition. All I can say is that the traditions of ourown country move us more than the traditions ofany other. Even if there was not essentialgreatness in them we would love them for thesame reasons which bring back so many exiles torevisit the haunts of childhood. But there wasessential greatness in that neglected bardicliterature which O'Grady was the first to reveal in anoble manner. He had the spirit of an ancient epicpoet. He is a comrade of Homer, his birth delayedin time perhaps that he might renew for asophisticated people the elemental simplicity andhardihood men had when the world was young andmanhood was prized more than any of its parts,more than thought or beauty or feeling. He hascreated for us or rediscovered one figure whichlooms in the imagination as a high comrade ofHector, Achilles, Ulysses, Rama or Yudisthira, asgreat in spirit as any. Who could extol enough hisCuculain, that incarnation of Gaelic chivalry, thefire and gentleness, the beauty and heroic ardouror the imaginative splendour of the episodes in hisretelling of the ancient story. There are writers whobewitch us by a magical use of words, whose linesglitter like jewels, whose effects are gained by anelaborate art and who deal with the subtlestemotions. Others again are simple as an Egyptian
image and yet are more impressive and youremember them less for the sentence than for agrandiose effect. They are not so much concernedwith the art of words as with the creation of greatimages informed with magnificence of spirit. Theyare not lesser artists but greater, for there is agreater art in the simplification of form in the statueof Memnon than there is in the intricate detail of abronze by Benvenuto Cellini. Standish O'Grady hadin his best moments that epic wholeness andsimplicity, and the figure of Cuculain amid hiscompanions of the Red Branch which hediscovered and refashioned for us is I think thegreatest spiritual gift any Irishman for centuries hasgiven to Ireland.I know it will be said that this is a scientific age, theworld is so full of necessitous life that it is waste oftime for young Ireland to brood upon tales oflegendary heroes, who fought with enchanters,who harnessed wild fairy horses to magic chariotsand who talked with the ancient gods, and that itwould be much better for youth to be scientific andpractical. Do not believe it, dear Irish boy, dearIrish girl. I know as well as any the economic needsof our people. They must not be overlooked, butkeep still in your hearts some desires which mightenter Paradise. Keep in your souls some images ofmagnificence so that hereafter the halls of heavenand the divine folk may not seem altogether aliento the spirit. These legends have passed the test ofgenerations for century after century, and theywere treasured and passed on to those whofollowed, and that was because there was
something in them akin to the immortal spirit.Humanity cannot carry with it through time thememory of all its deeds and imaginations, and itburdens itself only in a new era with what washighest among the imaginations of the ancestors.What is essentially noble is never out of date. Thefigures carved by Phidias for the Parthenon stillshine by the side of the greatest modern sculpture.There has been no evolution of the human form toa greater beauty than the ancient Greeks saw andthe forms they carved are not strange to us, and ifthis is true of the outward form it is true of theindwelling spirit. What is essentially noble iscontemporary with all that is splendid to-day, and,until the mass of men are equal in spirit, the greatfigures of the past will affect us less as memoriesthan as prophecies of the Golden Age to whichyouth is ever hurrying in its heart.O'Grady in his stories of the Red Branch rescuedfrom the past what was contemporary to the bestin us to-day, and he was equal in his gifts as awriter to the greatest of his bardic predecessors inIreland. His sentences are charged with a heroicenergy, and, when he is telling a great tale, theirrise and fall are like the flashing and falling of thebright sword of some great champion in battle, orthe onset and withdrawal of Atlantic surges. He canat need be beautifully tender and quiet. Who thathas read his tale of the young Finn and the SevenAncients will forget the weeping of Finn over thekindness of the famine- stricken old men, and theirwonder at his weeping and the self- forgetfulpathos of their meditation unconscious that it was
their own sacrifice called forth the tears of Finn."Youth," they said, "has many sorrows that cold"age cannot comprehend.There are critics repelled by the abounding energyin O'Grady's sentences. It is easy to point to faultsdue to excess and abundance, but how rare inliterature is that heroic energy and power. There issomething arcane and elemental in it, a quality thatthe most careful stylist cannot attain, however heuses the file, however subtle he is. O'Grady hasnoticed this power in the ancient bards and we findit in his own writing. It ran all through the BardicHistory, the Critical and Philosophical History, andthrough the political books, "The Tory Democracy"and "All Ireland." There is this imaginative energy inthe tale of Cuculain, in all its episodes, the slayingof the hound, the capture of the Laity Macha, thehunting of the enchanted deer, the capture of thewild swans, the fight at the ford and the awakeningof the Red Branch. In the later tale of Red Hughwhich he calls "The Flight of the Eagle" there is thesame quality of power joined with a shiningsimplicity in the narrative which rises into a poeticecstacy in that wonderful chapter where Red Hugh,escaping from the Pale, rides through the MountainGates of Ulster, and sees high above him SlieveMullion, a mountain of the Gods, the birthplace oflegend "more mythic than Avernus" and O'Gradyevokes for us and his hero the legendary past, andthe great hill seems to be like Mount Sinai,thronged with immortals, and it lives and speaks tothe fugitive boy, "the last great secular champion ofthe Gael," and inspires him for the fulfilment of his