On An Irish Hill by George William Russell

Story type: Essay

It has been my dream for many years that I might at some time dwell in a cabin on the hillside in this dear and living land of ours, and there I would lay my head in the lap of a serene nature, and be on friendly terms with the winds and mountains who hold enough of unexplored mystery and infinitude to engage me at present. I would not dwell too far from men, for above an enchanted valley, only a morning’s walk from the city, is the mountain of my dream. Here, between heaven and earth and my brothers, there might come on me some foretaste of the destiny which the great powers are shaping for us in this isle, the mingling of God and nature and man in a being, one, yet infinite in number. Old tradition has it that there was in our mysterious past such a union, a sympathy between man and the elements so complete, that at every great deed of hero or king the three swelling waves of Fohla responded: the wave of Toth, the wave of Rury, and the long, slow, white, foaming wave of Cleena. O mysterious kinsmen, would that today some deed great enough could call forth the thunder of your response once again! But perhaps he is now rocked in his cradle who will hereafter rock you into joyous foam.

The mountain which I praise has not hitherto been considered one of the sacred places in Eire, no glittering tradition hangs about it as a lure and indeed I would not have it considered as one in any special sense apart from its companions, but I take it here as a type of what any high place in nature may become for us if well loved; a haunt of deep peace, a spot where the Mother lays aside veil after veil, until at last the great Spirit seems in brooding gentleness to be in the boundless fields alone. I am not inspired by that brotherhood which does not overflow with love into the being of the elements, not hail in them the same spirit as that which calls us with so many pathetic and loving voices from the lives of men. So I build my dream cabin in hope of its wider intimacy:

A cabin on the mountain side hid in a grassy nook,
With door and windows open wide, where friendly stars may look;
The rabbit shy can patter in; the winds may enter free
Who throng around the mountain throne in living ecstasy.
And when the sun sets dimmed in eve and purple fills the air,
I think the sacred Hazel Tree is dropping berries there
From starry fruitage waved aloft where Connla’s well o’er-flows:
For sure the immortal waters pour through every wind that blows.
I think when night towers up aloft and shakes the trembling dew,
How every high and lonely thought that thrills my being through
Is but a shining berry dropped down through the purple air,
And from the magic tree of life the fruit falls everywhere.

The Sacred Hazel was the Celtic branch of the Tree of Life; its scarlet nuts gave wisdom and inspiration; and fed on this ethereal fruit, the ancient Gael grew to greatness. Though today none eat of the fruit or drink the purple flood welling from Connla’s fountain, I think that the fire which still kindles the Celtic races was flashed into their blood in that magical time, and is our heritage from the Druidic past. It is still here, the magic and mystery: it lingers in the heart of a people to whom their neighbors of another world are frequent visitors in the spirit and over-shadowers of reverie and imagination.

The earth here remembers her past, and to bring about its renewal she whispers with honeyed entreaty and lures with bewitching glamour. At this mountain I speak of it was that our greatest poet, the last and most beautiful voice of Eire, first found freedom in song, so he tells me: and it was the pleading for a return to herself that this mysterious nature first fluted through his lips:

Come away, O human child,
To the Woods and waters wild
With a faery hand in hand:

For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Away! yes, yes; to wander on and on under star-rich skies, ever getting deeper into the net, the love that will not let us rest, the peace above the desire of love. The village lights in heaven and earth, each with their own peculiar hint of home, draw us hither and thither, where it matters not, so the voice calls and the heart-light burns.

Some it leads to the crowded ways; some it draws apart: and the Light knows, and not any other, the need and the way.

If you ask me what has the mountain to do with these inspirations, and whether the singer would not anywhere out of his own soul have made an equal song, I answer to the latter, I think not. In these lofty places the barrier between the sphere of light and the sphere of darkness are fragile, and the continual ecstasy of the high air communicates itself, and I have also heard from others many tales of things seen and heard here which show that the races of the Sidhe are often present. Some have seen below the mountain a blazing heart of light, others have heard the Musical beating of a heart, of faery bells, or aerial clashings, and the heart-beings have also spoken; so it has gathered around itself its own traditions of spiritual romance and adventures of the soul.

Let no one call us dreamers when the mind is awake. If we grew forgetful and felt no more the bitter human struggle–yes. But if we bring to it the hope and courage of those who are assured of the nearby presence and encircling love of the great powers? I would bring to my mountain the weary spirits who are obscured in the fetid city where life decays into rottenness; and call thither those who are in doubt, the pitiful and trembling hearts who are skeptic of any hope, and place them where the dusky vapors of their thought might dissolve in the inner light, and their doubts vanish on the mountain top where the earthbreath streams away to the vast, when the night glows like a seraph, and the spirit is beset by the evidence of a million of suns to the grandeur of the nature wherein it lives and whose destiny must be its also.

After all, is not this longing but a search for ourselves, and where shall we find ourselves at last? Not in this land nor wrapped in these garments of an hour, but wearing the robes of space whither these voices out of the illimitable allure us, now with love, and anon with beauty or power. In our past the mighty ones came glittering across the foam of the mystic waters and brought their warriors away.

Perhaps, and this also is my hope, they may again return; Manannan, on his ocean-sweeping boat, a living creature, diamond-winged, or Lu, bright as the dawn, on his fiery steed, manned with tumultuous flame, or some hitherto unknown divinity may stand suddenly by me on the hill, and hold out the Silver Branch with white blossoms from the Land of Youth, and stay me ere I depart with the sung call as of old:

Tarry thou yet, late lingerer in the twilight’s glory
Gay are the hills with song: earth’s faery children leave
More dim abodes to roam the primrose-hearted eve,
Opening their glimmering lips to breathe some wondrous story.
Hush, not a whisper! Let your heart alone go dreaming.
Dream unto dream may pass: deep in the heart alone
Murmurs the Mighty One his solemn undertone.
Canst thou not see adown the silver cloudland streaming
Rivers of faery light, dewdrop on dewdrop falling,
Starfire of silver flames, lighting the dark beneath?
And what enraptured hosts burn on the dusky heath!
Come thou away with them for Heaven to Earth is calling.
These are Earth’s voice–her answer–spirits thronging.
Come to the Land of Youth: the trees grown heavy there
Drop on the purple wave the starry fruit they bear.
Drink! the immortal waters quench the spirit’s longing.
Art thou not now, bright one, all sorrow past, in elation,
Filled with wild joy, grown brother-hearted with the vast,
Whither thy spirit wending flits the dim stars past
Unto the Light of Lights in burning adoration.

1896

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