Fergus was a King in Ireland when it was not Ireland. He is depicted in their epic tale called the Tain. It is much like the Iliad, in that it is a tale of a series of wars that illustrate the country’s history and puts its heroes in the forefront.
Fergus was a bit of a rogue, a wild man, large and brash with a large appetite for life. He is also known as the teller of the tale of the Tain. The story goes that several poets were trying to find the original version of this purely oral tale, but were unable, then one of them fell asleep at Fergus’s grave and his ghost visited him and told it to him. (I won’t go into the tale, even the synopsis is much too long for this posting.)
He seemed to be a man bigger than life, he seemed to have many larger than life adventures. Were they true? Were they exaggerated over the years? Who knows, some people are larger than life. Some people are quiet.
So, since I’m talking about the sounds of poems, does this poem reflect the character of a large brash man? Does it make many clashing sounds? Many big and bombastic sounds that bash and crash, and clash and slash (and pop and slam) and thunder across many tall halls? Does it burble beautifully like a little river, like the sounds of ancient bells?
I noticed the pattern of the poem is to begin most of its lines with “And”. This is intentional as many of the ancient poems would begin their lines with the word “and” and I believe it’s meant to sound ancient. Do the words, when you say them, sound ancient to your ears? As I said yesterday, when poem sounds are connected to ideas, I don’t hear “the meaning” in the physical sounds (phonemes as they’re called in Linguistics).. (though “pierce the deep wood’s woven shade” kind of has a euphony to it, I guess), but perhaps you might. Give it a try and say it out loud. Maybe you’ll even hear Fergus himself telling you his tale.
Who Goes with Fergus?
by William Butler Yeats
Who will go drive with Fergus now,
And pierce the deep wood’s woven shade,
And dance upon the level shore?
Young man, lift up your russet brow,
And lift your tender eyelids, maid,
And brood on hopes and fear no more.
And no more turn aside and brood
Upon love’s bitter mystery;
For Fergus rules the brazen cars,
And rules the shadows of the wood,
And the white breast of the dim sea
And all dishevelled wandering stars.