Sunday, September 11, 2016

"The Tide of Sorrow" by A.E.

Image by Denise Sallee. © Denise Sallee 2016

The Tide of Sorrow
By: George William (“A. E.”) Russell (1867–1935).
From:  Collected Poems by A.E.  1913.

ON the twilight-burnished hills I lie and long and gaze
Where below the grey-lipped sands drink in the flowing tides,
Drink, and fade and disappear: interpreting their ways
       A seer in my heart abides.

Once the diamond dancing day-waves laved thy thirsty lips:
Now they drink the dusky night-tide running cold and fleet,
Drink, and as the chilly brilliance o’er their pallor slips
        They fade in the touch they meet.

Wave on wave of pain where leaped of old the billowy joys:
Hush and still thee now unmoved to drink the bitter sea,
Drink with equal heart: be brave; and life with laughing voice
          And death will be one for thee.

Ere my mortal days pass by and life in the world be done,
Oh, to know what world shall rise within the spirit’s ken
When it grows into the peace where light and dark are one!
           What voice for the world of men?

Monday, June 20, 2016

Fionavar - the myth of war and peace

Image by Denise Sallee. © Denise Sallee 2009
I remember well the idealism of my youth when I believed in (and worked for) world peace. Each year since has led to more and more war, more fighting over territory and religion. More greed. More power. The only peace I believe in now is that which I try to find for myself, within myself.

I came across Eva Gore-Booth's notes for her dramatic work based upon Queen Maeve, her daughter Fionavar, and the ongoing struggle between war and peace. And then I remembered that Ella Young had also written about Fionavar so I decided to group the two Irish women's words together.  They both lived through  terribly troubling times in Ireland, and they both understood the power of their mythic tradition.

Notes by Eva Gore-Booth:

The meaning I got out of the story of Maeve is a symbol of the world-old struggle in the human mind between the forces of dominance and pity, of peace and war. The time has come, in the history of a human soul, when a newly developed and passionate sense of unity undermines the ancient ideals of savage heroism and world-power. Thus the reign of the old warlike gods is rashly broken into and threatened by the fascination of a new idea. The birth of imagination, the new god of pity, is symbolised in the outside world by the crucifixion of Christ.
A vision of this event is seen by Maeve the Warrior Queen of Connaught at the moment of its happening and becomes the turning point of her life and thought...Beyond [Maeve's] fighting, her great joy in life is her daughter Fionavar, a young girl of fifteen who has as yet seen nothing of war. Whilst the battle is raging, Maeve and Fionavar go to consult a Druidess as to the result of the fight. The Druidess, under the influence of the sea god Mannanaum, sees visions of the future in the stream of water that flows through her tent. She prophesies the death of Fionavar on the battlefield. At her incantation the presence of the ancient warlike gods of Ireland is felt everywhere. 

FROM:  The Death of Fionavar by Eva Gore-Booth
[Gore-Booth, Eva. The Death of Fionavar from The Triumph of Maeve. London: Erskine MacDonald, 1916.]

Men say the great heart of the Princess broke
For pity of the dead lying on the grass
After the battle.
Ye who have borne her hither on her shield
Tell now your tale. How did this thing befall
She came at evening, running to the field,
Knowing naught of battle, or sights that appal
The strongest soul unused to the ways of war.
Thou knowest her heart was ever wont to burn
For any little grief. Therefore when she saw
The primroses all soaked in blood and the brown fern
Broken--Death that was servant to no gentle God
And everywhere pale faces wild with pain,
The blood-stained daisy cried out from the sod
Unto her soul, there on the stricken plain
For very pity she fell down and died.

FIONAVAR  by Ella Young (from  MARZILLIAN, 1938)

O flame blown out of Tir-nan-Oge,
White flame borne on enchanted air,
O heart's delight and heart's despair,
Fionavar! 0 Fionavar!

Draw the white shroud above her face
And cover up her close-shut eyes,
She will not hear a voice that cries
Fionavar! 0 Fionavar!

Love that none of us might win,
By strange lone ways to us you came
And lone you go, White Heart of Flame,
Fionavar! 0 Fionavar!

Pale face that held our hearts in thrall,
Pale face made paler by our love,
We could but draw the shroud above,
Fionavar! 0 Fionavar!

Frail hands no mortal lover kissed,
Fair-folded now as death beseems,
You hide away the Dream of Dreams,
Fionavar! 0 Fionavar!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Walking - An Essay by Linda Hogan

Image by Denise Sallee. © Denise Sallee 2016
by  Linda Hogan
Parabola (Summer 1990)

It began in dark and underground weather, a slow hunger moving toward light. It grew in a dry gully beside the road where I live, a place where entire hillsides are sometimes yellow, windblown tides of sunflower plants. But this one was different. It was alone, and larger than the countless others who had established their lives further up the hill. This one was a traveler, a settler, and like a dream beginning in conflict, it grew where the land had been disturbed.

I saw it first in early summer. It was a green and sleeping bud, raising itself toward the sun. Ants worked around the unopened bloom, gathering aphids and sap. A few days later, it was a tender young flower, soft and new, with a pale green center and a troop of silver gray insects climbing up and down the stalk.

Over the summer this sunflower grew into a plant of incredible beauty, turning its face daily toward the sun in the most subtle of ways, the black center of it dark and alive with a deep blue light, as if flint had sparked an elemental1 fire there, in community with rain, mineral, mountain air, and sand.

As summer changed from green to yellow there were new visitors daily: the lace‐winged insects, the bees whose legs were fat with pollen, and grasshoppers with their clattering wings and desperate hunger. There were other lives I missed, lives too small or hidden to see. It was as if this plant with its host of lives was a society, one in which moment by moment, depending on light and moisture, there was great and diverse change.

There were changes in the next larger world around the plant as well. One day I was nearly lifted by a wind and sandstorm so fierce and hot that I had to wait for it to pass before I could return home. On this day the faded dry petals of the sunflower were swept across the land. That was when the birds arrived to carry the new seeds to another future.

In this one plant, in one summer season, a drama of need and survival took place. Hungers were filled. There was escape, exhaustion, and death. Lives touched down a moment and were gone.

I was an outsider. I only watched. I never learned the sunflower’s golden language or the tongues of its citizens. I had a small understanding, nothing more than a shallow observation of the flower, insects, and birds. But they knew what to do, how to live. An old voice from somewhere, gene or cell, told the plant how to evade the pull of gravity and find its way upward, how to open. It was instinct, intuition, necessity. A certain knowing directed the seedbearing birds on paths to ancestral homelands they had never seen. They believed it. They followed.

There are other summons and calls, some even more mysterious than those commandments to birds or those survival journeys of insects. In bamboo plants, for instance, with their thin green canopy of light and golden stalks that creak in the wind. Once a century, all of a certain kind of bamboo flower on the same day. Whether they are in Malaysia or in a greenhouse in Minnesota makes no difference, nor does the age or size of the plant. They flower. Some current of an inner language passes between them, through space and separation, in ways we cannot explain in our language. They are all, somehow, one plant, each with a share of communal knowledge.

John Hay, in The Immortal Wilderness, has written: “There are occasions when you can hear the mysterious language of the Earth, in water, or coming through the trees, emanating from the mosses, seeping through the undercurrents of the soil, but you have to be willing to wait and receive.”

Sometimes I hear it talking. The light of the sunflower was one language, but there are others, more audible. Once, in the redwood forest, I heard a beat, something like a drum or heart coming from the ground and trees and wind. That underground current stirred a kind of knowing inside me, a kinship and longing, a dream barely remembered that disappeared back to the body.

Another time, there was the booming voice of an ocean storm thundering from far out at sea, telling about what lived in the distance, about the rough water that would arrive, wave after wave revealing the disturbance at the center.

Tonight I walk. I am watching the sky. I think of the people who came before me and how they knew the placement of stars in the sky, watched the moving sun long and hard enough to witness how a certain angle of light touched a stone only once a year. Without written records, they knew every night, the small, fine details of the world around them and of immensity above them.

Walking, I can almost hear the redwoods beating. And the oceans are above me here, rolling clouds, heavy and dark, considering snow. On the dry, red road, I pass the place of the sunflower, that dark and secret location where creation took place. I wonder if it will return this summer, if it will multiply and move up to the other stand of flowers in a territorial struggle.

It’s winter and there is smoke from the fires. The square, lighted windows of houses are fogging over. It is a world of elemental attention, of all things working together, listening to what speaks in the blood.

Walking, I am listening to a deeper way. Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me. Be still, they say. Watch and listen. You are the result of the love of thousands.

Friday, April 29, 2016

The Prince of Day by Ella Young

Image by Denise Sallee. © Denise Sallee 2010
by Ella Young

White dawn before sunrise
Wherein the dawn-star dies
When Helios lifts his head,
White dawn and ambient air
Let all the hours be fair
Since night’s star-dust is shed:
Grant me this morn of May
For joyous holiday
Franked with thorn-blossom red.

(From the typed manuscript of Seed of the Pomegranate – University of California, Los Angeles, Special Collections)

Available in:At the Gates of Dawn: A Collection of Writings by Ella Young. Edited by John Matthews, Denise Sallee 

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Easter Sunday, 1916

Below is an excerpt from Ella Young's memoirs, Flowering Dusk (Longmans, Green & Co., 1945), about her experience on that momentous day - Easter Sunday 1916. 
  • Memorial to the 1916 Uprising Executions (detail)
  •  © Denise Sallee 2008.
  EASTER SUNDAY - A day of uncertainty. Parades, maneuvers, and marches of the Irish Republican Army should have taken place today. We hear they have been called off. What does that mean? They were to be the signal for the Rising. After so much hope and preparation, has the Rising fizzled out? No one seems to know. It is said that Eoin MacNeill himself has called off the maneuvers. A slack, uncertain day filled with rumours.
   Easter Monday. The sun is shining, but it seems to be the only brightness. Nothing is happening. It does not seem as if anyone expected anything to happen. Sounds of shots! Everyone tense and alert. Something is happening! I hurry from my lodgings in Leinster Road to the town Hall at Rathmines...From Rathmines one can see Portobello Bridge. One can see the Portobello Barracks where the English Tommies for some time past have been leaning over brick-walls and trading rifles, blankets, and other equipment, for bottles of whiskey, pressed on them by eager patriots...There is a stir in the barracks...More and more shots!...News begins to to creep along the knot of bystanders. "They say that Pearse is in the General Post Office, that they have taken half the city..."
   Seumas O'Sullivan and Estella Solomons come up to me as I stand listening with all my ears to every shot, to every rumour. "The telegraph wires are cut! Railway stations are in the hands of the Volunteers," says Seamus. "It is terrible and splendid. If it could  only by true that they are rising everywhere in Ireland!" ~ 
   Easter Tuesday. News is filtering in. Constance de Markievicz, second in command with the Citizen Army, held St. Stephen's Green Park all Monday...Pearse, with Tom Clarke, Connolly, and The O'Rahilly, has taken possession of the General Post Office...There is fighting in the streets. How much or how little, no one can guess. But certainly dead bodies are in the streets. ~
   Easter Friday. Phyllis MacMurdo came to see me. Since she is the niece of General MacMurdo, and strongly pro-British in sympathy, she is in touch with the military here. She had authentic news: Pearse, Clarke, Connolly, The O'Rahilly, and others are still in the charred and fire-thridded Post Office. They must burn to the bone or surrender. 
   Easter Saturday. Firing has ceased. There is a horrible silence. They are all dead - or it is surrender!
   Wednesday...the third of May...England is again triumphant. Newsboys are crying the news! I buy a paper, and lean against a wall to spread it out. 

Executed this morning: Patrick H. Pearse, Thomas MacDonagh, Thomas Clarke

The sun is shining. This is a day of the days of the Festival of Bealtine: the old Celtic festival of the coming of the Gods of Dana, the young eager Gods who took on themselves the burden of heartening and fashioning the Earth...Gods do not die - nor do heroes!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Ella Young and Lugh

I recently posted on my Facebook author's page about how I turned Ella Young into a major character in my Celtic fiction novel  Bell Branch: Book One of The Éire Chronicles.  I'd like to expand on that now. 

In my novel, the great Celtic god Lugh is also a major character and he and Ella are joined together in an ancient quest to save the soul of  Ireland - or, more precisely, the ancient sacred land known as Éire.

Ella Young often visited the remote parts of the West of Ireland, finding inspiration to bring to life the old stories through her retelling of the tales and through her poetry.
Image by Denise Sallee
© Denise Sallee 2009

Since writing the novel I often find it hard to separate the historical Ella Young from the Ella Young who came alive through the weaving of my own words.

Here is a brief passage from her autobiography that is featured in the anthology of her work I co-edited with John Matthews. 


A country of stone, with colours no grassland can take: purples that lightened to amethyst, pale reaches of silver, blue that rivalled lapis lazuli, faint fugitive touches of rose. The lakes it had did not give greenness. Their waters were still and black. What did that country remember? Something too old for man. He had no part in the fantasy of its rocks, in the dark steely glitter of its waters. Hawks could live there. Hawks and the Gods of Dana. Like jewels, like the colours of dawn and sunset, like unearthly flowers, the Gods of Dana moved in the desert of stone, showed themselves in the haunted knolls. White horses, a flaunt of many-colored mantles, strange headdresses they had. Like a hound before them and following them went the wind. Music swirled and sounded about them. It was good for a man to veil his eyes as they passed. They were out of the old, old life of the earth—before the glaciers had ribbed these rocks and scooped these hollows—they would be there when ice again gave quietness to the world.
The country-folk had stories of giants and dwarfs, of kings whose burial mounds made the only hills in the landscape. A great battle between gods and demons had raged once from horizon to horizon.
"Do you see yon tall standing stone?" said the son of the house as the jaunting car rattled past it. "A great king lies under it. His name was Lugh Lamh-fada."
How well I knew that name! Lugh the Long-handed, the Sun God, Lugh Ildana, the Master of every Craft, the Champion of the Gods — Lugh, under that stone, dead! But his great white Hound still coursed the heavens, and dying folk yet prayed for dawn.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016


Image by Denise Sallee
© Denise Sallee 2015
In the first months of serious research into Ella Young's life and writings I discovered she was included in John Matthew's anthology The Book of Celtic VerseThus began our collaboration which led to the publishing by Skylight Press  of
At the Gates of Dawn: A Collection of Writings by Ella Young.

The following poem also appears in The Book of Celtic Verse.  William Sharp, writing as, or through, Fiona McLeod is a fascinating story.  I have often wondered if Ella and William knew each other - have yet to see any proof but their poetry has so many similar themes and they share a romantic and mystical style.

The poem seems to have first appeared in the periodical The Pall Mall Magazine, Volume 32 (1904).  It was later published in The Writings of "Fiona Macleod" [pseud.], Volume 7, Duffield, 1910.  Anyone interested in reading more of Sharp's writings should try William Sharp (Fiona Macleod) a Memoir, Volume 2, Duffield, 1912.  William Sharp, Elizabeth Amelia Sharp. Duffield, 1910.  The William Sharp "Fiona Macleod" Archive at the Institute of English Studies,  University of London is also a good source for further exploration. 


"The four cities of the world that was: the sunken city of Murias, and the city of Gorias, and the city of Finias,
and the city of Falias." 
(Ancient Gaelic Chronicle.)

Finias and Falias,

Where are they gone?

Does the wave hide Murias--

Does Gorias know the dawn?

Does not the wind wail

In the city of gems?

Do not the prows sail

Over fallen diadems

And spires of dim gold

And the pale palaces

Of Murias, whose tale was told

Ere the world was old?

Do women cry Alas! . . .

Beyond Finias?

Does the eagle pass

Seeing but her shadow on the grass

Where once was Falias:

And do her towers rise

Silent and lifeless to the frozen skies?

And do whispers and sighs

Fill the twilights of Finias

With love that has not grown cold

Since the days of old?

Hark to the tolling of bells

And the crying of wind!

The old spells

Time out of mind,

They are crying before me and behind!

I know now no more of my pain,

But am as the wandering rain

Or as the wind's shadow on the grass

Beyond Finias of the Dark Rose:

Or, 'mid the pinnacles and still snows

Of the Silence of Falias

I go: or am as the wave that idly flows 

Where the pale weed in songless
thickets grows

Over the towers and fallen palaces

Where the Sea-city was,

The city of Murias.