The Book of the Great Dhoul and Hanrahan the Red

by W.B. Yeats

Somewhere in the middle of the last century a man, with a frieze coat and a great mass of red hair, strode down a narrow street in the Town of the Grey Lough, and with a slightly unsteady step. The little ink-bottle hanging by a chain from his neck, and his pale vehement face, contradicted his rough weather-beaten hands, and showed him for a hedge schoolmaster before all eyes familiar with the villages.

Presently a puff of wind swept round the corner of a house, and sent a whirl of straws dancing and leaping before his feet, and made him stop and cross himself in momentary fear, for such winds are held to be the passing of a troop of the Shee. At the same moment his eyes fell upon a little shop-window, and in the window were rolls of tobacco, three hats of the old rimless type, the head of a churn cask, a sheaf of tallow candles, certain dusty pieces of soap, a sod of turf with two clay pipes stuck in it crosswise to show there was the Brew of the Little Pot within, and a book whose pages were open and full of singular diagrams. He at once remembered having heard the owner of the shop talking of this book, which had lain in the window a long time in the hope of catching the eyes of some curiosity hunter; and he wondered he had never thought of looking at it, and perhaps of buying it and taking it home. He stooped down, where so many children had stood and nudged each other, and whispered that there was the book of the Great Dhoul which he wrote himself; and looked long and pondered and pondered. Presently he stood up and gave the door of the shop a kick, and called out: ‘Come out of that, Little Paddy.’

‘Is that you, Hanrahan the Red?’ said a big peasant, stooping his head under the lintel. ‘I thought you were kept all day at the Feamy Height teaching school, and minding cattle, when school was done, for the Squire the son of Dowda, the red anger of God upon him! and, when the cattle were in the byre, making rhymes about the old giants, and fighting men, and the blessed Maurya, and the four evangelists, and your own light o’ loves.’

‘My school is gone from me.’

‘Did you lose it as you lost the school at the Great Spring because of the women?’

‘The truth is on your tongue,’ replied Hanrahan, ‘for I got into trouble about Maive Lavell, who I made the song to.’

‘Owen,’ said the other, ‘if it is the Brew of the Little Pot you are wanting, you must pay on the nail, for though you are a great poet and know Latin, I will not trust you for another noggin.’

‘It is not the Brew of the Little Pot I want, but the book of the Great Dhoul.’

‘And how are you going to pay for it?’

‘I have just come from selling my big brown coat with the cape to Michael the son of Rafferty.’

‘You will have to give me two silver shillings; a great price for a book; for it’s been long in the family. My poor father, may he rest easy! took it out of a French brigantine. O but my poor father was a fine man: he put a tar-barrel on a rock out by one of the Arran Isles, and he wrecked her for the soap that was aboard.’

The money was paid, and Little Paddy took the book out of the window, and Hanrahan, touching it with the tips of the fingers of one hand, and having made a cross over it with the other hand, thrust it into his breast-pocket.

‘And what are you going to do with my book, that has kept the thieves out these four years?’

Hanrahan had not considered this at all, and stood for a moment, shoving his fingers up through his red hair, so that his cap rose a couple of inches; and presently, struck by a sudden idea, poured out a vehement tide of words. ‘Be quiet now and I will tell you what I want the Book for, and I will tell you no lies about it, but the truth. Father Gillen says I am a limb of the great Dhoul, but I am going to hold out against him until he has raised the neighbourhood as Father Clancy raised the Great Spring on me. You have heard how the Fianna were sent down into Hell because they were heathens, and worshipped none but Dana and Angus and the Dagda and Lir and Mannanan, and them that were in the sun, and them that were in the moon; but may be you have not heard that God himself, because He admired the great blows they gave, and the songs and the stories they made, put a circle of smooth green grass all round and about the place for them. They rush in their chariots on that green grass for ever and ever, making the sods fly with the hoofs of the horses; and Oscar, the biggest of them, goes before with a flail, and drives the demons from the road. Well, their way is my way, for whatever a man does against me, and wherever I am, I get the best out of things; and now that Father Gillen is turning the neighbours against me, I am going to meet him and them and get the best out of things. They say, you know, that I got my songs from the People of Dana, when I lay asleep on. the Grey Rath; and now I am going to say I got them from the Great Dhoul himself, and show the Book for a proof, and when they believe this, I will laugh loudly, and laughter will be smooth green grass before me and behind.’

Having thought of this use for the Book, he was eager to begin, and with but little of a leave-taking hurried away and walked the long round to the Fearny Height in a fever of expectancy. He went first to the village shebeen, and getting into talk with a potato-digger’s wife dropped a hint or two about the Grey Rath, and then about even more dreadful marvels; and last of all he showed the Book and told sleep-murdering stories of those who had owned it before him; and then going to his own cabin sat all the evening by a good turf fire whistling ‘The Green Bunch of Rushes,’ ' Yellow Shawn,’ ‘The Fair White Calf,’ and ‘Is there Silk in your Wallet?’ in a quick succession, and smiling to himself, for he could hear outside a shuffling of feet, and knew that the neighbours were looking at the Book where it lay, as if by chance, on the ledge of the small square window.

Several nights passed over, and every night he heard the shuffling of always more numerous feet, and his heart rose higher and higher. As he went along the roads he noticed the people avoided him; and when at last it was reported that he had been seen drunk with the Faery man of the Great Spring he saw to his entire happiness that women crossed themselves when he passed. Having attained the height of evil repute, he began to weary and hunger to look at the Book and discover if it was as dreadful as men thought. He had not touched it since he laid it on the window-ledge, for he was mortally afraid of it, and now when he took courage he said three aves as a preparation. Holding it close to the firelight he read the title, ‘Grimoire of Pope Honorius,’ and then dipping here and there into the dog-latin read how to destroy your enemies in diverse fashions, and how to make any you would love you. Last of all his eyes lit on a receipt for making spirits appear, by writing their names on paper with the blood of a bat and encircling their names with certain squares and triangles and many-pointed stars, drawn also with the blood, and then burning the paper calling the names aloud the while. He had often longed to see the Shee, and had really spent half a night on the Grey Rath in great fear, but quite without avail, and, now that a sight of them seemed really possible, he began to tremble all over, and in all likelihood his fear had been more than his curiosity but for something that redoubled the temptation. A bat fluttered in through the halfclosed door, and beat itself against the white-washed canvas under the thatch and the rafters. Moved by a sudden impulse he took the handle of a hoe from a corner and struck at the bat until it fell with a broken wing at his feet. He struck it again, and killed it, and then wrote the first name that came into his head, Cleena of the Wave, the name of the queen of the Southern fairies, on a page torn out of a book, from which he had taught English in his hedge-school, and called ‘The Lives of Celebrated Rogues and Rapparees.’ Then remembering an old poem, that called Cleena a power of the air, he traced round her name a certain many-angled star, which the Book told him to use when invoking a power of the air, and held the paper in the flame of the turf until it was burnt, calling out ‘Cleena! Cleena! Cleena!’ The paper had not all fallen into ashes before it seemed to him that the room was sinking away, and an inexplicable silence as of the last sleep creeping over everything. Then suddenly he felt rather than saw, and more as an intellectual presence than as a substantial form, a tall woman, dressed in saffron, like the women of ancient Ireland, who stood a little above the floor, her dark hair falling from under a silver fillet. Then from the shadow of her hair shone eyes of a faint blue, very clear and soft, giving to her whole being a look of unearthly mildness, as though she had never known trouble nor met with any affront. She seemed waiting for Hanrahan to speak, but his fear and his reverence alike kept him silent for very long; at last, feeling that he must ask her some question to justify so daring an invocation, he asked whether Angus the master of love still lived, and whether the three birds he made out of his kisses sang as sweetly as of old?’ Her lips moved, but he could not hear anything, although he strained to hear, except a faint murmur, for she seemed to be close to him, and yet at a great distance Finding his question of no avail he sank into a rapturous silence, gazing upon her; and was still gazing when the greyness of the dawn began to gleam through the small window-panes. The woman appeared to see the greyness, and her daemonic patience, which seemed well nigh as nature’s own, gave way, and she faded with the night.

All the next day Owen longed for the night, and when the night came he wrote the word anew and burnt the paper, calling for Cleena of the Wave; and the woman came again, but so much more visibly that he saw the silk stitches in the border of little embroidered roses that went round and about the edge of her robe; and when without waiting for any question her lips began to move he could distinguish a sentence here and there in the midst of the sound as of the rippling of distant waters. She was trying to answer his question, and he could hear many words which seemed to be telling of the high and merry notes and of the low and sobbing notes of the birds of love. The next evening at twilight he wandered along the edge of a coppice with a long cudgel until he had knocked down and killed another bat, and that night Cleena was even more visible and audible, and he listened to many miraculous things concerning the meaning of the notes and how they rose beyond the highest ramparts of heaven, and sank more low than the desolate land where Orchil drives the iron-horned and iron-hoofed deer; and all the while Owen was greatly perturbed at having put so great a lady to so great a trouble, for a thing that mattered to no man.

About a week passed over in this way. At last one day he was so absorbed that the cattle he was minding broke into a barley-field, and when he had gathered them together it was far past his usual hour for breaking off work, and he was very tired; and his nerves, already shaken by his trouble and by his drunkenness, made him start at every sound. When he reached his cabin he threw himself into his chair, and fell into a broken sleep, to be presently awakened by hearing some one moving about the room. When the dream had fallen from his eyes he saw a beautiful woman in a pale saffron dress looking at her own foot-mark in the ashes; and at the sight, the memory of all the trouble women had brought upon him passed over his mind, and he cried out, ‘Woman, what do you want here?’

She turned toward him a face so full of the tender substance of mortality, and smiled upon him with lips so full of red mortal blood that he did not recognize the immortal of his dreams; and she said to him in a caressing voice: ‘You have always loved me better than your own soul, and you have sought for me everywhere and in everything, though without knowing what you sought, and now I have come to you and taken on mortality that I may share your sorrow.’ He saw that she was indeed Cleena of the Wave, but so changed that all the trouble he had ever had from women, and all his anger against them were between him and her; and standing up hurriedly he cried: ‘Woman, begone out of this. I have had enough of women. I am weary of women. I am weary of life.’

She came over to him, and laying her hand upon his shoulder, said in a half whisper: ‘I will surround you with peace, and I will make your days calm, and I will grow old by your side. Do you not see I have always loved you?’ and as she spoke her voice was broken with tears. ‘I have loved you from the night I saw you lying on the Grey Rath, and saw you turning from side to side, for the fire in your heart would not let you rest. I love you, for you are fierce and passionate, and good and bad, and not dim and wave-like as are the people of the Shee. It was I who put a thought of the Devil’s Book into your head, and it was I who drove the bat through the window; and now I will grow old by your side, my beloved.’ Her importunity had made him angry, and he flung her from him, crying: ‘It was not you I loved, but the woman of the Shee,’ and strode towards the door. But now she too was angry, and he heard her voice, musical even in anger, and her words staid long in his ears: ‘Owen Hanrahan the Red, you have looked so often upon the dust that when the Rose has blossomed there you think it but a pinch of coloured dust; but now I lay upon you a curse, and you shall see the Rose everywhere, in the noggin, in woman’s eye, in drifting phantoms, and seek to come to it in vain; it shall waken a fire in your heart, and in your feet, and in your hands. A sorrow of all sorrows is upon you, Owen Hanrahan the Red.’

It was now almost dawn, and a faint green was touching the eastern sky, and as he looked at it he trembled as though it burnt in his own heart. It was near midnight before he returned: a frightful storm was blowing, and he being very drunk, made way against it with great difficulty, falling many times. He felt about for the door, but it was gone. The door-posts were gone too. The whole cabin was gone, and the fragments lay about the field where it had stood, and a whirlwind was driving bunches of the thatch up into the air; and it seemed to him that faint, shrill voices were talking angrily in the whirlwind, and that if he were sober he would know what they were saying. He looked about him in a dazed way, and saw the Book lying among the fragments of the cabin and close to the still burning embers. He took the Book up and thrust it into his pocket. The next day he sold it to the Faery man of the Great Spring; and by telling him all that had happened through its possession, and by representing the great fame it would bring a Faery man, and how the people whose butter was taken by witches would certainly employ no one but him to charm the butter home again, got a three months’ old pig in return. He exchanged the pig for the Brew of the Little Pot because a great thirst had come upon him, and drunkenness seemed to promise things he had never dreamed of before. The following Sunday the priest denounced him from the altar, and declared that his house had been thrown down by the wrath of God, and not by the Shee as the foolish supposed. Late at night, a number of men searched for him, and found him lying very drunk beside his roofless hearth; and having beaten him soundly and sprinkled him with holy water, they put him into a cart and dropped him over the border of the next county.