The Curse of the Fires and of the Shadows by William Butler Yeats (1893)
Tuesday’s Tale of Terror June 17, 2014
In Ireland, 1642, Sir Frederick Hamilton, under the direction of Thomas Cromwell, went on a murdering rampage and killed the townsfolk of Sligo, women and children. Survivors were sold off as slaves and shipped to the Caribbean. W.B. Yeats wrote a short story about this murdering rampage. Supernatural, mystery, mysticism, and symbolism all feature in this fiction based on Irish history.
We are in the province of Connacht, Ireland, at the Sligo Abbey (The Dominican Friary of the Holy Cross).
The White Friars with their holy candles are kneeling on the altar. As Sir Hamilton and his Puritan troopers invade and are given the order to shoot, deep shadows from the holy candles dance a warning. The troopers proceed with their order and leave the monks dead on the altar, their white habits stained with blood.
“Set fire to the house!’ cried Sir Frederick Hamilton…”
The dance of the shadows passed away, and the dance of the fires began. The
troopers fell back towards the door in the southern wall, and watched
those yellow dancers springing hither and thither.
But there is more–another dance is to come: the dance of white moon-fires, a haunted river, madness of the horses, and the Lug-na-Gael.
This story reminded me of Yeat’s poem Death.
NOR dread nor hope attend
A dying animal;
A man awaits his end
Dreading and hoping all;
Many times he died,
Many times rose again.
A great man in his pride
Confronting murderous men
Casts derision upon
Supersession of breath;
He knows death to the bone —
Man has created death.
That last line, ‘Man has created death’ is a popular Yeat’s quotation and can be interpreted many ways. I couldn’t help but hear in the poem that while animals are unaware of their mortality and humans so very aware, the acts of murderous men create their own deaths as well. Yeatsian scholars would likely differ, but I found the mystical symbolism of his story and this poem to create a haunting symmetry.
This story is a short read, and so worthy of your time if you enjoy a mix of imagination, mysticism, and symbolism, and especially if you are a Yeats fan.
We don’t often think of Yeats as writing occult fiction (although there are shades of it in his poetry), but he was a student of the occult and a practicing magician. He also wrote an unfinished novel The Speckled Bird, which is autobiographical about his mystical enlightenment. In a letter to his friend John O’Leary, Yeats said “Mysticism is the center of all that I do and all that I think and all that I write.” (1892)
Read The Curse of the Fires and of the Shadows at Online-Literature.com
Listen to the audio at Librivox Recordings (16 minutes)
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