A TERRIBLE BEAUTY: THE MASK OF CUCHULAIN IN "EASTER 1916" (IRELAND)

CARMEL PATRICIA JORDAN, Fordham University

Abstract

In "A General Introduction For My Work," Yeats writes: "Behind all Irish history hangs a great tapestry, even Christianity had to accept it and be itself pictured there. Nobody looking at its dim folds can say where Christianity begins and Druidism ends." According to Yeats, every aspect of Irish life and thought has been formed by this great tapestry--this Druid-Christian matrix, and his poetry on the Rising is inextricably bound up with his ideas on the "great tapestry" and its powerful influence on the Irish imagination. The "fierce horsemen," the "Rose Tree," "Cuchulain" and all the other symbols of "terrible beauty" which are part of the landscape of Yeats' poems on the Rising, lie within the "dim folds" of that tapestry. The Mask of Cuchulain, as it emerges in the rich threads of that tapestry, embodies the "terrible beauty" of Ireland herself, her age-old traditions; her fatalistic yet joyful attitude towards love and death; her mordant lyrical passion, and her "turbulent, indomitable reaction against the despotism of fact,"--all those things which brought about the "troubled ecstasy" of "Easter 1916": "all changed, changed utterly: A terrible beauty is born."^ To date, however, critics in their analysis of Yeats' poems on the Rising, have ignored this tapestry. As a result, the important role played by this tapestry in both the formation of the Rebellion itself and Yeats' perception of the Rebellion as part of an ongoing "legend" of terrible beauty, has been overlooked. Most importantly, Yeats' concept of the "Mask" itself, which played such an important part in his perception of the Rising as drama, also finds its roots in the tapestry--an important fact that has also been overlooked by critics in their discussion of the origins of Yeats' "Doctrine of the Mask."^ This study carefully examines the threads in the great tapestry, and by looking not only at the Tain and at Old and Middle Irish poetry, but at Irish art and archeology as well, reveals that the fascination with Mask which we see in Yeats, Wilde and the 1916 poets, is rooted deep in the Celtic past. (Abstract shortened with permission of author.) ^

Subject Area

English literature

Recommended Citation

JORDAN, CARMEL PATRICIA, "A TERRIBLE BEAUTY: THE MASK OF CUCHULAIN IN "EASTER 1916" (IRELAND)" (1984). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI8506336.
http://fordham.bepress.com/dissertations/AAI8506336

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