As the Crow Flies: A Lyric Play for the Air

by Austin Clarke
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Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 805

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Father Virgilius

Father Virgilius, a middle-aged monk and guide for the younger brothers. His primary function at the monastery of Clonmacnoise is working in the scriptorum, copying ancient manuscripts. As a devoted man of God, he interprets all phenomena in a specifically Christian context. He trusts in divine providence, even in the face of the gigantic storm in which they find themselves caught. He can see the operations of nature only as divine symbols and attempts to teach both Manus and Aengus that lesson.

Brother Aengus

Brother Aengus, a brother-novice in his late teens or early twenties. More venturesome than Brother Manus, he discovers the ancient cave of a holy man, a hermit, and feels his spiritual presence very keenly. Although frightened by the stormy violence around him, he is capable of great spiritual serenity because he is open to visionary experiences. Such experiences threaten both Father Virgilius and Brother Manus. Brother Aengus’ attunement to the energies of the natural and spiritual worlds makes him capable of delving into regions of the unconscious and articulating the ancient and often destructive memories found there. He alone knows why the eagle, at the play’s conclusion, is beating herself against the rocks in agony over the loss of her eaglets.

Brother Manus

Brother Manus, a naïve novice in his late teens or early twenties. He is full of fear and apprehension about everything that happens to them. Impatient and insecure, he demands that Father Virgilius explain the dangers they are undergoing in a rational way. He does not understand what is happening in either a religious or a naturalistic framework. The voices that he does hear, he immediately interprets as demonic.

The Eagle of Knock

The Eagle of Knock, a mythic figure from ancient Irish folklore. She is propelled into action by the persistent question that her eaglets put to her: Has there ever been a more violent and destructive storm than the one now occurring? Her nest is invaded by a harmless-looking ancient crow seeking rest and relief from the tempest; the crow turns out to be the evil Crow of Achill and destroys the eaglets once the Eagle of Knock ventures north to seek the answer from the wise Salmon of Assaroe.

The eaglets

The eaglets, the young, helpless children of the Eagle of Knock. Their persistent question about the comparative severity of the raging tempest becomes the call to adventure of their mother, as she foolishly takes the advice of the Crow of Achill and flies to the dangerous north.

The Crow of Achill

The Crow of Achill, an ancient Irish folkloric figure, the embodiment of fatality and betrayal. She begs to be sheltered by the Eagle of Knock from the raging storm and blames an injured leg for her inability to continue her journey. She claims to have been a messenger of the Hag of Dingle and to have been present at the Hag’s metamorphosis into a beautiful young woman. The crow suggests that the ferocity of the storm may be caused by the Hag’s latest transformation. The crow’s ability to move between human and animal life makes her the most dangerous of creatures.

The Stag of Leiterlone

The Stag of Leiterlone, a figure out of ancient Irish folklore. Like most heroes in traditional mythology, the stag recites tales of his epic escapes from other Irish mythological heroes such as Bran and Flann. His entire life has consisted of being hunted by men and their dogs; his only consolation is that he ran many of them to death.

The Blackbird of Derrycairn

The Blackbird of Derrycairn, a character from Celtic folklore. The blackbird tells of how she was heard and revered by such heroes as Patric and Fionn and of how they used her song to foretell the coming of dawn and her feathers to disclose the knowledge hidden in sacred trees.

The Salmon of Assaroe

The Salmon of Assaroe, the embodiment of wisdom and knowledge in Irish folklore. Like the Crow of Achill, he is both human and animal, but he uses his powers for good rather than evil. All immediately recognize him as the only authority who can answer the eaglets’ persistent question. The salmon derives his power and authority from being present at the creation of the world. He witnessed the violent evolutionary formulations of all the species. To escape the terrifying trauma of such consciousness, he descended into a primal sleep in which he can remember the formation of the animal world. He also answers the eaglets’ question: The worst tempest that ever occurred was the great Flood itself, which he witnessed. Because of his privileged position in the evolutionary scale, he recognizes the reappearance of the fatal woman now under the guise of the Crow of Achill, but too late to save the eaglets.




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