William Butler Yeats Short Fiction Analysis
With the exception of “John Sherman,” William Butler Yeats’s short stories mirror his attraction to the spirit world and reflect his fascination with good and evil. Since they were written during the fin de siècle period when literary and graphic artists, epitomized by the French symbolists, were expressing a world-weariness and pessimism that celebrated the triumph of evil, it is understandable that Yeats’s tales articulate that prevailing mood. These early fictional works also identify the themes which were to occupy Yeats’s poetic genius for the remainder of his life.
An integral part of the Irish literary movement, the tales have a dual purpose: to revitalize ancient Irish myths for modern Ireland and to serve as a model for artists attempting to write in Irish about Irish subjects. In the stories, Yeats celebrates the exploits of fairies and pagan Irish heroes which he discovered in the oral and written literary traditions; his tales thus become source material for other storytellers. Yeats’s The Celtic Twilight, a collection of folklore gathered from local storytellers, became important source material for Yeats’s later work. In recording the fantastic behavior of the various spirits and their relationships to the country people, Yeats stored information which he used later to dramatize his belief in communication between the material and the immaterial worlds. “Dhoya” is an excellent example of a revitalized myth, and “The Twisting of the Rope” illustrates Yeats’s role as a mentor for others.
In “Dhoya,” Yeats writes about a local Sligo legend. He had recently edited Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry (1888), and his imagination was stimulated by the living nature of these expressions of the conflict between the natural and preternatural worlds. “Dhoya” honors an ancient Celt who lived before the time of the Pharaohs, Buddha, and Thor. In predating the time of known heroes, Dhoya, the Celt, exists before recorded history. It follows then that Yeats’s native Sligo has indeed an ancient history, for Dhoya is deserted at the Bay of Ballah, the fictional name of Sligo Bay. The Formorians, an ancient Irish tribe, abandon Dhoya, a giant of tremendous strength, because he cannot control the violent rages which come over him. While enraged, he kills those around him and destroys whatever he can touch. He is believed to be possessed by demons, and a plan is concocted to exile him to the Bay of Ballah.
Dhoya, living alone in the forests and along the beaches, experiences more frequent attacks, but they are directed against his shadow or the halcyon, the beautiful and peaceful legendary bird. Years pass, and a quality of timelessness adds to the mystical nature of the tale, for Dhoya is hundreds of years old. One day he kills a great bull, and the herd chases him until he eludes it by running into the deepest part of the bay, a spot called Pool Dhoya. To this day, and in Yeats’s day, the deepest part of Sligo Bay is known as Pool Dhoya, a fact which Yeats incorporates into the story to create a living legend.
Yeats also introduces legendary characters. Dhoya ranges over the mountains where Diarmuid and Grania, pagan lovers from the written Irish literature of pre-Christian Ireland, traveled. In time, Dhoya also experiences a love like Diarmuid. It comes to Dhoya as a gentle breeze upon his forehead, nothing more; but he longs for that touch, which remains only a touch for an untold number of years. Eventually, he develops a depression which he plans to shake off by building a huge bonfire at the rising of the moon. The unhappy lover prays to the moon and makes all kinds of sacrifices—strawberries, an owl, a badger, deer, swine, birds, and whatever else he can find to appease the moon. Soon thereafter, a voice calls “Dhoya, my beloved.” Trembling, Dhoya looks into the forest, sees a white form which becomes a flowering plant as he touches it. Dazed, the giant returns to his cave...
(The entire section is 2,128 words.)