Monday, June 20, 2016

Fionavar - the myth of war and peace

Image by Denise Sallee. © Denise Sallee 2009
I remember well the idealism of my youth when I believed in (and worked for) world peace. Each year since has led to more and more war, more fighting over territory and religion. More greed. More power. The only peace I believe in now is that which I try to find for myself, within myself.

I came across Eva Gore-Booth's notes for her dramatic work based upon Queen Maeve, her daughter Fionavar, and the ongoing struggle between war and peace. And then I remembered that Ella Young had also written about Fionavar so I decided to group the two Irish women's words together.  They both lived through  terribly troubling times in Ireland, and they both understood the power of their mythic tradition.

Notes by Eva Gore-Booth:

The meaning I got out of the story of Maeve is a symbol of the world-old struggle in the human mind between the forces of dominance and pity, of peace and war. The time has come, in the history of a human soul, when a newly developed and passionate sense of unity undermines the ancient ideals of savage heroism and world-power. Thus the reign of the old warlike gods is rashly broken into and threatened by the fascination of a new idea. The birth of imagination, the new god of pity, is symbolised in the outside world by the crucifixion of Christ.
A vision of this event is seen by Maeve the Warrior Queen of Connaught at the moment of its happening and becomes the turning point of her life and thought...Beyond [Maeve's] fighting, her great joy in life is her daughter Fionavar, a young girl of fifteen who has as yet seen nothing of war. Whilst the battle is raging, Maeve and Fionavar go to consult a Druidess as to the result of the fight. The Druidess, under the influence of the sea god Mannanaum, sees visions of the future in the stream of water that flows through her tent. She prophesies the death of Fionavar on the battlefield. At her incantation the presence of the ancient warlike gods of Ireland is felt everywhere. 

FROM:  The Death of Fionavar by Eva Gore-Booth
[Gore-Booth, Eva. The Death of Fionavar from The Triumph of Maeve. London: Erskine MacDonald, 1916.]

Men say the great heart of the Princess broke
For pity of the dead lying on the grass
After the battle.
Ye who have borne her hither on her shield
Tell now your tale. How did this thing befall
She came at evening, running to the field,
Knowing naught of battle, or sights that appal
The strongest soul unused to the ways of war.
Thou knowest her heart was ever wont to burn
For any little grief. Therefore when she saw
The primroses all soaked in blood and the brown fern
Broken--Death that was servant to no gentle God
And everywhere pale faces wild with pain,
The blood-stained daisy cried out from the sod
Unto her soul, there on the stricken plain
For very pity she fell down and died.

FIONAVAR  by Ella Young (from  MARZILLIAN, 1938)

O flame blown out of Tir-nan-Oge,
White flame borne on enchanted air,
O heart's delight and heart's despair,
Fionavar! 0 Fionavar!

Draw the white shroud above her face
And cover up her close-shut eyes,
She will not hear a voice that cries
Fionavar! 0 Fionavar!

Love that none of us might win,
By strange lone ways to us you came
And lone you go, White Heart of Flame,
Fionavar! 0 Fionavar!

Pale face that held our hearts in thrall,
Pale face made paler by our love,
We could but draw the shroud above,
Fionavar! 0 Fionavar!

Frail hands no mortal lover kissed,
Fair-folded now as death beseems,
You hide away the Dream of Dreams,
Fionavar! 0 Fionavar!

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