The Fiddler of Dooney by W.B. Yeats

The Fiddler of Dooney

"WHEN I play on my fiddle in Dooney,
Folk dance like a wave of the sea;
My cousin is priest in Kilvarnet,
My brother in Moharabuiee.

I passed my brother and cousin:
They read in their books of prayer;
I read in my book of songs
I bought at the Sligo fair.

When we come at the end of time,
To Peter sitting in state,
He will smile on the three old spirits,
But call me first through the gate;

For the good are always the merry,
Save by an evil chance,
And the merry love the fiddle
And the merry love to dance:

And when the folk there spy me,
They will all come up to me,
With ‘Here is the fiddler of Dooney!’
And dance like a wave of the sea."

This is a beautifully, and deceptively, simple poem.

But as any good Platonist would know (and Yeats was most surely that) ‘dancing like the wave of the sea’ is precisely an image of matter informed spirit: a harmonious alignment of worlds, a fullness of truth’s embodiment. And too that the good is analogous with joy (unless temporarily hidden by the incursions of evil) and joy springs out of and into that happy alignment of informed spirit that is the dance.

And that this ‘older’ tradition carries a priority over the learning of the priest – that the folk carry it in song and that Ireland carried it in anticipation of Christ’s coming – is a theme of Yeats (and of the Celtic revival generally).

A simple lyric carries great freight with a lightness of touch that is the indicator of a traditional imagination.


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