Tag Archives: crone

Symbolism in “The Hollow of the Three Hills” by Nathaniel Hawthorne

This is a very short tale, but rich in symbolism. In the opening paragraph, which is a little long, Hawthorne manages to lay the foundation for all the symbols that manifest in the story.

In those strange old times, when fantastic dreams and madmen’s reveries were realized among the actual circumstances of life, two persons met together at an appointed hour and place. One was a lady, graceful in form and fair of feature, though pale and troubled, and smitten with an untimely blight in what should have been the fullest bloom of her years; the other was an ancient and meanly-dressed woman, of ill-favored aspect, and so withered, shrunken, and decrepit, that even the space since she began to decay must have exceeded the ordinary term of human existence. In the spot where they encountered, no mortal could observe them. Three little hills stood near each other, and down in the midst of them sunk a hollow basin, almost mathematically circular, two or three hundred feet in breadth, and of such depth that a stately cedar might but just be visible above the sides. Dwarf pines were numerous upon the hills, and partly fringed the outer verge of the intermediate hollow, within which there was nothing but the brown grass of October, and here and there a tree trunk that had fallen long ago, and lay mouldering with no green successor from its roots. One of these masses of decaying wood, formerly a majestic oak, rested close beside a pool of green and sluggish water at the bottom of the basin. Such scenes as this (so gray tradition tells) were once the resort of the Power of Evil and his plighted subjects; and here, at midnight or on the dim verge of evening, they were said to stand round the mantling pool, disturbing its putrid waters in the performance of an impious baptismal rite. The chill beauty of an autumnal sunset was now gilding the three hill-tops, whence a paler tint stole down their sides into the hollow.

So let’s go through the paragraph and look at the various symbols that will come into play during this story.

First are the two women, one young and one old. They represent the maid and crone aspects of the triple goddess. But also, they represent the past and present for the older woman. The younger woman symbolizes the memories of the older. The choices that were made when the woman was young led her to her place now. So when the crone conjures dark memories of the young woman’s past, she is essentially reliving her own memories, which will lead to her liberation from the bonds of guilt and shame.

The next symbol we encounter is the three hills. The three hills represent the three memories which the crone conjures for the young woman. Each of the hills is a painful memory and represents separation, symbolic death (think grave mound). The young woman severed connections with parents, then with husband, and finally with child. In Hawthorne’s time, the only way a woman could be free was to shake off all bonds to family.

Next, we see that the setting of the story is in October. This represents the time of reaping. We all must reap what we sow, and the young woman must face up to the decisions that she made.

Finally, we have the symbol of the fallen tree. This represents the woman’s lineage, or family tree. When Hawthorne writes that there is “no green successor from its roots,” it is a metaphor for the fact that the woman no longer has any family or children to carry on her bloodline. Like the tree, she will just get old and decay.

While this is not a horror story, per se, it is certainly dark and eerie, and a great short read for an October evening.

Advertisements

4 Comments

Filed under Literature

Thoughts on “The Hosting of the Sidhe” by William Butler Yeats

Image Source: Wikipedia

The host is riding from Knocknarea
And over the grave of Clooth-na-Bare;
Caoilte tossing his burning hair
And Niamh calling Away, come away:
Empty your heart of its mortal dream.
The winds awaken, the leaves whirl round,
Our cheeks are pale, our hair is unbound,
Our breasts are heaving, our eyes are agleam,
Our arms are waving, our lips are apart;
And if any gaze on our rushing band,
We come between him and the deed of his hand,
We come between him and the hope of his heart.

The host is rushing ’twixt night and day,
And where is there hope or deed as fair?
Caoilte tossing his burning hair,
And Niamh calling Away, come away.

Before we can begin to understand the symbolism in this poem, we have to know the names and places mentioned by Yeats.

  • Sidhe—The Faeries, but with a more general implication of supernatural beings.
  • Knocknarea—Mountain in Sligo.
  • Clooth-na-Bare—A faery who sought death in the deepest lake in the world, which she found in Sligo; hence, also a place name.
  • Caoilte—Legendary Irish hero (companion of Oisin).
  • Niamh—Beloved of Oisin, whom she lures into the adventure described in Yeats’s long early narrative poem “The Wanderings of Oisin.” Her name means “brightness and beauty.”

(Definitions source: M.L. Rosenthal)

Rosenthal provides further information regarding the Sidhe and what they meant to Yeats in particular.

Thus the Sidhe are more than mere faeries in the ordinary sense; they are supernatural beings of a more exalted character. Yeats sometimes thinks of them as including all mythical heroes, and at other times makes them quite sinister. To be touched by them is to be set apart from other mortals, an ambivalent condition common to all who succumb to enchantment.

Clearly, this is a complex poem which contains layers of symbolism. I’ll do my best to bring some of these symbols to the surface.

The Sidhe appear to embody the mythology of Ireland, a combination of the mystical and the heroic. They are the Druids, the poets, the heroes, the supernatural beings, all combined into one host. Essentially, they are the source of inspiration for Yeats.

Knocknarea and Clooth-na-Bare are both in Sligo, so we have the lofty peak and the deepest lake, respectively, in the same location. Yeats seems to be implying that the mystical inspiration for his poetry is drawn both from searching the heavens, or the realm of the divine, as well as in exploring the depths of the waters, which symbolizes the deep wellspring of the subconscious mind. This places Ireland at a sort of crossroads, a place where the divine and the human meet, where god consciousness blends with the magical power of human consciousness.

Niamh is a little more complicated. I see three possible representations here. First, she could represent Ireland as the mother country. Second, she could symbolize the embodiment of the divine creative force, or the muse which inspires the poet to craft verse. And thirdly, I suspect there is a correlation between Niamh and Maud Gonne, Yeats’s beloved and personal inspiration. Considering that there are three possible representations embodied in Niamh, it is also possible that Yeats intended her to symbolize the triple goddess (maiden, mother, crone).

I suspect that Yeats sees himself reflected in the character of Caoilte. He is an Irish hero, heeding the call of the Sidhe, lured into the adventure of creating poetry by the mythical being of Niamh. As I envision him “tossing his burning hair,” I see a symbol of the mystical poet, whose mind and thoughts are aflame with the divine fire of inspiration, burning with a passion to rekindle the creative flame that was once Ireland.

As with so many of Yeats’s poems, I suspect this one is open to other interpretations. This one is just my personal view. If you have other thoughts or ideas regarding this poem, please feel free to share them in the comments section.

Thanks for stopping by, and happy St. Patrick’s Day.

2 Comments

Filed under Literature

“The Song of the Old Mother” by William Butler Yeats

Source: BBC

Source: BBC

Since today is the Winter Solstice, I thought this would be the perfect poem to read and contemplate.

I rise in the dawn, and I kneel and blow
Till the seed of the fire flicker and glow;
And then I must scrub and bake and sweep
Till stars are beginning to blink and peep;
And the young lie long and dream in their bed
Of the matching of ribbons for bosom and head,
And their days go over in idleness,
And they sigh if the wind but lift a tress:
While I must work because I am old,
And the seed of the fire gets feeble and cold.

As the cycle of the year reaches the longest night and darkness dominates, the Goddess is manifest as the Crone, or the old mother. All the world and all of creation sleeps through the long winter night, waiting to be reborn. The Crone rises at dawn to kindle the “seed of the fire,” symbolizing the beginning of a new cycle and the rebirth of light.

The poem is composed of five couplets, or ten lines. As an initiate into the Golden Dawn, Yeats would have been aware of the mystical significance of the number ten, particularly in regard to the kabbalistic Tree of Life. According to kabbalah, all existence is formed from the ten sefirot. Because this poem is comprised of ten lines, Yeats was implying that the rebirth of the Goddess and the rebirth of light correlates with the rebirth of all existence, that all of creation is rekindled on the Winter Solstice.

The last thing I would like to point out regarding this poem is the couplet that structurally forms the very center of the poem (lines 5 and 6). I see two meanings here. The surface meaning is that humanity and Nature are both at rest, sleeping through the long night. Note that bed refers to both a place of rest for a person as well as the soil in a garden, from which new life will grow in the spring. But this couplet also symbolizes the two other forms of the Goddess: the Maiden and the Mother. In the spring, the Goddess is reborn as the Maiden and will be adorned with the colorful ribbons symbolic of spring.

On this longest night of the year, may the light be rekindled within you and may it burn brightly throughout the coming year. Blessed be!

10 Comments

Filed under Literature

Three Poems by William Blake

PrettyRoseTree

As I continue to work my way through the Songs of Experience, the next one is more of a set, three poems that share the same illuminated page and also share a theme of flowers.

MY PRETTY ROSE-TREE

A flower was offered to me,
Such a flower as May never bore;
But I said I’ve a Pretty Rose-tree,
And I passed the sweet flower o’er.

Then I went to my Pretty Rose-tree,
To tend her by day and by night;
But my Rose turned away with jealousy,
And her thorns were my only delight.

AH! SUN-FLOWER

Ah Sun-flower! weary of time,
Who countest the steps of the Sun:
Seeking after that sweet golden clime
Where the travellers journey is done.

Where the Youth pined away with desire,
And the pale Virgin shrouded in snow:
Arise from their graves and aspire,
Where my Sun-flower wishes to go.

THE LILLY

The modest Rose puts forth a thorn,
The humble Sheep a threatening horn:
While the Lilly white shall in Love delight,
Nor a thorn nor a threat stain her beauty bright.

There is a lot here to consider. The first question is: Why three poems? After reading through them a couple times, I concluded that the three flowers/poems represent the three stages of a woman’s life: birth, adulthood, and death. This would also be symbolic of the triple goddess: maid, mother, and crone.

In the first poem, the Rose-tree is the mother who gives birth to the baby girl. The red color of the rose symbolizes the blood associated with childbirth. The mother becomes jealous of her daughter, possibly because she mourns the loss of her beauty which she sees reflected in the daughter’s visage, or it could be the attention which the father pays to the young girl. Regardless, the mother is not joyous over the birth of her daughter.

The Sun-flower symbolizes the girl becoming a woman. She has reached her full height and now aspires to reach the sun (or son). She is ready to become a mother herself and renew the cycle.

Lastly, the Lilly is the symbol of death and mourning, hence they are frequently used in funeral wreaths. The whiteness represents the pallor of the skin, yet also hints at a purification of the soul as it transitions to the next realm.

While all this makes sense, there was something about this poem that still bothered me and as I thought about it some more, I figured out what it was. In the first poem, I realized that roses do not grow on trees. The image was all wrong. So why would Blake, skilled poet that he was, use such a poor image, unless he was hinting at something else. That is when an alternate interpretation came to me.

I pictured the Rose-tree as symbolic of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. This completely changed my view of the poems. The flower that was originally offered was the promise of life in the Garden of Eden, but humanity instead turned to the Tree of Knowledge and as a result, became subjected to the thorns of life (the curse of experience). Humanity then attempted to reach back to God and did so through Christ, the Sun-flower (or Son-flower). This makes the lines “Arise from their graves and aspire, /Where my Sun-flower wishes to go” make more sense. Finally, the whiteness and purity of the Lilly represents the return to the Edenic state. No more will “a thorn nor a threat stain her beauty bright” as humanity is returned to the place of divine being.

Even now, I feel that there is more to this triad of poems than I am seeing. But alas, the day is moving on and as much as I would love to sit all day and contemplate this, I must attend to other things. If you see anything else hidden in these poems, please share them in a comment. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Have a beautiful day and keep reading!

12 Comments

Filed under Literature

“The Angel” by William Blake

TheAngel_Blake

I dreamt a dream! What can it mean?
And that I was a maiden Queen
Guarded by an Angel mild:
Witless woe was ne’er beguiled!

And I wept both night and day,
And he wiped my tears away;
And I wept both day and night,
And hid from him my heart’s delight.

So he took his wings, and fled;
Then the morn blushed rosy red.
I dried my tears, and armed my fears
With ten thousand shields and spears.

Soon my Angel came again;
I was armed, he came in vain;
For the time of youth was fled,
And grey hairs were on my head.

This is a very complicated poem, although it seems simple on the surface. Upon first reading, I interpreted the poem as an allegory about a young woman who is filled with fear as a child. As a result, the angel who watched over her left and in adulthood, the woman turns to anger and cynicism as a defense. When the angel returns, the woman is old and nearing death, and although she had armed herself against her fears, there was one fear which she could never protect herself from—the fear of dying. While this is a valid interpretation of the poem, I see other symbolism hidden deeper in the text.

The poem describes a dream in which the dreamer envisions himself as the Queen. I see the Queen as symbolic of the unconscious mind, or the Jungian anima. As the dreamer taps into his unconscious mind, he must confront his deepest fears. It almost seems that there is an internal war between his two consciousnesses.

The Queen also appears to be a reference to the triple goddess. She is presented in the three aspects: Maiden, Mother, and Crone. As the Maiden, she weeps from childhood fear. As Mother, we see that the “morn blushed rosy red,” implying that she has reached the stage of maturity when she is menstruating and ready to bear children. Finally, as Crone, her youth has passed and the grey hairs of wisdom now crown her.

The poems in Songs of Innocence and Experience are all more complex than they appear at first. That is the magnificence of these poems. If you notice symbolism that I missed, please share in the comment space. Thanks for visiting!

6 Comments

Filed under Literature

“The Book of Life” by Deborah Harkness

BookOfLife

I’ve waited two years for this book to come out. It is the third and final book in the All Souls Trilogy. I loved the first two books: A Discovery of Witches and Shadow of Night. I must confess, though, that this one was a little disappointing in comparison. Not that it was bad; it was just not as good.

I have two main criticisms regarding this book. The first is that it felt drawn out. I kept waiting for something to happen. I found myself reading faster and faster just to reach the interesting parts. After about 300 pages, I was reading faster because I just wanted to finish already. I felt that this could have been incorporated into Shadow of Night by adding a mere 100 pages, but because publishers want trilogies now and it seems that every other book that comes out is part of a series. I suspect Ms. Harkness had to comply with her publisher’s demands and deliver the requisite pages. The second thing I found disappointing about this book is that it felt more like it belonged in the Twilight saga. It seemed to have less of the scholasticism, the history, and the rich description of cities that I found so engaging in the first two books. Instead, I suffered through pages of vampire/witch romance, which is really not that interesting for me. When the story finally moved to Venice, I was yearning for more description of the city and the architecture. I didn’t get it.

In spite of my disappointments, the book is still good, just not as good as her previous ones. There were parts of the book that were brilliant and I have nothing but admiration for Harkness as a writer. As such, I definitely want to point out some strong points in this book.

There is a great section that discusses dark magic. The term generally conjures images of evil and nefarious activity. But as the characters in the book explain, it is just representative of knowledge that is hidden and may be dangerous if mishandled.

“Dark doesn’t have to mean evil,” Sarah said. “Is the new moon evil?”

I shook my head. “The dark of the moon is a time for new beginnings.”

“Owls? Spiders? Bats? Dragons?” Sarah was using her teacher voice.

“No,” I admitted.

“No. They are not. Humans made up those stories about the moon and nocturnal creatures because they represent the unknown. It’s no coincidence that they also symbolize wisdom. There is nothing more powerful than knowledge. That’s why we’re so careful when we teach someone dark magic.” Sarah took my hand. “Black is the color of the goddess as crone, plus the color of concealment, bad omens, and death.”

(p. 140)

At one point in the book, Diana is discussing alchemical texts with a library assistant. As she points out, the difficulty in deciphering an alchemical text is that the writers blend the physical with the symbolic, making it near impossible to figure out what is literal and what is symbol.

“The Voynich manuscript’s illuminations of strange flora would certainly intrigue a botanist—not to mention the illumination of a tree from Ashmole 782. But why would an alchemist be interested in them?” Lucy asked.

“Because some of the Voynich’s illustrations resemble alchemical apparatus. The ingredients and processes needed to make the philosopher’s stone were jealously guarded secrets, and alchemists often hid them in symbols: plants, animals, even people.” The Book of Life contained the same potent blend of the real and the symbolic.

(p. 223)

Since Harkness is a professor at the University of Southern California, her best writing, in my opinion, is when she is depicting the analysis of documents. I can sense the academic thrill of closely examining a one-of-a-kind document.

Hubbard turned the page so that it faced me, but I already knew what I would see there: two alchemical dragons locked together, the blood from their wounds falling into a basin from which naked, pale figures rose. It depicted a stage in the alchemical process after the chemical marriage of the moon queen and the sun king: conceptio, when a new and powerful substance sprang forth from the union of opposites—male and female, light and dark, sun and moon.

(pp 252 – 253)

If I had to rate this book on a ten scale, I’d give it a seven. I think a lot of my disappointment was the result of the fact that my expectations were high. I cannot stress enough how much I loved the first two books, which was why I expected more from this one. I am also getting tired of the trilogy trend. Personally, I am feeling like I no longer want to read anything that is part of a trilogy. When I reach the end of a book, I want some closure. I don’t want to have to wait two or three years for the next installment, then struggle to remember the nuances of the characters and storyline. In fact, if I do decide to read a trilogy again, I will wait until all three books are out so I can read them one after the other.

Leave a comment

Filed under Literature

“The Sandman: Overture – 3” by Neil Gaiman

SandmanOverture_03

I have to say that I am extremely impressed with this series. It is by far the most interesting and thought-provoking comic I have ever read. In this installment, Morpheus the Dream Lord is traveling to the City of the Stars to address the issue of the star that has gone insane. He travels the surreal landscape with a cat that is a manifestation of himself, almost like a part of his psyche that is manifested in another form.

As they are traveling, they encounter three women who represent the triple goddess: maid, matron, and crone. They offer him knowledge in exchange for his cat, essentially wanting him to sacrifice a part of his being for a bit of knowledge. He turns the offer down, saying he has no need to barter for knowledge, since he knows the path he travels and his destination. The crone then warns him the path will lead to his death.

Crone: Morpheus. The path you are taking leads you, directly or indirectly, to your death.

Dream: I believe that the same can be said of all paths, Lady. Of every track and way that any of us have walked since the Universe was young.

After the encounter with the triple goddess, Dream meets a young girl named Hope and agrees to allow her to accompany them on the journey. I suspect that there is some symbolism here that will be revealed later, about the importance of hope. She questions how there can be a city of stars since stars are flaming balls. Dream explains that they possess consciousness. I found this intriguing, since I believe that consciousness is not limited to humans and animals, but that consciousness is a part of all existence.

Hope: How can there be a City of Stars? My pa said that stars are flaming balls of gas in space… long, long long ways away.

Dream: Your father was wise. Physically, a star is a ball of gas, burning and rolling in a series of continuous thermonuclear events, uninhabitable to creatures of the flesh. But stars are also alive. They have minds. And sometimes, their minds wander.

As they are ready to retire for the evening, Hope asks Dream to tell her a story. Dream agrees, and his introduction floored me.

They say every story must be told at least once, before the final nightfall. And we are nearing the end of the Bridge… Make yourself comfortable, Hope. Once, long ago, there were two gods who fled their homeland…

The issue concludes with Dream telling a story about his past that is nothing short of incredible, overflowing with vivid imagery and rich symbolism. I won’t attempt to paraphrase it here, but I strongly encourage you to read and explore it on your own.

I was told that the next issue will not be available for a while. I already feel impatient. Thankfully, I have plenty of other things to read. As soon as the fourth installment is published, I will be reading it and sharing my thoughts. Thanks for stopping by, and keep reading!

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized