Tag Archives: ten

“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!

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“Cuchulain’s Fight with the Sea” by William Butler Yeats

Image Source: Wikipedia

Image Source: Wikipedia

This poem is too long to include in this post. For those who need, here is a link to the full text hosted on the California State University website:

Cuchulain’s Fight with the Sea

In order to understand this poem, you need to know the three key characters: Cuchulain, a warrior from Irish mythology who served under the rule of Conchubar; Emer, who is Cuchulain’s wife; and the swineherd, Cuchulain’s son who is unnamed in the poem. The basic story which the poem conveys is a reverse Oedipus tale, where Cuchulain mistakes his son and slays him and is then overwhelmed by guilt.

In the beginning of the poem, the swineherd returns home to his mother who had instructed him to watch the shore for Cuchulain’s return. Anguished by her husband’s failure to return, Emer seems to perform an act of sorcery.

Then Emer cast the web upon the floor,
And raising arms all raddled with the dye,
Parted her lips with a loud sudden cry.

Emer then instructs her son to go and camp near Conchubar’s camp where Cuchulain is and to challenge him. Cuchulain, eager for glory, fights with his son and ultimately kills him.

After short fighting in the leafy shade,
He spake to the young man, ‘Is there no maid
Who loves you, no white arms to wrap you round,
Or do you long for the dim sleepy ground,
That you have come and dared me to my face?’

‘The dooms of men are in God’s hidden place,’

‘Your head a while seemed like a woman’s head
That I loved once.’

Again the fighting sped,
But now the war-rage in Cuchulain woke,
And through that new blade’s guard the old blade broke,
And pierced him.

‘Speak before your breath is done.’

‘Cuchulain I, mighty Cuchulain’s son.’

After slaying his son, Cuchulain is wracked with guilt and broods alone, inconsolable. Conchubar fears that Cuchulain will become overwhelmed with grief and will ultimately slaughter all the members of the party. This sets the scene for the final part of the poem, which to me is the most interesting.

Then Conchubar, the subtlest of all men,
Ranking his Druids round him ten by ten,
Spake thus: ‘Cuchulain will dwell there and brood
For three days more in dreadful quietude,
And then arise, and raving slay us all.
Chaunt in his ear delusions magical,
That he may fight the horses of the sea.’
The Druids took them to their mystery,
And chaunted for three days.

Cuchulain stirred,
Stared on the horses of the sea, and heard
The cars of battle and his own name cried;
And fought with the invulnerable tide.

There is a lot of symbolism woven into these lines. First, we have number mysticism, the numbers ten and three both repeated, emphasizing their importance. The number ten is a reference to the number of sefirot that comprise the kabbalistic Tree of Life, which figures prominently in Golden Dawn philosophy with which Yeats was well versed. Then the number three represents the trinity, as well as the three stages in the cycle of life: birth, life, and death. There are many other mystical connections with the numbers 3 and 10, but this should suffice for the purpose of this post.

The Druids then perform a chant with the intent of evoking “delusions magical.” Basically, the Druids are chanting mystical poetry which after a period of time causes Cuchulain to slip into an altered state of consciousness. The sea is a symbol for Cuchulain’s subconscious. He is thrust into his own psyche and there does battle with himself and his memories. He has no choice but to vanquish his inner demons and self-hatred; if he fails, he will drown in the sea of sorrow and lose touch with the realm of waking consciousness.

This poem works really well as a psychological allegory, but also contains some great mystical and mythological symbolism. I am pretty sure that there is more to this poem than what I included here and that someone who is more versed in Irish mythology would be able to draw deeper interpretations. If you uncover any other symbols or allusions in this poem, please share them in a comment.

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“Sonnet 6: Then let not winter’s ragged hand deface” by William Shakespeare – Hidden Number Mysticism?

Shakespeare

Then let not winter’s ragged hand deface
In thee thy summer, ere thou be distilled:
Make sweet some vial; treasure thou some place
With beauty’s treasure, ere it be self-killed.
That use is not forbidden usury,
Which happies those that pay the willing loan;
That’s for thyself to breed another thee,
Or ten times happier, be it ten for one;
Ten times thyself were happier than thou art,
If ten of thine ten times refigured thee:
Then what could death do, if thou shouldst depart,
Leaving thee living in posterity?
Be not self-willed, for thou art much too fair,
To be death’s conquest and make worms thine heir.

And we have yet another fair youth sonnet addressing procreation. But this one is a little more interesting, particularly in the use of metaphors and the incorporation of what may be some number mysticism.

In the first two lines, Shakespeare encourages the young man to have children before he gets too old. I really like the phrase “winter’s ragged hand.” It evokes an image of an old, weathered face, accompanied by aged hands with loose skin draped over the bones.

In lines 3 and 4, Shakespeare uses the vial as a symbol for a woman’s genitalia. The youth is encouraged to find a wife he can treasure and who will bear his children.

With line 5, things start to get a little interesting. References are made to usury, which in Shakespeare’s time was the loaning of money at an interest greater than 10%. We then have the word “ten” repeated five times. The number 10 has mystical significance. According to Pythagoras, 10 is represented by the decad, which is symbolic of the world and heaven and is fundamental to understanding the creation of the universe. For more on Pythagoras’ theory, here is a brief and informative article: Pythagoras and the Mystery of Numbers.

The next thing I would like to point out is the importance of the number 10 in Jewish kabbalistic mysticism. The Tree of Life contains ten sephirot. Basically, the ten sephirot are the divine emanations from God which are the basis of all creation. I do not know if Shakespeare possessed a firm grasp of Jewish mysticism, but I would not be surprised if his contemporaries were studying this and possibly shared some insight.

TreeOfLifeKabbalah

The last thing I want to point out about the number 10 is that the last mention of the number in this sonnet occurs in line 10. I personally do not think this is a coincidence. I suspect Shakespeare did this to emphasize the importance of this number.

I also want to comment on the last line. As I read it, I could not help thinking about Edgar Allan Poe’s classic poem, “The Conqueror Worm.” It is one of my favorite poems by Poe. If you’re interested, click here to read my thoughts on that poem.

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Joyce’s “Ulysses” – Episode 10

Image Source: Wikipedia

Image Source: Wikipedia

This episode corresponds with the Wandering Rocks, or Planctae, in Homer’s Odyssey.

In the Odyssey of Homer, the sorceress Circe tells Odysseus of the “Wandering Rocks” or “Roving Rocks” that have only been successfully passed by the Argo when homeward bound. These rocks smash ships and the remaining timbers are scattered by the sea or destroyed by flames. The rocks lie on one of two potential routes to Ithaca; the alternative, which is taken by Odysseus, leads to Scylla and Charybdis. Furthermore, in the Odyssey of Homer, it was Hera, for her love of Jason, who sped the Argo through the Symplegades safely.

(Source: Wikipedia)

In Joyce’s book, this episode is broken into 19 subsections, each symbolic of a wandering rock. Each of the subsections focuses on one of the characters in the book while that character makes his or her way through Dublin. Throughout each of these parts, glimpses of other characters pop up. These out-of-place paragraphs represent the danger of trying to navigate the episode and having dangerous, unforeseen shards of text suddenly appear, causing you to crash. The final subsection is a complete chaotic mashup of all the characters, which culminates the final thrust of effort needed to clear the chapter.

The following section provides a good example of the text in this episode. Individuals are depicted as wandering around, having haphazard collisions with other people while chucks of text from other subsections suddenly appear.

A onelegged sailor crutched himself around MacConnell’s corner, skirting Rabaiotti’s icecream car, and jerked himself up Eccles street. Towards Larry O’Rourke, in shirtsleeves in his doorway, he growled unamiably

For England . . .

He swung himself violently forward past Katey and Boody Dedalus, halted and growled:

home and beauty.

J. J. O’Molloy’s white careworn face was told that Mr. Lambert was in the warehouse with a visitor.

A stout lady stopped, took a copper coin from her purse and dropped it into the cap held out to her. The sailor grumbled thanks and glanced sourly at the unheeding windows, sank his head and swung himself forward four strides.

He halted and growled angrily:

For England . . .

Two barefoot urchins, sucking liquorice laces, halted near him, gaping at his stump with their yellow-slobbered mouths.

He swung himself forward in vigorous jerks, halted, lifted his head towards a window and bayed deeply:

home and beauty.

(p. 225)

The last thing I would like to mention about this episode is that I believe there is hidden number mysticism woven in, which is unseen, just as the wandering rocks. The episode is comprised of 19 subsections. In Jewish kabbalistic number mysticism, this would be combined as 1 + 9 to give us the number 10. Ten is the episode number and it is also the number of sephirot in the kabbalistic Tree of Life. An explanation of the sephirot is far beyond the scope of this post, so I will simplify for those who need and say that according to Jewish mysticism, the sephirot are the building blocks of all existence. Everything that exists is a result of God’s emanation through the sephirot. Again, this is a very simplified version, but it’s my belief that Joyce hid number mysticism throughout Ulysses and the fact that the primary character in the book is Jewish would lead me to suspect that the hidden numeric symbolism is Jewish in nature. I will expand on this idea in future posts, when the time is right.

For those of you interested in learning more about the symbolism in the kabbalah, I recommend On the Kabbalah and its Symbolism by Gershom Scholem.

My next post on Ulysses will cover Episode 11 which ends on page 291 in my book with the phrase “Done.”


 

Previous Posts on Ulysses:

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3

Episode 4

Episode 5

Episode 6

Episode 7

Episode 8

Episode 9


 

References:

http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/ulysses/section10.rhtml

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planctae

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