Poetic Drama by Glenda Leeming (auth.)

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By Glenda Leeming (auth.)

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Early influences may have sharpened this awareness of conflicting values: born in Ireland in 1865, he spent long periods in England when his artist father moved the family there in pursuit of patronage, but these periods were interrupted by long holidays with Irish relatives, and Yeats chose to attend a Dublin art college. Both his English schooling and the London literary circle in which he mixed even as an impoverished and unproved young poet, made him the more aware of what it was to be Irish, and unlike Shaw and Wilde, and later Joyce, all of whom he knew quite well, Yeats continued to give both his presence and his slightly exasperated loyalty to Ireland.

This is in 'ballad metre' which brings energy by its bounding rhythm to the quarrels of the three kings, Cuchulain, Conall and Laegaire, and the often clever rhymes reinforce the comedy. Cuchulain learns that supernatural Red Man has played the 'beheading game' with his fellow kings a year ago, and in this play Cuchulain is a clever folk hero - he forces reason and compromise on the other characters but, by freely offering his own head to the Red Man, proves his cunning is not cowardice, and is then crowned champion of Ireland.

So Cuchulain's choice here is different from that of On Baile's Strand. His choice of the wandering combative life is not irresponsibility, but a decision to use his life as he wills, not give in to a deceitful goddess's whim. 'I will face them', he cries, choosing positive action. This choice is enigmatically referred to by the chorus of three musicians. Yeats was sometimes ambivalent about the value of the chorus's songs: because one of his objections against music and musical setting was that it obscured the words, he disclaimed interest in the effect: 'Why should not the singer sing something she may wish to have by rote?

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