Selected Writings of William Sharp Vol 2

THE HEROIC AND LEGENDARY
LITERATURE OF BRITTANY

If one were asked what were the three immediate influences, the open-sesames of literature, which revealed alike to the dreaming and the critical mind of modern Europe the beauty and extraordinary achievement of the Celtic genius, it would not be difficult to name them. From Scotland came Macpherson's reweaving of ancient Gaelic legendary lore under the collective title of Ossian; from Wales came the Mabinagion, obtained and translated by Lady Charlotte Guest; and from Brittany came the now celebrated life-work of the Vicomte Hersart de la Villemarqué, the Barzaz-Breiz, or collection of the popular songs and heroic ballads of old Brittany--some mediaeval, some with their roots in the heart of ancient Armorica.

The history of the influence of these three books--Ossian, the Mabinagion, and the Barzaz-Breiz--has never yet been properly estimated. When a competent critic shall give us this history, in its exact and critical relation to literature itself, the deep and far-reaching power of what may be distinguished as fundamentally appealing books will be made apparent.

If these were the immediate influences in the awakening of the mind of Europe to the beauty and mystery and high significance of the old Celtic literature, legendary lore, and racial traditions, the general attention was attracted rather by two famous pioneers of critical thought. In France, Ernest Renan, himself of Celtic blood and genius, and having indeed in his name one of the most ancient and sacred of Armorican designations (Ronan), gained the notice of all intellectual Europe by his acute, poignantly sympathetic, and eloquent treatise on the Poetry of the Celtic Races. Later, in England, Matthew Arnold convinced his reluctant fellow-countrymen that a new and wide domain of literary beauty lay as it were just beyond their home pastures.

Since Renan and Matthew Arnold, there have been many keen and ever more and more thoroughly equipped students of Celtic literature; but while admitting the immense value of the philological labours of men such as the German Windisch, the English Whitley Stokes, the French Loth, the Scottish Dr. Cameron, the Welsh Sir John Rhys, and the Irish Standish Hayes O'Grady, or of the more popular writings of collectors and exponents such as the late Campbell of Islay, Alfred Nutt, Standish O'Grady, and others, it would be at once unjust and uncritical to omit full recognition of the labours of collectors and interpreters such as, say, Alexander Carmichael in Scotland, and Hersart de la Villemarqué in France.

There can hardly be a student of Celtic literature who is unfamiliar with the Barzaz-Breiz, that unique collection of Breton legendary lore and heroic ballads so closely linked with the name of Hersart de la Villemarqué. This celebrated man--at once collector, folklorist, philologist, poet, and impassioned patriot--was not only born a Breton of the Bretons, but began life among circumstances pre-eminently conducive to his mental development along the lines where he has made his name of worldwide repute. His great work*

§§§§§§§§§§

*Barzaz-Breiz. Chants Populaires de la Bretagne, recueillis, traduits, et annotEs par le Vicomte Hersart de la Villemarqué, M.I. (work crowned by the Academy of France).

§§§§§§§§§§

was not only the outcome of his own genius and of his racial inheritance, but was inspired by his mother, a remarkable woman of a very ancient Armorican family. It is to her that the Barzaz-Breiz was dedicated: "A ma tendre et sainte mère, Marie-Ursule Feydeau du Plessix-Nizon, Comtessc de la Villemarqué." So significant are the opening words of his introduction to the new and definite edition (1893) that they may be given here :

A profound sentiment [he says in effect] inspired the idea of this book wherein my country stands forth self-portrayed, and in that revelation wins our love. In sending forth this revised reprint of my work, doubtless for the last time, and feeling myself to be as much as in my early dayr, under the spell of her love, I dedicate this work to her who really began it, and that too before I was born--to her who enthralled my childhood with old-world ballads and legendary tales, and who herself was indeed for me one of those good fairies who, as the old lore has it, stand by the side of happy cradles. My mother, who was also the mother of all who were unhappy, once restored to health a poor wandering singer of the parish of Melgren. Moved by the sincere regrets of the poor woman at her inability to convey aright her gratitude to her benefactress, having indeed nothing in the world to offer but her songs, my mother asked her to repeat one or two of her treasury of folk-songs. So impressed was she by the original character of the Breton poetry, that often thereafter she sought and obtained a like pleasure. At a later date, though this was not for herself, she made a special quest of this ancestral countryside fugitive poetry. Such was the real origin--in a sense purely domestic and private, and primarily the outcome of a sweet and pious nature--of this collection of the Barzaz-Breiz; some of the finest pieces in ,vhich I found written, in the first years of the century, on the blank leaves of an old manuscript volume of recipes wherein my mother had her store of medical science.

As for what M. de la Villemarqué himself did to qualify for his lifelong labour of love, he writes as follows :

To render this collection at once more complete and worthy of the attention of literary critics, and of all students of literature and life, scrupulous and conscientious care has been taken, I have gone hither and thither on my quest through long years, and traversed every region of Basse-Bretagne [Western and Southern Brittany), the richest in old memories ; taking part in popular festivals and in private gatherings, at our national paydons [pilgrimages], at the great fairs, at weddings, or the special fête-days of the agricultural world and of the workers in all the national industries; ever by preference seeking the professional beggars, the itinerant shoemakers, tailors, weavers, and vagrant journeymen of all kinds-in a word, in the whole nomad song-loving, story-telling fraternity. Everywhere, too, I have interrogated the old women, nurses, young girls, and old men; above all, those of the hill regions, who in the last century formed part of the armed bands of patriots, and whose recollections, when once they can be quickened, constitute a national repertory as rich as any one could possibly consult. Even children at their play have sometimes revealed to me unexpected old-world survivals. Ever varying as was the degree of intelligence in all these people, they were at one in this: that no one among them knew how to read. Naturally, therefore, the songs and legends and superstitions which I heard thus are not to be found in books, and never at least as here given ; for these came fresh from the lips of an illiterate but passionately conservative, patriotic, and poetic people.

In a word, Brittany is, in common with Ireland or Gaelic Scotland, the last home of the old-world Celt, of the old Celtic legendary and mythological lore, of the passing and ever more and more fugitive Celtic folk-literature. Scotland has her Campbell of Islay, her Alexander Carmichael, Brittany has Hersart de la Villemarqué.

The scientific value of M. de la Villemarqué's Barzaz-Breiz has been disparaged by some writers to whom the pedantry of absolute literality is more dear than the living spirit of which language is but the veil; and this on the ground that his versions are often too elaborated, and are sometimes modern rather than archaic. The best answer is in the words of the famous Breton himself, in the preface to the revised and definite edition. After detailing the endless care taken, and the comparative method pursued, he adds: "The sole license I have permitted myself is the substitution, in place of certain mutilated or vicious expressions, or of certain unpoetic or less poetic verses, of corresponding but more adequate and harmonious verses, or words from some other version or versions. This was the method of Walter Scott [in his Scottish Minstrelsy], and I could not follow a better guide."

The Barzaz-Breiz, or Treasury of Breton Popular Chants, is a storehouse of learned and most interesting and fascinating matter concerning the origins and survival and interrelations of the racial and other legendary beliefs, and superstitions, and folk-lore generally, of the Armorican people --Arvor, or Armorica, being the old name of Brittany, the Wales of France. In the introductory and appendical notes to each heroic ballad or legendary poem, Hersart de la Villemarqué has condensed the critical and specialistic knowledge of one of the most indefatigable and enthusiastic of folklorists ; and this with the keenness of sympathy and of insight, and the new and convincing charm of interpretation, of a man of genius.

It is amazing how little of his work has been translated or paraphrased in English, especially when we consider the ever-growing interest in literature of the kind, and particularly in Celtic literature.

The three representative pieces which I have translated from the Bayzaz-Breiz are not only typical of the ancient and the mediaeval Breton romance or heroic ballad, but are given intact with their prefatory and appendical notes.

The Wine of the Gauls is one of the earliest preserved utterances of the ancient Armorican bards. The Tribute of Noménoë is still old, though not so ancient. The Foster-Brother is a type of both the style and substance of the mediaeval folk-tale.

 

THE WINE OF THE GAULS AND THE
DANCE OF THE SWORD

(DIALECT OF LÉON)

Argument

One is not ignorant that in the sixth century the Bretons often made excursions into the territory of their neighbours, subject to the domination of the Franks, whom they called by the general name of Gauls.

These expeditions, undertaken oftenest under the necessity of defending their independence, were also sometimes ventured through the desire of providing themselves in the enemy's country with what they lacked in Brittany, principally with wine. As soon as autumn came, says Gregory of Tours, they departed, followed by chariots, and supplied with instruments of war and of agriculture; armed for the vintage. Were the grapes still hanging, they plucked them themselves; was the wine made, they carried it away. If they were too hurried, or surprised by the Franks, they drank it on the spot; then, leading the vintagers captive, they joyously regained their woods and their marshes. The piece here following was composed, according to the illustrious author of the Merovingian Accounts, on the return from one of these expeditions. Some tavern habitués of the parish of Coray intone it glass in hand, more for the melody than for the words; the primitive spirit of which, thanks be to God, they have ceased to seize.

 

I

Better is white wine of grapes than of mulberries:
better is white grape wine.

--O fire! O fire! O steel! O steel! O fire!
O fire! O steel and fire!
O oak! O oak! O earth! O waves!
O waves! O earth! O earth and
oak!--

Red blood and white wine, a river! red blood and
white wine !
--O fire! O fire ! &c.

Better new wine than ale,- better new wine.
--O fire! O fire! &c.

Better sparkling wine than hydromel; better sparkling wine.
--O fire! O fire! &c.

Better wine of the Gauls than of apples , better wine
of the Gauls.
--O fire! O fire! &c.

Gaul, vines and leaf for thee, O dunghill! Gaul,
vine and leaf to thee!
--O fire! O fire! &c.

White wine to thee, hearty Breton! White wine to thee, Breton!
--O fire! O fire! &c.

Wine and blood flow mixed ; wine and blood flow.
--O fire! O fire! &c.

White wine and red blood, and thick blood , white, wine and red blood.
--O fire! O fire! &c.

'Tis blood of the Gauls that flows; the blood of the Gauls.
--O fire! O fire! &c.

In the rough fray have I drunk wine and blood;
I have drunk wine and blood.
--O fire! O fire! &c.

Wine and blood nourish him who drinks; wine and
blood nourish.
--O fire! O fire! &c.

II

Blood and wine and dance, Sun, to thee! blood and wine and dance.
--O fire! O fire! &c.

And dance and song, song and battle! and dance and song.
--O fire! O fire! &c.

Dance of the sword in rounds; dance of the sword.
--O fire! O fire! &c.

Song of the blue sword which murder loves; song of the blue sword.
--O fire! O fire! &c.

Battle where the savage sword is king ; battle of the
savage sword.
--O fire! O fire! &c.

O sword! O great king of the battlefield! O sword! O great king !
--O fire! O fire! &c.

May the rainbow shine on thy forehead! may the
rainbow shine !
--O fire! O fire! O steel! O steel !
O fire! O fire! O steel and fire!
O oak ! O oak ! Oearth! O earth !
O waves! O waves! O earth! O earth
and oak!

NOTE

It is probable that the expedition to which this wild song alludes took place on the territory of the Nantais; for their wine is white, as is that of which the bard speaks. The different beverages he attributes to the Bretons--mulberry wine, beer, hydromel, apple wine or cider--are also those which were used in the sixth century.

Without any doubt we have here two distinct songs, welded together by the power of time. The second begins at the thirteenth stanza, and is a warrior's hymn in honour of the sun, a fragment of the Sword Round of the ancient Bretons. Like the Gaels and the Germans, they were in the habit of surrendering themselves to it during their festivals; it was executed by young men who knew the art of jumping circularly to music, at the same time throwing their swords into the air and catching them again.

This is represented on three Celtic medallions in M. Hucher's collection: on one a warrior jumps up and down, while brandishing his battle-axe in one hand, and with the other throwing it up behind his long floating headdress; on a second one, a warrior dances before a suspended sword, and, says M. Henri Martin, he is evidently repeating the invocation: "O sword! O great king of the battlefield! O sword! O great king!

This, it is obvious, would cast us back into plain paganism. At least it is certain that the language of the last seven stanzas is still older than that of the other twelve. As for its form, the entire piece is regularly alliterated from one end to the other, like the songs of the primitive bards; and, like them, is subject to the law of ternary rhythm. I have no need to draw notice to what a clashing of meeting weapons it recalls to the ear, and what a strident blast the melody breathes.

 

THE TRIBUTE OF NOMÉNOË

(CORNOUAILLE DIALECT)

Argument

Noménoë, the greatest king whom Brittany has had, pursued the work of his country's deliverance, but by different means than his predecessors. He opposed ruse to force; he feigned to submit to the foreign domination, and by these tactics succeeded in impeding an enemy ten times superior in numbers. The Emperor Charles, called the Bald, was deceived by his demonstrations of obedience. He did not guess that the Breton chief, like all politicians of superior genius, knew how to wait. When the moment for acting came, Noménoë threw off the mask: he drove the Franks beyond the rivers of the Oust and of Vilaine, extending the frontiers of Brittany to Poitou; and taking the towns of Nantes and Rennes from the enemy, which since then have not ceased to make part of the Breton territory, he delivered his compatriots from the tribute which they paid to the Franks (841).

"A remarkably beautiful piece of poetry," says Augustin Thierry, "and one full of details of the habits of a very ancient epoch, recounts the event which determined this grand act of independence." According to the illustrious French historian, "it is an energetically symbolic picture of the prolonged inaction of the patriot prince, and of his rude awakening when he judged the moment had come" (Ten Years of Historical Studies, 6th ed., P. 515).

I

The golden grass is mown; it has misted suddenly.

--To battle !--

It mists,--said, from the summit of the mountain of
Arez, the great chief of the family;
--To battle!--

From the direction of the country of the Franks, for three weeks more and more, more and more, has it misted,
So that in no wise can I see my son return to me.
Good merchant, who the country travels o'er, know'st
thou news of Karo, my son ?
--
Mayhap, old father of Arez; but how looks he?
what does he ?--
He is a man of sense and of heart; he it was who
went to drive the chariots to Rennes,
To drive to Rennes the chariots drawn by horses
harnessed three by three,
Divided between them, they that carry faithfully
Brittany's tribute.--
If your son is the tribute-bearer, in vain will you await him.
When they came to weigh the silver, there lacked
three pounds in every hundred;
And the steward said: Thy head, vassal, shall
complete the weight.
And drawing his sword, he cut off the head of your
son.
Then by the hair he took it, and threw it on the
scales.--
At these words the old chief of the family was like
to swoon:
Violently on the rock he fell, hiding his face with his
white hairs:
And his head in his hands, he cried with a moan:
Kayo, my son, my poor, dear son!

II

Followed by his kindred, the great tribal chief set
out;
The great tribal chief of the family approaches, he approaches the stronghold of
Noménoë. --
Tell me, head of the porters,--the master, is he at
home?
Be he there, or not there, God keep him in good
health!--
As these words he said, the lord to his dwelling
returned;
Returning from the hunt, preceded by his great
playful dogs,
In his hand he held his bow, on his shoulder carried
a boar,
And the fresh blood, quite warm from the mouth of
the beast, flowed upon his white hand.
Good day, good day to you, honest mountaineers!
first of all to you, great tribal chief:
What news is there, what wish you of me?--
We come to know of you if a law there be; if in the
sky there is a God, and in Brittany a chief.--
In the sky there is a God, I believe, and in Brittany
a chief if I can.--
He who will, he can ; he who can, drives the Frank
away--
Drives away the Frank, defends his country, avenges
it and will avenge it.
He will avenge the living and dead, and me and
Karo my child,
My poor son Karo, beheaded by the excommunicated Frank;
Beheaded in his prime, and whose head, golden as
millet, was thrown into the scales to balance the weight!--
And the old man began to weep, and his tears flowed
down his gray beard,
And they shone as the dew on a lily, at the rising of the sun.
When the lord saw this, a bloody and terrible oath he swore:--
By this boar's head and the arrow which pierced it,
I swear it:
Before I wash the blood from my right hand, I shall
have washed my country's wound!
Noménoë has done that which no chief e'er did
before:
He went to the shores of the sea with bags to gather
pebbles
Pebbles to tender as tribute to the steward of the bald king.*

*The Emperor Charles, surnamed the Bald.

Noménoë has done that which chief ne'er did before:
With polished silver has he shod his horses, and
with reverséd shoes.
Noménoë has done that which chief ne'er did before:
Prince as he is, in person to pay the tribute he has
gone.--
Open wide the gates of Rennes, that I make entry in
the town
With chariots full of silver, 'tis
Noménoë who is
here.--
Alight, my lord ; enter the castle; and leave your
chariots in the coach-house;
Leave to the equerry your white horse, and come and
sup above,
Come to sup, and first of all to wash: there sounds
the water-horn ; do you hear?*--

*Before the repast, at the sound of the horn, one washed one's hands.

I will wash in a moment, my lord, when the tribute
shall have been weighed.--
The first bag to be carried (and it was well tied ),
The first bag which was brought, of the right weight
was found.
The second bag which was brought, also of right
weight was found.
The third bag that they weighed:--A ha! aha I
this weight is --not right!--
When the steward this saw, unto the bag his hand he extended;
Quickly he seized the cords, endeavouring to untie
them.--
Wait, wait, Sir Steward, with my sword I will cut
them.--
Hardly had he finished these words, that his sword
leaped from the scabbard,
That close to the shoulders the head of the Frank
bent double it struck,
And that it cut flesh and nerves and one chain of
the scale beside.
The head fell in the scale, and thus the balance was
made.
But behold the town in uproar.--Stop, stop the
assassin!
He escapes, he escapes! bring torches! let us run
quickly after him.--
Bring torches! 'twould be well: the night is black,
and frozen the road;
But I greatly fear you will wear out your shoes
in following me,
Your shoes of blue gilded leather:. as to your scales,
you will use them no more:
You will use no more your golden scales in weighing
the stones of the Bretons.

--To battle !--

Note

This traditional portrait of the chief whose political genius saved Breton independence is no less faithful, from its point of view, than those of history itself. Thus, Augustin Thierry did not hesitate to place it in the gallery which contemporaneous history has preserved to us, and which he has so admirably restored. The latter proves by its general spirit, if by no precise feature, the exactitude of the anecdote. Before the time of Noménoë, for at least ten years, the Bretons had paid tribute to the Franks; he delivered them from it: that is the real fact. The tone of the ballad is in harmony with the epoch.

As the head of the Frank charged to receive the tribute falls in the scales, where the weight is lacking, and the poet cries with ferocious joy, "His head fell in the basin, and the weight was thus made!" one remembers that a few years ago Morvan, the LezBreiz of the Breton tradition, said, trembling with rage "If I could see him, he would have of me what he asks, this king of the Franks: I would pay him the tribute in iron."

In regard to the epic song with which the liberator of Brittany inspired the national Muse, the satirical song composed in the Abbey of St. Florent against Noménoë is opposed. The Frankish monks of the shores of the Loire could not pardon him the destruction of their monastery; and to avenge themselves they invented the following fable, which they chanted in, chorus:

 

In that time lived a certain man called Noménoë:
Of poor parents he was born ; his field he plowed
himself;
But hidden in the earth an immense treasure he
encountered;
By means of which among the rich many friends
for himself he made;
Then, clever in the art to deceive, he began himself to raise;
So that, thanks to his riches, he finished by domi-
nating all, &c,

Quidam fuit hoc tempore
Nomenoius nomine;
Pauper fuit progenie;
Agrum colebat vomere;
Sed reperit largissimum
Thesaurum terra conditum;
Quo pluriorum divitum
Junxit sibi solatium.
Dehinc, per artem fallere,
C
oepit qui mox succrescere,
Donec super cunctos, ope
Transcenderet potentiæ, &c.

Poor Latin, poor rhymes, poor revenge.

 

THE FOSTER-BROTHER

(TRÉGUIER DIALECT)

Argument

This ballad, some variants of which I owe to the Abbé Henry, and which is one of the most popular of Brittany, is sung under different titles in several parts of Europe. Fauriel has published it in modern Greek; Bürger picked it up from the lips of a young German peasant girl, and gave it an artificial form; The Dead go about Alive is but an artistic reproduction of the Danish ballad Aagé and Elsé. A Welsh savant has assured me that his compatriots of the mountains possess it in their language. All are based on the idea of a duty, the obedience to the sacredness of the oath. The hero of the primitive German ballad, like the Greek Constantine, like the Breton cavalier, vowed to return, though dead and he kept his word.

We do not know to what epoch the composition of the two German and Danish songs, nor that of the Greek ballad, date back: ours must belong to the most flourishing period of the Middle Ages, chivalric devotion shining therein by its sweetest lustre.

I

The prettiest girl of high degree in all this country round was a young maid of eighteen years, whose name was Gwennolaïk.
Dead was the old lord, her two poor sisters and her mother; her own people all were dead, alas! except her stepmother.
It was pitiful to see her, weeping bitterly on the threshold of the manor-door, so beauteous and so sweet!
Her eyes fixed on the sea, seeking there the vessel of her foster-brother, her only consolation in the world, and whom since long she had awaited;
Her eyes fixed upon the sea, and seeking there the vessel of her foster-brother. Six years had passed since he had left his country.--
Away from here, my daughter, and go and fetch the cattle; I do not feed you to remain there seated.--
She awaked her two, three hours before the day in winter, to light the fire, and sweep the house;
To go to draw water at the fountain of the dwarfs, with a little cracked pitcher and a broken pail:
The night was dark; the water had been disturbed by the foot of the horse of a cavalier who returned from Nantes.--
Good health to you, young maid: are you betrothed?--
And I (what a child and fool I was!) --I replied I wot naught of it.--
Are you betrothed? Tell me, I pray you.--
Save your grace, dear sir: not yet am I betrothed.--
Well, take my golden ring, and say to your stepmother
that unto a cavalier who returns from Nantes you
are betrothed:
That a great combat there has been; that his young esquire has been killed over there, that he himself by a sword-thrust in the flank has been wounded;
That in three weeks and three days he'll be restored,
and to the manor will come gayly and quickly to
seek you.--
And she to run at once to the house and to look at the ring: it was the ring that her foster-brother wore on his left hand.

II

One, two, three weeks had passed, and the young cavalier had not yet returned.--
You must be married; I have thought thereon in my heart, and for you a proper man, my daughter, I've found.--
Save your grace, stepmother, I wish no husband other than my foster-brother, who has come.
He gave me my wedding-ring of gold, and soon will come gayly, and quickly to seek me.--
Be quiet, if you please, with your wedding-ring of gold, or I will take a rod to teach you how to speak.
Willy-nilly, you shall wed Job the Lunatic, our young stable-boy.--
Wed Job! Oh horror! I shall die of sorrow ! My mother, my poor little mother! if thou wert still alive!--
Go and lament in the court, mourn there as much as you will; in vain will you make a wry face: in three days betrothed you'll be.

III

About that time the old gravedigger travelled through the country, his bell in his hand, to carry the tidings of death.
Pray for the soul which hath been the lord cavalier, in his lifetime a good man and a brave.
And who beyond Nantes was wounded to death by a sword-thrust in his side, in a great battle over, there.
To-morrow at the setting of the sun the watching will begin, and thereafter from the white church to the tomb they will carry him.

IV

 

How early you do go away!-- Whether I am going? Oh, yes, indeed!-- But the feast is not yet done, nor is the evening spent.--
I cannot restrain the pity she inspires in me, and
the horror which awakes this herdsman who stands in the house face to face with her!
Around the poor girl, who bitterly wept, every one was weeping, the rector himself:
In the parish church this morn all were weeping,.all both young and old; all except the stepmother.
The more the fiddlers in returning to the manor twanged their bows, the more they consoled her, the more was her heart torn.
They took her to the table, to the place of honour for supper; she has drunk no drop of water, nor eaten a morsel of bread.
They tried just now to undress her, to put her in her bed: she has thrown away her ring, has torn her wedding fillet;
She has escaped from the house, her hairy in disorder,
Where she has gone to hide, no one, doth it know.

V

All lights were extinguished ; in the manor every
one profoundly slept; elsewhere, the poor young maid
was awake, to fever a prey.--
Who is there?--I, Nola, thy foster-brother.--
It is thou, --really, really thou! It is thou, thou, my dear brother!--
And she ran to go out, and to flee away on her brother's white horse in saddle behind, encircling him with her little arm, seated behind him.--
How fast we go, my brother! We have gone a hundred leagues, I think! How happy I am near unto thee! So much was I never before.
Is it still afar, thy mother's house? I would we were arrived.--
Ever hold me close, my sister: ere long we shall be there.--
The owl fled screeching before them; as well as the wild animals frightened by the noise they made.--
How supple is thy horse, and thy armour how bright! I find thee. much grown, my brother.
I find thee very beautiful! Is it still far, thy manor?--
Ever, hold me close, my sister: we shall arrive apace.--
Thy heart is icy; thy hair is wet; thy heart and thy hand are icy: I fear that thou art cold.--
Ever hold me close, my sister: behold us quite near; hearest thou not the piercing sounds of the gay musicians of our nuptials?--
He had not finished speaking when his horse stopped all at once, shivering and neighing very loud ;
And they found themselves on an island where many people were dancing;
Where young men and beautiful young girls, holding each other by the hand, did play:
All about green trees with apples laden, and behind, the sun rising on the mountains.
A little clear fountain flowed there ; souls to life returning, were drinking there;--
Gwennola's mother was with them, and her two sisters also.
There was nothing there but pleasure, songs, and cries of joy.

VI

On the morrow morning, at the rising of the sun,
young girls carried the spotless body of little Gwenwola from the white church to the tomb.

Notes

As will be remembered, the German ballad ends, after the fashion of the stories of the Helden-Buch, by a catastrophe which swallows up the two heroes; it is the same with the Greek ballad published by Fauriel.

The ancient Bretons recognised several stages of existence through which the soul passed; and Procopius placed the Druid Elysium beyond the ocean in one of the Britannic Isles, which he does not name. The Welsh traditions are more precise: they expressly designate this island under the name of Isle of Avalon, or of the Apples. It is the abiding-place of the heroes: Arthur, mortally wounded at the battle of Camlann, is conducted there by the bards Merlin and Taliesin, guided by Barinte the peerless boatman (Vita Merlini Caledoniensis). The French author of the novel of William of the Short Nose has his hero Renoard transported thither by the fairies, with the Breton heroes.

One of the Armorican lays of Mary of France also transports thither the squireen Lanval. And it is there, one cannot doubt it, that the foster-brother and his betrothed alight: but no soul, it was said, could be admitted there before having received the funeral rites; it remained wandering on the opposite bank until the moment when the priest collected its bones and sang its funeral hymn. This opinion is as alive to-day in Lower Brittany as in the Middle Ages; and we have seen celebrated there the same funeral ceremonies as those of olden times.

1898

 


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