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Thursday, March 2, 2017

Irish Folklore: The Swine of the Gods

It's a good thing Yeats didn't call this story "The Divine Swine." I think all his literary credibility would have vanished in that one unfortunate rhyme. He might have retained it with sentences from The Celtic Twilight such as, "I have desired, like any artist, to create a little world out of the beautiful, pleasant, and significant things of this marred and clumsy world, and to show in a vision something of the face of Ireland to any of my own people who would look where I bid them." Or, "Everything exists, everything is true, and the earth is only a little dust under our feet."

The Celtic Twilight is a little book, first published in 1893 and expanded a few times before its final form, Mytholgies, published posthumously in 1959. Only twenty years posthumously. It's hard to think of Yeats living until the start of World War II, but there's the undeniable entry on the lawyer page of my edition of Celtic Twilight: 1865-1939. When I went to London in 2006, I went well out of my way to get to the British Library. I had gone to see the Beowulf manuscript, cause that's the kind of nerd I am. I also listened to a recording of Yeats reading his own work. Blew my mind. But today I discovered that there's a clip on youtube of him reading his stuff. Transcribed here. Geez.

So, Yeats included today's story in the 1902 edition of Twilight, but he gives no specific source beyond "a friend." The first-person narrator of the story is Yeats himself. When scholars talk about The Celtic Twilight (here's an example, if you've got access), they tend to ignore the swine of the gods. The book as a whole devotes lots of attention to the fairies of Irish folklore, the witching hour (or twilight, if you will) when this world and the next--always close together in Ireland, Yeats thought--are especially tight. Tight enough that a child or a young bride may be abducted and taken to the fairy lands. Enough of this; let's get to the pig...

The Swine of the Gods

A few years ago a friend of mine told me of something that happened to him when he was a young man and out drilling with some Connaught Fenians. They were but a car-full, and drove along a hillside until they came to a quiet place. They left the car and went further up the hill with their rifles, and drilled for a while. As they were coming down again they saw a very thin, long-legged pig of the old Irish sort, and the pig began to follow them. One of them cried out as a joke that it was a fairy pig, and they all began to run to keep up the joke. The pig ran too, and presently, how nobody knew, this mock terror became real terror, and they ran as for their lives. When they got to the car they made the horse gallop as fast as possible, but the pig still followed. Then one of them put up his rifle to fire, but when he looked along the barrel he could see nothing. Presently they turned a corner and came to a village. They told the people of the village what had happened, and the people of the village took pitchforks and spades and the like, and went along the road with them to drive the pig away. When they turned the corner they could find nothing.

"The Swine of the Gods" is so close to the "Vanishing Hitchhiker" that I can't stand it. If only the swine had been in a picture hanging on a tavern wall in the village... If I'm ever called upon to tell this story, that's how it will end. I tried to find images of an old, thin-legged Irish pig, but nothing of interest showed up. A google image search for "swine of the gods" isn't nearly as interesting as you think it'd be.

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