Kathleen-ni-Houlihan (Bryant, 1913)

1.397-407. Sophie Bryant, The Genius of the Gael: A Study in Celtic Psychology and its Manifestations, (London and Leipsic: T. Fisher Unwin, 1913), pp.185-86. BL 012354.g.16

Extract from Sophie Bryant, The Genius of the Gael (1913), on Cathleen-ni-Houlihan.

Given the influence of Yeats’s Cathleen-ni-Houlihan, among other representations of the ‘Shan Van Vocht’, on the passage from ‘Telemachus’, this extract from Bryant’s chapter on ‘The Gael in Literature’ gives an especially glowing contemporary appreciation of the drama.

¶¶There is nothing more exquisite in dramatic literature, more lyric in effect, more profoundly Irish, than Kathleen-ni-Houlihan, by W. B. Yeats. We have the wholesome, homely Irish life, the strange old woman with mystic power, symbolic of the age-long tragedy of Ireland — the real and the symbol set side by side in a single cottage scene, each claiming allegiance from the young man’s heart — the bright young girl overwhelmed by sorrow at her lover’s loss, and finally the “Shan Van Vocht” — the poor old woman herself — transformed, though we see her not, into that glorious shape of beauteous youth, reborn of Irish love and Irish hope at every climax of the nation’s struggle upwards.

Peter. Did you not see an old woman going down the path?
Patrick. I did not: but I saw a young woman, and she had a walk like a queen.

It was to the old woman that the young man had given his devotion. Others there are who wait for the appearance of the maiden with the queen-like walk.
¶¶But this little play is not only Irish in its profound appreciation, its delicate expression of the Irish patriotic romance: it is Irish in the literary method employed, that subtle interweaving of vivid realism with robust idealism which marks alike the composition of Gaelic romantic literature and the talk of the people in the West to-day.

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