Thomas Kinsella

At the Western Ocean's Edge

Hero as liberator. There is also
the warrior marked by Fate, who overmasters
every enemy in the known world
until the elements reveal themselves.
And one, finding the foe inside his head,
who turned the struggle outward, against the sea.

Yeats discovered him through Lady Gregory,
and found him helpful as a second shadow
in his own sour duel with the middle classes.
He grew to know him well in his own right--
mental strife, renewal in reverse,
emotional response, the revelation.

Aogan O Rathaille felt their forces meeting
at the Western ocean's edge--
the energy of chaos and a shaping
counter-energy in throes of balance;
the gale wailing inland off the water
arousing a voice responding in his head,

storming back at the waves with their own force
in a posture of refusal, beggar rags
in tatters in a tempest of particulars.
A battered figure.
Any force remaining
held in waves of threat inside the mind.

As who can not confirm, that set his face
beyond the ninth shadow, into dead calm.
Dame Kindness, her bowels torn.
The stranger waiting on the steel horizon.


[The hero is Cuchulain (pronounced "koo-KUL-in" or "ku-HOO-lin"): see various Yeats poems. Aogan O Rathaille is an Irish language poet; see Kinsella's anthology of Gaelic poetry, An Duanaire.]


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