a Pale Doe through the Veil (deerwoman) wrote,
a Pale Doe through the Veil

The Dark Faery Muse

As an artistic individual, I have always been especially intrigued by the nature of inspiration. It is a mysterious force that can emerge from the most mundane or profound source. It does not heed our beckoning nor does it always arrive at our convenience. It can be courted and sought like a wayward lover or some Holy Grail of divine knowledge, but more often than not, it comes when we least expect it. It has a will of its own.

And rarely does it come without a price.

The most common form of payment for such inspiration is the very time and effort one puts into carrying the visions one receives to full fruition. Many people take for granted that the artist, the poet, and the musician invest much of their soul in their craft, which is a serious investment indeed. Sometimes though, the price that accompanies miraculous inspiration exacts a more immediately perilous form of payment.
Lovers, poets, artists, writer, sculptors, weavers, musicians and the like - all the arts, indeed, acknowledge a debt to an unidentifiable, invisible, capricious, sensitive, delicate, elusive, and powerful force which is called "inspiration", or "Muse" and is generally irresistible when present. It is no coincidence that these are also the chief characteristics of Faerie.1
The fae do not belong within the worldview that sets up a chasm between the mystical and the material, the sensual and the spiritual. The fae are not supernatural; they do not exist outside outside of nature. In fact, they are just the opposite. Faeries are fully natural: embodiments of the landscape, manifestations of the natural processes of growth and decay, the forces behind the creative impulse and the mysterious inspiration of those who choose to create.

By being fully natural, they manifest the entire scope of nature, a fact often ignored by those enamoured with the lighter, more benevolent aspects of Faery: "Faeries, like humans,are bound to nature and reflect its capacity for destruction as well as creation. [. . .] [T]he dark side of these creatures must never be ignored - for it is extremely powerful, with the raw power of a natural force"2. It has been forgotten that faeries are just as likely to be spirits of nature's less accomodating aspects as they are to be as Disney would have us believe.

Faery inspiration carries this principle as well. They are as likely to inspire madness and melancholy as they are to inspire quaint rhyming couplets about songbirds.

The recepient of this inspiration who in many ways acts as a vessel or a channel for it, once deprived of its captivation, may be left with an insatiable hollowness that is without any true hope of fulfillment, or he may even be left without his sanity or the breath of life. Recall the figure of the Leanan Sidhe, in some regions regarded as the muse of brilliant poets and as a vampire, for she sapped the vitality out of her victims in exchange for the precious blessing (or perhaps curse) of her inspiration. "There is always a touch of the vampire about the Otherworld. Daimons are hungry for this world, just as we are hungry for theirs. Not for their food - it is fatal to eat in fairyland or Hades alike lest we become trapped there - but for their psychic nourishment, as if they craved our bodily life as we long for the life of the soul"3.

There are other essays that chronicle the less intense facets of Faery inspiration; this is not one of those pages. Instead, it features works of poetry and prose inspired by and relating to the deeper shades of Faery. The following works detail the range and influence of faery inspiration from subtle entrancement, to unquenchable yearnings, and even to death.

William Butler Yeats is a well-known Irish poet who was born in Dublin in 1865 and lived until 1939. Ireland itself has a very rich heritage of faerielore, and so it is little surprise that his poetry, much of it founded in his love of Ireland, also features a definite Faery presence. The following poem begins our journey into the realm of faery inspiration.

The Song of the Wandering Aengus

I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
and hooked a berry to a thread;
And when the white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire a-flame,
but something rustled on the floor,
And some one called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.

Though I am old and wandering,
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
and walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done,
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.4
The Faery influence on the subject of this poem appears relatively benign. A faery maiden calls him, and then vanishes as quickly as she had manifested. Yet he has continued to seek after her, to wander in search of her through his years in hopes of joining her in faerie lands beyond time. Although this reaction to Faery does not seem especially severe, it nonetheless shows the powerful longings a vision of the Otherworld can cause within the vulnerable human spirit.

There is a famous German folksong that muses on a faery with a voice that was so captivating as to be quite dangerous to those who heard it since it was sometimes the last thing that graced their ears before a watery death. The lyrics of this song were written by Heinrich Heine in 1823 and set to a melody composed by Friedrich Silcher. A very special thanks goes to my High School German teacher, Frau Moore, for providing the translation. An alternate translation is also available at this site.

Die Lorelei

Ich weiß nicht, was soll es bedeuten, daß ich so traurig bin;
ein Märchen aus alten Zeiten, das kommt mir nicht aus dem Sinn.
Die Luft ist kühl, und es dunkelt und ruhig fleißt der Rhein,
der Gipfel des Berges funkelt im Abendsonnenschein.

Die schönste Jungfrau sitzt dort oben wunderbar,
ihr goldnes Geschmemeide blitzet, sie kämmet ihr goldenes Haar;
sie kämmt es mit goldenem Kamme und singt ein Lied dabei,
das hat eine wundersame gewaltige Melodei.

Den Schiffer im kleinen Schiffe ergreift es mit wildem Weh;
er schaut nicht nur hinauf in die Höh.
Ich glaube, die Wellen verschlingen am Ende Schiffer und Kahn,
und das hat mit ihrem Singen die Lorelei getan.

The Lorelei

I don't know, what it is supposed to mean, that I am so sad.
A fairy tale from old times, I can't get it out of my mind.
The air is cool and it is growing dark, and quietly the Rhine is flowing,
The peak of the mountain is sparkling in the evening sun shine.

The most beautiful virgin (maiden) sits up there wonderfully
Her golden jewelry sparkles, she combs her golden hair,
She combs it with a golden comb and sings a song (as she is doing this),
That has a wondrous powerful melody.

It (the song) seizes the sailor in the little ship with a wild woe,
He only looks up in the heights.
I think, the waves devour the sailor and the boat in the end,
And that the Lorelei did with her singing.

The Lorelei is a faery that haunts the cliffs of the Rhine river as well as the name of a particular cliff along the middle Rhine which is 433 feet in height.5 Her song enchants sailors, distracting them from their course and causing them to crash among the cataracts and sharp rocks. In this way, she is much like a Northern European version of the Sirens of Greek mythology who make a notable appearance in the classic epic poem The Odyssey. Though she may not bring about the demise of sailors deliberately or out of malice, her presence still did not bode well for those who navigated the river near her rapids. There is a lovely legend about the Lorelei available at the The Legends of the Rhine webpage, which features a translation into English of a book by Wilhelm Ruhland originally published in 1906. The index page of Legends of the Rhine also features an illustration of the Lorelei.

From the oceans that seem infinite to the the swamps that appear stagnant, the element of water has always held a special mystique for humankind. Part of this mystique is derived from water's very real potential to take human life as well as to sustain and renew it. Thus, the natural beings associated with water could embody this potentiality as well. Water spirits seem to be especially threatening to human beings. Froud and Lee have noted that, "Water has always been of importance in faerielore. Its ambivalent nature as a provider of food, nourisher of crops and taker of lives makes the divinities associated with it particularly potent. Like the rivers and pools they inhabit, the glastigs, Undines, Nixies, Loreleii, Rusalki, Naides and others combine the qualities of beauty and treachery."6 The dangerous and sometimes seductive nature of water faeries has been well recorded, inspiring poets, writers, and artists from all ages. Here is another piece by W.B. Yeats:
A mermaid fround a swimming lad,
Picked him for her own,
Pressed her body to his body,
Laughed; and plunging down
Forgot in cruel happiness
That even lovers drown.7
In the previously mentioned epic poem by Homer, The Odyssey, Sirens attempt to seduce Odysseus and his men not with their enticing physical attributes, but with the promise of wisdom. To listen to their song, however, was to invoke death. It is interesting to note that Sirens have significantly changed in appearance over the centuries. In ancient Greece, they were regarded to be part woman and part bird, but as time passed they instead began to be represented as part woman and part fish. In the following passage, the main character Odysseus relates his encounter with the Sirens:
While to the shore the rapid vessel flies,
Our swift approach the Siren choir decries;
Celestial music warbles from their tongue,
And thus the sweet delunders tune the song:
"Oh stay, O pride of Greece! Ulysses stay!
Oh cease thy course, and listen to our lay!
Blest is the man ordain'd our voice to hear,
The song instructs the soul, and charms the ear.
Approach! thy soul shall unto raptures rise!
Approach! and learn new wisdom from the wise!
We know whate'er the kings of mighty name
Achieved at Ilion in the fields of fame;
Whate'er beneath the sun's bright journey lies.
Oh stay, and learn new wisdom from the wise!"
Thus the sweet charmers warbled o'er the main;
My soul takes wing to meet the heavenly strain;
I give the sign, and struggle to be free:
Swift row my mates, and shoot along the sea;
New chains they add, and rapid urge the way,
Till, dying off, the distant sounds decay:
Then scudding swiftly from the dangerous ground,
The deafen'd ear unlocked, the chains unbound.8
In a book for young adults written by Jamake Highwater, which is based upon the myths of many Native American tribes, the main character Anpao is confronted with an enigmatic creature in the form of a beautiful woman with deer hooves instead of human feet. At a social gathering one night this mysterious and alluring woman appears. She picks out a certain young man to dance with her and then after words they retreat to the woods alone. Morning comes, and the young man is still nowhere to be found. Later on, Anpao discovers the fate of the boy Deer Woman had chosen, and an old woman explains to him Deer Woman's nature:
That is the way with Deer Woman. She holds the young men with those magic eyes of hers. She lures them into darkness with her beauty. And then, after she has taken her pleasure with them, while they are still lying contentedly in the grass suspecting nothing, then suddenly she hits them. Yes, she is so strong. . . I cannot tell you how strong she is! And she struck this poor boy, fiercely, fiercely. And while he was recovering from the brutal attack and was trying to get up, Deer Woman laughed at him and leaped over him, pushing him to the ground where she trampled his groin with her knife-edged hoofs! This is what she does - she tramples the groin of her lover in a furious victory dance which does not end until he shudders and bleeds and dies."
For a moment there was silence except for the weeping. Then the old woman whispered in a dry voice, "Then Deer Woman is gone. She slips away, her legs spattered with blood, leaving a crimson trail like the tracks of a doe.9
Though Deer Woman is not particularly identified as a faery, she shares many traits with them. She appears and disappears mysteriously. In addition, common to faeries of European origin, Deer Woman is strangely beautiful, powerfully so, and yet she is not the ideal representation of beauty as conceived by humanity, for "one often find that faeries, even the most beautiful, will have some striking defect of form". She is deformed; her wild nature is manifested by her hooves, which at first are not noticed by the mortals she entrances, but end up playing a significant part in their demise.

Although many of the works which portray Faery's less benevolent aspects towards humanity often center around a feminine faery as the enchantress, seductress, or crone, masculine faeries can also affect humans in less than desirable ways. Unlike the rest of the poetry featured on this page, the faery figure that appears in this case is not female. This piece of poetry written by Chiara Ferrau is set to music composed by Beethoven, and the storyline itself is based on a poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe entitled "Erlkönig," which means Elf King.

Figio Perduto

Muri die vento
Notte e scesca
Padrè e figlio
sono insiem'

Con un cavallo
Vanno avanti
In questa grande

Ma ad un tratto
Il bimbo trema
Dalla paura
Freddo si fa

Padre oh Padre
Tu non hai visto
Re degli elfi
Ecolo la

Figlio perduto,
Vuoi fare un gioco?
Giota to porto,
Vieni con me

Padre oh Padre
Hai già sentito
Cosa mi dice
E che vuol' far?

Figlio perduto,
Se to non vieni
lo usero la forza che ho

Padre oh Padre
Re degli elfi
Mi sta toccando,
Male mi fa

E il bambino
Con occhi chiusi,
Lui non si muove.
Perso e gia

Figlio perduto
Se tu non vieni
lo userò la forza che ho

Padre oh Padre
Re degli elfi
Mi sta toccando.
Male mi fa.

E il bambino
Con occhi chiusi.
Lui non si muove.
Perso è già

...perso è già

Lost Son

Walls of wind.
Night has fallen.
Father and son are

With a horse
they progress,
through the intense

But suddenly
the boy trembles
with fear.
It gets cold.

Father oh father,
haven't you seen
the king of the elves,
there he is.

Lost son,
do you want to play?
I bring you joy,
come with me.

Father oh father
have you heard
what he said
and what he will do?

Lost son,
If you don't come with me
I'll use my power

Father oh father
It's the king of the elves.
He is touching me,
He hurts me.

And the boy,
Eyes closed
He doesn't move,
He's already lost.

Lost son,
If you don't come with me
I'll use my power

Father oh father
It's the king of the elves.
He is touching me,
He hurts me.

And the boy,
Eyes closed
He doesn't move,
He's already lost.
. . .he's already lost

No collection of poetry inspired by dark Faery muses would be complete without John Keats' "La Belle Dame Sans Merci." The title of this poem translated from the French reads: The Beautiful Lady without Compassion/Pity. This faery also had a significant influence upon artists as she is represented in the work of various Pre-Raphaelite and Romantic painters including John William Waterhouse, Sir Frank Dicksee, Frank Cadogen Cowper, Arthur Hughes, Walter Crane, and Henry Meynell Rheam.

La Belle Dame Sans Merci

Ah, what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
   Alone and palely loitering?
The sedge has withered from the lake,
    And no birds sing.

Ah, what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
   So haggard and so woe-begone?

The squirrel's granary is full,
   And the harvest's done.

I see a lily on thy brow,
   With anguish moist and fever dew;
And on thy cheek a fading rose
   Fast withereth too.

I met a lady in the meads
   Full beautiful, a faery's child;

Her hair was long, her foot was light,
   And her eyes were wild.

I made a garland for her head,
   And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;
She look'd at me as she did love,
   And made sweet moan.

I set her on my pacing steed,
   And nothing else saw all day long;

For sideways would she bend, and sing
   A faery's song.

She found me roots of relish sweet,
   And honey wild, and manna dew;
And sure in language strange she said,
   'I love thee true'.

She took me to her elfin grot,
   And there she wept and sighed full sore,

And there I shut her wild wild eyes--
   With kisses four.

And there she lulled me asleep,
   And there I dream'd, ah woe betide,
The latest dream I ever dream'd
   On the cold hill side.

I saw pale kings, and princes too,
   Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;

Who cry'd--"La belle Dame sans merci
   Hath thee in thrall!"

I saw their starv'd lips in the gloam
   With horrid warning gaped wide,
And I awoke, and found me here
   On the cold hill side.

And this is why I sojourn here
   Alone and palely loitering,

Though the sedge is wither'd from the lake,
   And no birds sing.

Footnotes and Bibliography

1) Ballantine, Betty. Foreward. Faeries. By Brian Froud and Alan Lee. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1978. ii.

2) Froud, Brian. Good Faeries, Bad Faeries. New York: Simon and Schuster Editions, 1998. 12.

3) Harpur, Patrick. The Philosopher's Secret Fire: A History of the Imagination. Chicago, IL: Ivan R Dee, 2002. 14.

4) Yeats, William Butler. William Butler Yeats: Selected Poems. New York: Gramercy Books, 1992. 86.

5) Dubois, Pierre. The Great Encyclopedia of Faeries. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999. 118 - 119.

6) Froud, Brian and Alan Lee. Faeries. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1978.

7) Ratisseau, Elizabeth. Mermaids. Seattle, WA: Laughing Elephant Books, 1998. 14.

8) Lao, Meri. Sirens: Symbols of Seduction, A Celebration of the Allure of Sirens and Mermaids. Rochester, VT: Park Street Press, 1998. 6 - 7.

9) Highwater, Jamake. Anpao: An American Indian Odyssey. New York: Scholastic Inc., 1977. 161 - 63.

10) The background information on "Figlio Perduto" was discovered online at Sarah Brightman -- Figlio Perduto. I obtained the lyrics from Sarah Brightman's CD entitled La Luna, on which she performs this song.
Tags: essay, faery, folklore, poetry

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