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The Database of Ornament

IN the mysterious castle, lost among trees that start up
suddenly around it, out of a land of green meadows and
gray stones, where I have been so delightfully living through
the difficult month of August, London, and the currencies of
literature, and the duties of an editor, seem scarcely appre-
ciable ; too far away on the other side of this mountainous
land inclosing one within the circle of its own magic. It is a castle of dreams,
where, in the morning, I climb the winding staircase in the tower, creep
through the secret passage, and find myself in the vast deserted room above
the chapel, which is my retiring-room for meditation ; or, following the wind-
ing staircase, come out on the battlements, where I can look widely across
Galway, to the hills. In the evening my host plays Vittoria and Palestrina
on the organ, in the half darkness of the hall, and I wander between the
pillars of black marble, hearing the many voices rising into the dome : Vittoria,
the many lamentable human voices, crying on the sins of the world, the
vanity of pleasant sins ; Palestrina, an exultation and a triumph, in which the
many voices of white souls go up ardently into heaven. In the afternoon we
drive through a strange land, which has the desolation of ancient and dwindling
things ; a gray land, into which human life comes rarely, and with a certain
primitive savagery. As we drive seawards, the stone walls closing in the
woods dwindle into low, roughly heaped hedges of unmortared stones, over
which only an occasional cluster of trees lifts itself; and the trees strain wildly
in the air, writhing away from the side of the sea, where the winds from
the Atlantic have blown upon them and transfixed them in an eternity
of flight from an eternal flagellation. As far as one can see, as far as the
blue, barren mountains which rise up against the horizon, there are these end-
less tracts of harsh meadow-land, marked into squares by the stone hedges,
and themselves heaped with rocks and stones, lying about like some gray
fungous growth. Not a sign of human life is to be seen ; at long intervals we

94                              THE SAVOY

pass a cabin, white-washed, thatched roughly, with stopped-up windows, and a
half-closed door, from behind which a gray-haired old woman will gaze at you
with her steady, melancholy eyes. A few peasants pass on the road, moving
sombrely, without speaking ; the men, for the most part, touch their hats, with-
out change of expression ; the women, drawing their shawls about their faces,
merely look at you, with a slow, scrutinizing air, more indifferent than curious.
The women walk bare-footed, and with the admirable grace and straightness
of all who go with bare feet. I remember, in the curve of a rocky field, some
little way in from the road, seeing a young woman, wearing a blue bodice, a
red petticoat, and a gray shawl, carrying a tin pail on her head, with that
straight, flexible movement of the body, that slow and formal grace, of
Eastern women who have carried pitchers from the well. Occasionally a
fierce old man on a horse, wearing the old costume, that odd, precise, kind of
dress-coat, passes you with a surly scowl ; or a company of tinkers (the Irish
gipsies, one might call them) trail past, huddled like crouching beasts on their
little, rough, open carts, driving a herd of donkeys before them. As we get
nearer the village by the sea, the cabins become larger, and more frequent; and
just before reaching it, we pass a ruined castle, impregnably built on a green
mound, looking over the water to the quay, where the thin black masts of a few
vessels rise motionless against the little white-washed houses. The road goes
down a steep hill, and turns sharply, in the midst of the gray village, with its
thatched and ragged roofs. The doors all stand open, the upper windows are
drawn half down, and from some of them I see a dishevelled dark head, the
hair and eyes of a gipsy (one could well have fancied), looking down on the
road and the passers by. As the road rises again, we see the blue mountains,
coming nearer to us, and the place where, one knows, is Galway Bay, lying too
low for any flash of the waters. Now we are quite near the sea, and in front
of the house we are to visit (you will hear all about it in M. Bourget’s next
nouvelle) a brown mass of colour comes suddenly into the dull green and gray
of the fields, and one smells the seaweed lying there in the pools.

I find all this bareness, grayness, monotony, solitude, at once primitive and
fantastical, curiously attractive ; giving just the same kind of relief from the fat,
luxurious English landscape that these gaunt, nervous, long-chinned peasants
give from the red and rolling sleepiness of the English villager. And there is
a quite national vivacity and variety of mood in the skies here, in the restless
atmosphere, the humorous exaggerations of the sun and rain. To-day is a
typical Irish day, soft, warm, gray, with intervals of rain and fine weather ; I
can see a sort of soft mist of rain, blown loosely about between the trees of the

                          A CAUSERIE                                    95

park, the clouds an almost luminous gray, the sun shining through them ; at
their darkest, scarcely darker than the Irish stone of which the castle is built.
Driving, the other day, we passed a large pool among the rocks, in the midst
of those meadows flowering with stones ; the sky was black with the rain that
was falling upon the hills, and the afternoon sun shone against the deep black-
ness of the sky and the shadowed blackness of the water. I have never seen
such coloured darkness as this water ; green passing into slate, slate into
purple, purple into dead black. And it was all luminous, floating there in the
harbour of the grass like a tideless sea. Then there is the infinite variety of
the mountains, sloping in uneven lines around almost the whole horizon. They
are as variable as the clouds, and, while you look at them, have changed from
a purple darkness to a luminous and tender green, and then into a lifeless
gray ; and seem to float towards you and drift away from you, like the

Among these solid and shifting things, in this castle which is at once so
ancient a reality and so essential a dream, I feel myself to be in some danger
of loosening the tightness of my hold upon external things, of foregoing many
delectable pleasures, of forgetting many things that I have passionately learnt
in cities. If I lived here too long I should forget that I am a Londoner and
remember that I am a Cornishman. And that would so sadly embarrass my
good friends of the Celtic Renaissance ! No, decidedly I have no part among
those remote idealists : I must come back to London ; for I have perceived
the insidious danger of idealism ever since I came into these ascetic regions.

                                                                                ARTHUR SYMONS.

MLA citation:

“A Causerie: From a Castle in Ireland.” The Savoy vol. 6, October 1896, pp. 93-95. Savoy Digital Edition, edited by Christopher Keep and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2018-2020. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019.