'Tom At Cruachan' by William Butler Yeats

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The Winding Stair and Other Poems1933On Cruachan's plain slept he
That must sing in a rhyme
What most could shake his soul:
'The stallion Eternity
Mounted the mare of Time,
'Gat the foal of the world.'

Editor 1 Interpretation

"Tom At Cruachan" by William Butler Yeats: A Masterpiece of Irish Mythology

If you're a fan of Irish mythology and legends, then you're probably familiar with the story of Tom and his adventures at Cruachan. But have you ever read William Butler Yeats' poem "Tom At Cruachan"? If not, then you're in for a treat. This classic piece of literature is a masterpiece of Irish mythology and a tribute to the ancient folklore that inspired it.

The Poem

"Tom At Cruachan" is a narrative poem that tells the story of Tom, a young hero who ventures into the Otherworld to prove his worth. The poem is divided into four sections, each one describing a different stage in Tom's journey.

In the first section, Tom is introduced as a brave and fearless warrior who is determined to prove himself. He sets out on his journey, guided by the wisdom of the old men of Ireland.

In the second section, Tom reaches the entrance to the Otherworld, guarded by a fierce giant. Tom defeats the giant in a fierce battle and gains entry to the realm beyond.

In the third section, Tom encounters a series of obstacles and challenges, including a group of mischievous fairies and a treacherous river. He overcomes them all with his courage and skill.

In the final section, Tom reaches his destination and meets the queen of the Otherworld. She tests his courage and skill, and Tom emerges victorious. He returns to the mortal world, hailed as a hero and a champion.


"Tom At Cruachan" is a poem that celebrates the bravery and courage of the Irish people. It is a tribute to the ancient folklore and legends that inspired it, and a reminder of the power of myth and legend in shaping our cultural identity.

At its core, the poem is a story of initiation and transformation. Tom sets out on his journey as a young and inexperienced warrior, but he returns as a hero and a champion. His journey is a metaphor for the spiritual journey that we all must take, as we seek to discover our true selves and our place in the world.

The poem is also a celebration of the natural world and the power of nature to inspire and transform us. Tom's journey takes him through forests, rivers, and mountains, and he encounters a variety of creatures and landscapes along the way. Each of these elements represents a different aspect of the natural world, and together they create a rich tapestry of imagery and symbolism.

Finally, "Tom At Cruachan" is a testament to the enduring power of Irish mythology and folklore. It is a reminder that these ancient stories and legends continue to inspire us and shape our culture, even in the modern age. Through the poem, Yeats invites us to explore these stories and discover the wisdom and inspiration they have to offer.

Literary Criticism

"Tom At Cruachan" is a poem that has been widely studied and analyzed by literary critics and scholars. Its rich imagery and symbolism, as well as its themes of initiation and transformation, have made it a popular subject for analysis and interpretation.

One of the key themes of the poem is the power of nature and the natural world. Critics have noted the way that Yeats uses the landscape and the creatures of the natural world to create a vivid and evocative setting for Tom's journey. They have also noted the way that these elements represent different aspects of the human experience, from the wild and untamed to the orderly and controlled.

Another important theme of the poem is the relationship between the mortal world and the Otherworld. Critics have noted the way that Yeats uses this relationship to explore the nature of reality and the boundaries between the physical and the spiritual. They have also noted the way that Tom's journey through the Otherworld represents a metaphorical journey of self-discovery and transformation.

Overall, "Tom At Cruachan" is a poem that continues to fascinate and inspire readers and scholars alike. Its themes of bravery, transformation, and the power of myth and legend continue to resonate with readers of all ages and backgrounds, making it a true classic of Irish literature.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Tom At Cruachan: A Masterpiece of Irish Mythology

William Butler Yeats is one of the most celebrated poets of the 20th century, and his works are renowned for their deep exploration of Irish mythology and folklore. Among his many masterpieces, "Tom At Cruachan" stands out as a shining example of his poetic genius and his ability to weave together ancient legends and modern themes.

At its core, "Tom At Cruachan" is a retelling of the ancient Irish myth of the Táin Bó Cúailnge, or the Cattle Raid of Cooley. This epic tale tells the story of the hero Cú Chulainn and his battle against the armies of Queen Medb of Connacht, who seeks to steal the prized bull of Ulster. Yeats takes this ancient tale and transforms it into a powerful meditation on the nature of heroism, sacrifice, and the struggle for identity in a rapidly changing world.

The poem begins with a description of Tom, a simple farmer who lives near the ancient fortress of Cruachan. Tom is a man of humble origins, but he possesses a deep connection to the land and the spirits that inhabit it. As the poem progresses, we see Tom transformed into a hero, called upon to defend his people against the invading armies of Queen Medb.

One of the most striking aspects of "Tom At Cruachan" is Yeats' use of language and imagery. The poem is filled with vivid descriptions of the natural world, from the "hazel copse" where Tom first encounters the fairy queen to the "great grey rocks" that form the walls of Cruachan. Yeats' use of language is both lyrical and powerful, evoking a sense of the ancient and the mystical.

At the same time, Yeats also uses modern language and themes to give the poem a contemporary relevance. For example, he describes Tom as a man who "had no gift of speech," suggesting that he is a man of action rather than words. This theme of action over words is one that resonates with modern readers, who are often bombarded with empty rhetoric and political posturing.

Another modern theme that runs through the poem is the struggle for identity in a rapidly changing world. Tom is a man who is deeply connected to his land and his people, but he is also aware of the forces of change that are sweeping through Ireland. He is torn between his loyalty to his traditional way of life and his desire to embrace the new opportunities that are emerging.

This theme is particularly relevant in the context of Irish history, as Ireland was undergoing a period of profound social and political change during Yeats' lifetime. The country was struggling to define its identity in the wake of centuries of British rule, and many Irish people were torn between their traditional way of life and the new opportunities that were emerging in the modern world.

In "Tom At Cruachan," Yeats captures this struggle for identity in a powerful and poignant way. Tom is a hero who embodies the best qualities of the Irish people – courage, loyalty, and a deep connection to the land. But he is also a man who is struggling to find his place in a rapidly changing world.

Ultimately, Tom's heroism is defined not by his ability to defeat the armies of Queen Medb, but by his willingness to sacrifice himself for his people. In the final stanza of the poem, we see Tom transformed into a martyr, a symbol of the enduring spirit of the Irish people:

"And Tom was standing by the door, And Tom was weeping on the floor, For Tom had given up the ghost Before the travellers reached the coast."

In this powerful conclusion, Yeats reminds us that heroism is not just about physical strength or military prowess, but about the willingness to make sacrifices for the greater good. Tom's sacrifice is a testament to the enduring spirit of the Irish people, who have faced countless challenges throughout their history but have always emerged stronger and more resilient.

In conclusion, "Tom At Cruachan" is a masterpiece of Irish mythology and a testament to Yeats' poetic genius. Through his use of language, imagery, and modern themes, Yeats transforms an ancient myth into a powerful meditation on heroism, sacrifice, and the struggle for identity in a rapidly changing world. The poem is a timeless reminder of the enduring spirit of the Irish people and their ability to overcome even the greatest challenges.

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