'Cuchulan's Fight With The Sea' by William Butler Yeats

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The Rose1893A man came slowly from the setting sun,
To Emer, raddling raiment in her dun,
And said, 'I am that swineherd whom you bid
Go watch the road between the wood and tide,
But now I have no need to watch it more.'Then Emer cast the web upon the floor,
And raising arms all raddled with the dye,
Parted her lips with a loud sudden cry.That swineherd stared upon her face and said,
'No man alive, no man among the dead,
Has won the gold his cars of battle bring.''But if your master comes home triumphing
Why must you blench and shake from foot to crown?'Thereon he shook the more and cast him down
Upon the web-heaped floor, and cried his word:
'With him is one sweet-throated like a bird.''You dare me to my face,' and thereupon
She smote with raddled fist, and where her son
Herded the cattle came with stumbling feet,
And cried with angry voice, 'It is not meet
To ide life away, a common herd.''I have long waited, mother, for that word:
But wherefore now?''There is a man to die;
You have the heaviest arm under the sky.''Whether under its daylight or its stars
My father stands amid his battle-cars.''But you have grown to be the taller man.''Yet somewhere under starlight or the sun
My father stands.''Aged, worn out with wars
On foot.on horseback or in battle-cars.''I only ask what way my journey lies,
For He who made you bitter made you wise.''The Red Branch camp in a great company
Between wood's rim and the horses of the sea.
Go there, and light a camp-fire at wood's rim;
But tell your name and lineage to him
Whose blade compels, and wait till they have found
Some feasting man that the same oath has bound.'Among those feasting men Cuchulain dwelt,
And his young sweetheart close beside him knelt,
Stared on the mournful wonder of his eyes,
Even as Spring upon the ancient skies,
And pondered on the glory of his days;
And all around the harp-string told his praise,
And Conchubar, the Red Branch king of kings,
With his own fingers touched the brazen strings.
At last Cuchulain spake, 'Some man has made
His evening fire amid the leafy shade.
I have often heard him singing to and fro,
I have often heard the sweet sound of his bow.
Seek out what man he is.'One went and came.
'He bade me let all know he gives his name
At the sword-point, and waits till we have found
Some feasting man that the same oath has bound.'Cuchulain cried, 'I am the only man
Of all this host so bound from childhood on.After short fighting in the leafy shade,
He spake to the young man, 'Is there no maid
Who loves you, no white arms to wrap you round,
Or do you long for the dim sleepy ground,
That you have come and dared me to my face?''The dooms of men are in God's hidden place,''Your head a while seemed like a woman's head
That I loved once.'Again the fighting sped,
But now the war-rage in Cuchulain woke,
And through that new blade's guard the old blade broke,
And pierced him.'Speak before your breath is done.''Cuchulain I, mighty Cuchulain's son.''I put you from your pain.I can no more.'
While day its burden on to evening bore,
With head bowed on his knees Cuchulain stayed;
Then Conchubar sent that sweet-throated maid,
And she, to win him, his grey hair caressed;
In vain her arms, in vain her soft white breast.
Then Conchubar, the subtlest of all men,
Ranking his Druids round him ten by ten,
Spake thus:'Cuchulain will dwell there and brood
For three days more in dreadful quietude,
And then arise, and raving slay us all.
Chaunt in his ear delusions magical,
That he may fight the horses of the sea.'
The Druids took them to their mystery,
And chaunted for three days.Cuchulain stirred,
Stared on the horses of the sea, and heard
The cars of battle and his own name cried;
And fought with the invulnerable tide.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Cuchulain's Fight With The Sea: A Masterpiece of Mythic Poetry

It is not often that a poem can take us on a journey through ancient myth and legend, while also speaking directly to our contemporary concerns. William Butler Yeats' "Cuchulain's Fight With The Sea" is such a poem. Written in 1892, when Yeats was just 27 years old, this work displays a remarkable understanding of the complex interplay between the cultural forces that shape our lives and the deep-seated human yearning for a connection to something greater than ourselves. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will explore the themes, imagery, and symbolism that make "Cuchulain's Fight With The Sea" a masterpiece of mythic poetry.

The Mythic Universe of Cuchulain

The central figure of Yeats' poem is Cuchulain, the legendary Irish hero who is both mortal and divine. He represents the archetype of the warrior who is willing to risk everything to defend his people and his honor. In this poem, Cuchulain stands on the shore, facing the sea, which is personified as a powerful and malevolent force. As he prepares to fight the sea, he calls upon the gods and the spirits of the earth and sky to aid him in his struggle.

The mythic universe of Cuchulain is a complex and multifaceted one. It is a world in which the boundaries between the physical and the spiritual are blurred, and where the forces of nature are seen as both beautiful and terrifying. Yeats' use of language and imagery evokes this universe with great skill and sensitivity. For example, he describes Cuchulain's armor as "the gold and bronze and gold" and his shield as "the sun and moon and stars." These images suggest that Cuchulain is not just a mortal warrior, but a kind of divine being who embodies the powers of the natural world.

The Sea: A Symbol of Chaos and Transformation

In Yeats' poem, the sea represents a force of chaos and destruction. It is a primal force that threatens to overwhelm everything in its path. Cuchulain's battle with the sea is therefore a metaphor for the struggle between order and chaos, between the forces of civilization and the wild, untamed power of nature. The sea is also a symbol of transformation, as it represents the power of the unknown and the unpredictable. As Cuchulain battles the sea, he is also battling his own fears and uncertainties. He must summon all his courage and strength to face the unknown and emerge victorious.

Yeats' use of imagery in this poem is particularly striking. He describes the sea as "the great sea-serpent coiled in sleep," suggesting that it is a creature of immense power and danger. He also uses the image of the waves "beating against the shore like the hooves of a thousand horses," conveying the sense of an unstoppable force that cannot be tamed or controlled. These images serve to heighten the tension and drama of the poem, while also conveying the sheer magnitude of the struggle that Cuchulain faces.

The Search for Meaning and Connection

At its heart, "Cuchulain's Fight With The Sea" is a poem about the human search for meaning and connection. Cuchulain's battle with the sea represents the struggle that we all face in trying to find our place in the world. We are all searching for something that will give our lives purpose and meaning, something that will connect us to the larger universe of which we are a part.

Yeats' poem is a powerful reminder that this search is not an easy one. It requires courage, determination, and a willingness to confront our deepest fears and uncertainties. But it is also a search that is ultimately rewarding, as it allows us to connect with something greater than ourselves and find our place in the universe.


In "Cuchulain's Fight With The Sea," William Butler Yeats has created a work of mythic poetry that speaks directly to the human experience. His use of language, imagery, and symbolism evokes a complex and multifaceted universe in which the struggle between order and chaos, between the known and the unknown, is played out. At the same time, the poem is a powerful reminder that the search for meaning and connection is one that we all undertake, and that it is a search that is ultimately rewarding. "Cuchulain's Fight With The Sea" is a masterpiece of poetry, and a testament to the enduring power of myth and legend in our lives.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Cuchulain's Fight With The Sea: A Masterpiece of Irish Mythology

William Butler Yeats, one of the greatest poets of the 20th century, was deeply influenced by Irish mythology and folklore. His poem "Cuchulain's Fight With The Sea" is a prime example of his fascination with the heroic tales of ancient Ireland. This epic poem, which tells the story of the legendary hero Cuchulain's battle with the sea, is a masterpiece of Irish mythology that captures the essence of the heroic spirit of the Irish people.

The poem begins with a description of the sea, which is portrayed as a powerful and mysterious force that is both beautiful and dangerous. Yeats uses vivid imagery to create a sense of awe and wonder, as he describes the waves crashing against the shore and the sea foam swirling in the wind. The sea is depicted as a living entity, with a will of its own, that is both alluring and terrifying.

The hero of the poem, Cuchulain, is a legendary figure from Irish mythology who is known for his bravery and strength. He is portrayed as a fearless warrior who is willing to face any challenge, no matter how daunting. Cuchulain is a symbol of the heroic spirit of the Irish people, who have a long history of resisting oppression and fighting for their freedom.

In the poem, Cuchulain is challenged by the sea, which he sees as a worthy opponent. He is determined to prove his strength and courage by defeating the sea in battle. The sea, however, is not easily conquered, and Cuchulain is forced to fight with all his might to overcome its power.

The battle between Cuchulain and the sea is described in vivid detail, with Yeats using powerful imagery to convey the intensity of the struggle. The sea is portrayed as a fierce and relentless adversary, with waves crashing against Cuchulain's body and salt spray stinging his eyes. Cuchulain, however, is undaunted, and he fights back with equal ferocity, using his sword to cut through the waves and his shield to deflect the sea's attacks.

As the battle rages on, Cuchulain begins to tire, and it seems as though the sea may finally overcome him. But just when all seems lost, Cuchulain is inspired by the memory of his beloved Deirdre, and he finds the strength to continue the fight. With renewed vigor, he charges forward, determined to emerge victorious.

In the end, Cuchulain emerges triumphant, having defeated the sea and proven his strength and courage. The poem ends with a sense of awe and wonder, as Yeats describes the hero's victory and the beauty of the sea, which is now calm and peaceful.

The poem "Cuchulain's Fight With The Sea" is a masterpiece of Irish mythology that captures the essence of the heroic spirit of the Irish people. It is a powerful and moving tribute to the bravery and strength of the legendary hero Cuchulain, who is a symbol of the Irish people's long history of resistance and struggle. Yeats' use of vivid imagery and powerful language creates a sense of awe and wonder, as he portrays the sea as a powerful and mysterious force that is both beautiful and dangerous. The poem is a testament to the enduring power of Irish mythology and folklore, and it remains a beloved classic of Irish literature to this day.

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