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

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A 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
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" by W.B. Yeats: A Literary Analysis

Is it not amazing how a poem that was written over a century ago can still evoke strong emotions? "Cuchulain's Fight With The Sea" by William Butler Yeats is one of those timeless poems that continue to captivate readers to this day. In 1892, Yeats wrote this poem as part of his collection, "The Celtic Twilight." The poem is a retelling of a story from Irish mythology about the hero Cuchulain and his battle with the powerful waves of the sea. Through this poem, Yeats explores themes of heroism, the power of nature, and the human condition.

The Poem's Structure

One of the striking features of "Cuchulain's Fight With The Sea" is its structure. The poem consists of seven stanzas, each with five lines. The rhyme scheme of the poem is ABABA, which gives it a sense of musicality. The poem begins with an introduction of the hero, Cuchulain, and his journey to the sea. Yeats sets the scene by describing the "hollow lands" and the "windy sea." The second stanza introduces the sea, which is described as a powerful force that no man can conquer. The third and fourth stanzas describe Cuchulain's battle with the sea. In these stanzas, Yeats uses vivid imagery to depict the struggle between the hero and the waves. The fifth stanza describes Cuchulain's moment of triumph as he emerges from the sea. The sixth stanza talks about the aftermath of the battle, and the final stanza concludes with a reflection on the hero's achievement.

The Theme of Heroism

One of the central themes of "Cuchulain's Fight With The Sea" is heroism. Cuchulain is depicted as a brave and powerful hero who is determined to conquer the sea. In stanza three, Yeats writes, "He laughed like one that sees a prize." This line conveys Cuchulain's confidence and enthusiasm for the battle. The hero's determination is further emphasized in stanza four, where Yeats writes, "He rose betimes and took the road to the windy western shore." This line demonstrates Cuchulain's readiness to face the challenge ahead.

However, the poem also suggests that heroism is not without its costs. In stanza six, Yeats writes, "But some remembered how the poor man did not live, and wished him back again." This line suggests that Cuchulain's victory came at a price, and that there were those who mourned his loss. This idea is further emphasized in the final stanza, where Yeats writes, "But now they were but common men." This line suggests that after his triumph, Cuchulain was no longer seen as a hero but as an ordinary man.

The Power of Nature

Another theme that runs through "Cuchulain's Fight With The Sea" is the power of nature. The sea is depicted as a force that cannot be tamed by man. In stanza two, Yeats writes, "The sea was cold, and the sea was vast, and the foam-heads muttered thunder." This line conveys the idea that the sea is a powerful and unpredictable force. The poem also suggests that nature is indifferent to the struggles of man. In stanza six, Yeats writes, "The heart's aye the part aye that is hardest to keep." This line suggests that nature does not care about the struggles of man and that it is up to the individual to persevere.

The Human Condition

Finally, "Cuchulain's Fight With The Sea" explores the human condition. The poem suggests that humans are driven by a desire to conquer the unknown. In stanza three, Yeats writes, "He laughed like one that sees a prize." This line suggests that Cuchulain is motivated by a desire to achieve something great. The poem also suggests that humans are capable of greatness, but that this greatness comes at a cost. In stanza six, Yeats writes, "But some remembered how the poor man did not live, and wished him back again." This line implies that greatness often comes with sacrifice, and that there are always those who are left behind.


In conclusion, "Cuchulain's Fight With The Sea" by W.B. Yeats is a powerful and timeless poem that explores themes of heroism, the power of nature, and the human condition. Through vivid imagery and a musical structure, Yeats tells the story of a heroic battle between man and the sea. The poem suggests that heroism is not without its costs, and that nature is a force that cannot be tamed. Ultimately, the poem reminds us that humans are capable of greatness, but that this greatness often comes at a price.

As I finish this analysis, I cannot help but feel a sense of awe at Yeats' skill as a poet. Even after all these years, "Cuchulain's Fight With The Sea" continues to speak to readers, inspiring us to be brave in the face of adversity and to strive for greatness, no matter the cost.

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 masterpiece that captures the essence of Irish mythology and the heroic deeds of the legendary warrior Cuchulain.

The poem tells the story of Cuchulain, who is challenged by the sea to a fight. Cuchulain, being a fearless warrior, accepts the challenge and engages in a fierce battle with the sea. The sea throws waves and storms at Cuchulain, but he fights back with his sword and shield. The battle continues for three days and three nights, until Cuchulain finally emerges victorious.

The poem is a powerful metaphor for the struggle between man and nature, and the triumph of human will over the forces of the universe. It also reflects the Irish belief in the power of heroes and their ability to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

The poem is written in a lyrical and musical style, with a strong rhythm and rhyme scheme. The use of alliteration and repetition adds to the musicality of the poem and creates a sense of urgency and excitement.

The opening lines of the poem set the tone for the rest of the work:

"The grey sea and the long black land; And the yellow half-moon large and low; And the startled little waves that leap In fiery ringlets from their sleep,"

These lines create a vivid image of the sea and the land, and the contrast between the two. The use of color and imagery adds to the beauty of the poem and creates a sense of wonder and awe.

The poem also contains several references to Irish mythology and folklore. Cuchulain is a legendary hero in Irish mythology, known for his bravery and strength. The sea is often seen as a powerful and unpredictable force in Irish folklore, and is associated with the god Manannan mac Lir.

The poem also contains several allusions to other works of literature. The line "And the white breast of the dim sea" is a reference to the poem "The White Birds" by W.B. Yeats, while the line "And the foam-ridden, crested, blown surf" is a reference to the poem "The Stolen Child" by the same author.

The poem is also notable for its use of symbolism. The sea is often seen as a symbol of the unconscious mind, while Cuchulain represents the conscious mind. The battle between the two can be seen as a metaphor for the struggle between the conscious and unconscious aspects of the human psyche.

The poem also contains several themes that are common in Yeats' work. The idea of the hero and the heroic deed is a recurring theme in his poetry, as is the idea of the struggle between man and nature. The poem also reflects Yeats' interest in the occult and the supernatural, as well as his fascination with Irish mythology and folklore.

In conclusion, "Cuchulain's Fight With The Sea" is a masterpiece of Irish mythology and a testament to the power of poetry. It captures the essence of Irish folklore and the heroic deeds of the legendary warrior Cuchulain, while also exploring themes of human struggle and triumph. The poem is a testament to Yeats' skill as a poet and his deep love for Irish culture and mythology.

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