Celtic Literature. It brings to mind Medieval bards who, with harp and lyre, sing to life CuChulainn and the Crow, Branwen casting her Starling across the lonely sea, the flocking Swans about the Children of Lir, and the tragic love and death of Tristan and Isolde.
But Celtic Literature is more than that, much more than mythological tales of ancient magical lands. Over the centuries there arose out of the Celtic consciousness a rich and complex fabric of song, literature, and thought. From the lands of Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, Celtic literature has, without a doubt, produced true giants.
James Joyce: Finnegan awake and Ulysses bloomed. Thought by many scholars to be one of, if not the, major writer of the twentieth century, the Irishman James Joyce changed forever the way literature is written.
Yeats, William Butler: "I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree..." Yeats helped found the Abbey Theatre, helped create the modern Irish literary movement with the likes of Lady Gregory, Maud Gonne, and John Synge (of Playboy of the Western World fame), and wrote poems with a complex skill that has ranked him by many as the dominant poet of our time. His art has, indeed, gathered him up "into the artifice of eternity."
Oscar Wilde, or, to be totally accurate, Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde): once when asked by a customs officer what he had to declare replied "Nothing but my genius." Author of The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Importance of Being Earnest, Wilde is also remembered as the man who was imprisoned for love.
It was the Scottish philosopher David Hume who, frightening himself one day when he realized that he could not prove that anything exists, including himself, quickly went to the local pub for a game of billiards and friendship.
But it was the Irish philosopher George Berkeley who let us know that it was God who heard the tree fall in the forest and make a noise, so everything is alright with the world.
And it was the Scottish moral philosopher Adam Smith who wrote in The Wealth of Nations about invisible hands and gave definition to the economic system we now call capitalism.
When we think of Celtic literature there are many things that come to mind: being tied down to the ground by men barely the size of your hand (Jonathan Swift); the mad adventures of Humphrey Clinker (Tobias Smollett) or the schools of scandal (Richard Sheridan); ghost stories (Sheridan Le Fanu) or tales of a Vicar (Oliver Goldsmith); reflecting on the French Revolution (Edmund Burke); the knights of Ivanhoe and Highland clans and chieftains of the Bonnie Prince Charlie (Sir Walter Scott); being kidnapped and taken to a treasure island with Long John Silver (Robert Louis Stevenson); turning a handful of unformed stone into a thing of beauty (George Bernard Shaw); two clowns sitting beneath a lone tree waiting for Godot (Samuel Beckett); and who can not remember as New Year's Eve rolls toward it's end and everyone sings the song, yes, that song, 'when old acquaintance be forgot...' (Robert Burns).
There are many wonderful things in the literature of the Celtic lands. The list goes on and on, even into modern theater and cinema with the two Richard's, Harris and Burton. Yes, indeed, over the centuries there arose out of the Celtic consciousness a rich and complex fabric of song, literature, and thought. From the lands of Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, Celtic literature has, without a doubt, produced true giants.
And least we forget, it was the Welshman Dylan Thomas who gave such voice to the anguish of death: "Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light."
*Copyright © 1996, 1999 John Mooers. All rights reserved.