The Grail Quest in the Play "At the Hawk´S Well" by W.B.Yeats

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1 The Grail Quest in the Play At the Hawk's Well by William Butler Yeats A search for that which gives meaning to life has always occupied human minds. The ancient scholars, philosophers, writers and intellectuals devoted many years of their lives to find the answer. They created various theories – religious and philosophical – to explain the system of the universe and find the source of all things. On example of William Butler Yeats' play At the Hawk's Well and Chretien's romance Le Conte du Graal I shall show the way the both authors concern this subject. First, I shall give the historical background of the play and explain the symbolic importance of Cuchulain for Yeats. Second, I shall find and interpret the Celtic symbols in the play, and finally, I shall draw a parallel between the play At the Hawk's Well and the romance Le Conte du Graal. The play At the Hawk's Well was written one year after the Easter Rising of 1916 in Dublin, in which 2,000 Irish soldiers rose in a hope to create an independent Irish Republic. The attempt failed but the struggle for independence continued and led to a brutal civil war in 1919 – 21 (Black 283 – 86). William Butler Yeats, as a struggler for the spiritual regeneration of Ireland, founded the National Literary Society, which aimed at publicizing the literature, legends and folklore of Ireland. Reg Skene interprets Yeats works as „promoting the ideal of an independent republic free from the taint of anglicisation“ (20). The most important of them were the Cuchulain plays about the Irish hero Cuchulain. The political impact of the plays was strong. Cuchulain brought back a heroic ideal to the Irishmen and commanded their admiration. It was in the name of the ancient heroes that the manhood defended their national idea. That is why the Irish government commemorated the Easter Rising by a statue of Cuchulain (Skene 20 – 23). Red Skene defines one of the central aims of Yeats' prose as an attempt “to establish... a literature... which would substitute a positive nationalism for the negative“ (21). In the end, Irish bitterness proved too great; the negative passions did not give way before Yeats' 'spiritual propaganda'. Yeats' plays about the Irish hero Cuchulain remain as a monument to the noble dream of an Irish nation founded on a „heart-uplifting pride“ rather than on the hatred, envy, bitterness and suspicion of a land where „neighbor wars on neighbour, and why there is no man knows“ (21). At the Hawk's Well, from the historical view, is an espousal of

2 The Grail Quest in the Play At the Hawk's Well by William Butler Yeats heroism. Cuchulain symbolizes a national hero, strong and courageous, a leader ready to defend his land and folk. But this is a straight reading of the play. An exclusive reader, a reader with an intellectual base will read between the lines an important message, delivered by the poet, and the images of the play, at first sight meaningless, will come to life and like pieces of mosaic will be arranged into an entire single picture. To see the picture one requires a deep understanding of the poet's inner motives and thoughts, his system of beliefs. Wisdom, magic and poetry were connected disciplines for Yeats. He plunged into occultism and ceremonial magic and was a member of a number of esoteric organizations, such as the Theosophical Society and the Order of the Golden Dawn. Esoterism influenced Yeats' works throughout his life. He was also inspired by the Celtic myths and legends and derived the images from the ancient literary texts (Skene 7). Thus, a hazel, one of the central symbols in the play, was associated in the Celtic tradition with the Tree of Wisdom, esoteric or occult knowledge (McKillop). In the kabbalistic teachings of the Order of the Golden Dawn we find the symbol of the Tree of Life, which was the manifestation of the Ain Soph Aur, the source of all being (Skene 6). The magic well was described by the members of the Order of the Golden Dawn....
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