The Fountains of Youth
George William Russell - A.E.

I heard that a strange woman, dwelling on the western coast, who had the repute of healing by faery power, said a little before she died, "There's a cure for all things in the well at Ballykeele": and I know not why at first, but her words lingered with me and repeated themselves again and again, and by degrees to keep fellowship with the thought they enshrined came more antique memories, all I had heard or dreamed of the Fountains of Youth; for I could not doubt, having heard these fountains spoken of by people like herself, that her idea had a druid ancestry. Perhaps she had bent over the pool until its darkness grew wan and bright and troubled with the movements of a world within and the agitations of a tempestuous joy; or she had heard, as many still hear, the wild call to "Come away," from entreating lips and flame-encircled faces, or was touched by the star-tipped fingers, and her heart from the faery world came never back again to dwell as before at ease in this isle of grey mists and misty sunlight. These things are not fable only, for Ireland is still a land of the gods, and in out of the way places we often happen on wonderlands of romance and mystic beauty. I have spoken to people who have half parted from their love for the world in a longing for the pagan paradise of Tir-na-nog, and many who are outwardly obeisant to another religion are altogether pagan in their hearts, and Meave the Queen of the Western Host is more to them than Mary Queen of Heaven. I was told of this Meave that lately she was seen in vision by a peasant, who made a poem on her, calling her "The Beauty of all Beauty": and the man who told me this of his friend had himself seen the jetted fountains of fire-mist winding up in spiral whirls to the sky, and he too had heard of the Fountains of Youth.

The natural longing in every heart that its youth shall not perish makes one ponder and sigh over this magical past when youth, ecstasy, and beauty welled from a bountiful nature at the sung appeal of her druid children holding hand in hand around the sacred cairn. Our hearts remember:

A wind blows by us fleeting
Along the reedy strand:
And sudden our hearts are beating
Again in the druid-land.

All silver-pale, enchanted,
The air-world lies on the hills,
And the fields of light are planted
With the dawn-frail daffodils.

The yellow leaves are blowing
The hour when the wind-god weaves,

And hides the stars and their glowing
In a mist of daffodil leaves.

We stand in glimmering whiteness,
Each face like the day-star fair,
And rayed about in its brightness
With a dawn of daffodil air.

And through each white robe gleaming,
And under each snow-white breast,
Is a golden dream-light streaming
Like eve through an opal west.

One hand to the heart, another
We raise to the dawn on high;
For the sun in the heart is brother
To the sun-heart of the sky.

A light comes rising and falling,
As ringed in the druid choir
We sing to the sun-god, calling
By his name of yellow fire.

The touch of the dew-wet grasses,
The breath of the dawn-cool wind,
With the dawn of the god-light passes
And the world is left behind.

We drink of a fountain giving
The joy of the gods, and then -
The Land of the Ever-living
Has passed from us again.

Passed far beyond all saying,
For memory only weaves
On a silver dawn outraying
A cloud of daffodil leaves.

And not indirectly through remembrance only, but when touched from within by the living beauty, the soul, the ancient druid in man, renews its league with the elements; and sometimes as the twilight vanishes and night lays on the earth her tender brow, the woods, the mountains, the clouds that tinted like seraphim float in the vast, and the murmur of water, wind and trees, melt from the gaze and depart from the outward ear and become internal reveries and contemplations of the spirit, and are no more separate but are part of us. Yet these vanishings from us and movements in worlds not realized, leave us only more thirsty to drink of a deeper nature where all things are dissolved in ecstasy, and heaven and earth are lost in God. So we turn seeking for the traces of that earlier wisdom which guided man into the Land of Immortal Youth, and assuaged his thirst at a more brimming flood of the Feast of Age, the banquet which Manannan the Danann king instituted in the haunt of the Fire-god, and whoever partook knew thereafter neither weariness, decay, not death.

These mysteries, all that they led to, all that they promised for the spirit of man, are opening today for us in clear light, their fabulous distance lessens, and we hail these kingly ideals with as intense a trust and with more joy, perhaps, than they did who were born in those purple hours, because we are emerging from centuries indescribably meagre and squalid in their thought, and every new revelation has for us the sweetness of sunlight to one after the tears and sorrow of a prison-house. The well at Ballykeele is, perhaps, a humble starting-point for the contemplation of such mighty mysteries; but here where the enchanted world lies so close it is never safe to say what narrow path may not lead through a visionary door into Moy Argatnel, the silver Cloudland of Manannan, where

"Feet of white bronze
Glitter through beautiful ages."

The Danann king with a quaint particularity tells Bran in the poem from which these lines are quoted, that

"There is a wood of beautiful fruit
Under the prow of thy little skiff."

What to Bran was a space of pale light was to the eye of the god a land of pure glory, Ildathach the Many-coloured Land, rolling with rivers of golden light and dropping with dews of silver flame. In another poem the Brugh by the Boyne, outwardly a little hillock, is thus described:

"Look, and you will see it is the palace of a god."

Perhaps the mystic warriors of the Red Branch saw supernatural pillars blazoned like the sunset, and entered through great doors and walked in lofty halls with sunset-tinted beings speaking a more beautiful wisdom than earth's. And they there may have seen those famous gods who had withdrawn generations before from visible Eire: Manannan the dark blue king, Lu Lamfada with the sunrise on his brow and his sling, a wreath of rainbow flame, coiled around him, the Goddess Dana in ruby brilliance, Nuada silver-handed, the Dagda with floating locks of light shaking from him radiance and song, Angus Oge, around whose head the ever-winging birds made music, and others in whose company these antique heroes must have felt the deep joy of old companionship renewed, for were not the Danann hosts men of more primeval cycles become divine and movers in a divine world. In the Brugh too was a fountain, to what uses applied the mystical imagination working on other legends may make clearer.

The Well of Connla, the parent fountain of many streams visible and invisible, was the most sacred well known in ancient Ireland. It lay itself below deep waters at the source of the Shannon, and these waters which hid it were also mystical, for they lay between earth and the Land of the Gods. Here, when stricken suddenly by an internal fire, the sacred hazels of wisdom and inspiration unfolded at once their leaves and blossoms and their scarlet fruit, which falling upon the waters dyed them of a royal purple; the nuts were then devoured by Fintann the Salmon of Knowledge, and the wisest of the druids partook also. This was perhaps the greatest of the mysteries known to the ancient Gael, and in the bright phantasmagoria conjured up there is a wild beauty which belongs to all their tales. The suddenly arising dreams of a remote divinity, the scarlet nuts tossing on the purple flood, the bright immortals glancing hither and thither, are pictures left of some mystery we may not now uncover, thought tomorrow may reveal it, for the dawn-lights are glittering everywhere in Ireland. Perhaps the strange woman who spoke of the well at Ballykeele, and the others like her, may know more about these fountains than the legend-seekers who so learnedly annoted their tales. They may have drunken in dreams of the waters at Connla's well, for many go to the Tir-na-nog in sleep, and some are said to have remained there, and only a vacant form is left behind without the light in the eyes which marks the presence of a soul. I make no pretence of knowledge concerning the things which underlie their simple speech, but to me there seems to be for ever escaping from legend and folk-tale, from word and custom, some breath of a world of beauty I sigh for but am not nigh to as these are. I think if that strange woman could have found a voice for what was in her heart she would have completed her vague oracle somewhat as I have done:

There's a cure for all things in the well at Ballykeele,
Where the scarlet cressets o'erhang from the rowan trees;
There's a joy-breath blowing from the Land of Youth I feel,
And earth with its heart at ease.

Many and many a sun-bright maiden saw the enchanted land
With star-faces glimmer up from the druid wave:
Many and many a pain of love was soothed by a faery hand
Or lost in the love it gave.

When the quiet with a ring of pearl shall wed the earth
And the scarlet berries burn dark by the stars in the pool,
Oh, its lost and deep I'll be in the joy-breath and the mirth,
My heart in the star-heart cool.

Irish Theosophist, September 15, 1897

Present article was scanned and proofread and made available for publication by Mr. Jake Jaqua.

Last update: januar 2009
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