Chronology of Yeats's Use of the Cuchulain Legend


Works by Yeats Focusing on Cuchulain

1. "The Death of Cuchulain," the 1892 poem;
Re-written in 1925 as "Cuchulain's Fight with the Sea."

2. "On Baile's Strand," a verse play with two different versions:
the first in In the Seven Woods published in 1903; the second in Poems 1899 published in 1906.

3. "The Golden Helmet," a prose drama published 1908;
Re-written in 1910 as "The Green Helmet."

4. "At the Hawk's Well," a Noh play published in 1916;
Originally called "The Well of Immortality" and "The Waters of Immortality."

5. "The Only Jealousy of Emer," a Noh play published 1919;
Re-written in a 1928 prose version and called "Fighting the Waves."

6. "The Death of Cuchulain," a verse play published 1939.

7. "Cuchulain Comforted," a poem published in 1939;
Originally called "The Death of Cuchulain."


Summary of Cuchulain's Life in the Works of Yeats

1. Cuchulain and the bird woman meet in "At the Hawk's Well."

2. In "The Green Helmet," Cuchulain, declared the bravest among men, is named the Champion of Ulster and receives, as proof, the Green Helmet. [source for "Gawain and the Green Knight"]

3. In "On Baile's Strand," King Conchubar, aware of Cuchulain's bravery and his unruly temper, makes Cuchulain swear an oath of obedience, forcing the unaware Cuchulain to fight and kill his own son Connla (begotten on the woman of the Hawk's Well, a figure who seems to represent Queen Aoife.) When informed of the truth, Cuchulain, mad with despair, runs out to fight the sea.

4. "The Only Jealousy of Emer" and its prose version "Fighting the Waves" continue the story of "On Baile's Strand": in these plays Cuchulain is thrown up out of the sea as an image of his own self. Emer, by renouncing forever any claim or hope for Cuchulain's love, saves him from Fand and the power of the sea; Cuchulain returns to life and his mistress Eithne Inguba.

5. Cuchulain, about to die in the last play "The Death of Cuchulain," acknowledges in front of his mistress his gratitude to Emer for having saved him from the sea. When he is half dead from his wounds, the hero's head is cut off by the Blind Man from "On Baile's Strand" for the paltry price of twelve pennies.

(For more information, see Birgit Bramsback, The Interpretation of the Cuchulain Legend in the Works of W. B. Yeats, Folcroft Press: Folcroft, Penn., 1969.)


Warren Wedin <warren.wedin@csun.edu>
William Butler Yeats Seminar Homepage
Department of English
California State University, Northridge