|FICTION||by Michael Waterson|
The Last Ceilidh
A story from
(Ceilidh is pronounced ‘kay-lee’)
Now in those days, long before the children of the goddess were driven away to hide in the hollow hills, everything had a voice and piped up whenever it pleased. Clouds sailing slow and stately over the hilltops haled you in windy cordiality with greetings of the day. Crocus bursting from the sleeping earth wailed like the newborn; even the stones spoke, telling their epic, metamorphic tales in big boulder words that wore down to pebbles with eons of utterance.
Mountains echoed with histories and rivers conversed with both the fisherman and the fish. While the alluvial discourse tended toward the weighty and philosophical, the streams were horrible gossips, babbling wild rumors and lurid stories to which only dizzy jays and gulls would cock an ear. The trees were the teachers and spoke volumes of patient wisdom, especially the oak, for in their rings and leaves lay all the ancient knowledge of the earth. Of course the stag, boar, and eagle each knew the others’ tongue — and still do, as any fool can plainly tell.
Words were the most powerful magic imaginable and were hoarded more than gold. A word pronounced could cure sickness or turn the tide of destiny, just as a malevolent story poured into your ear would send you reeling to decline and death. All of creation knew the magic of the word and used it and the talk was good and made harmony and understanding between the lowest clod and the highest king. Naturally, all this communicating made life much richer. And easier: to build a house you just strolled into the woods and asked the trees with sweet words to lie down. In those days a good poet could charm wheat into bread faster than a scythe could mow. Stalks leapt under the mill stone like swooning maidens. An apple would pull down the whole bough if you mouthed the precise sweet syllables.
Where things went awry was with an argument started by a man and a wren. Every year all of creation had a great ceilidh, a great gathering to celebrate light and life, the wedding of the earth and sky, a feast of words and music. Now all of God’s creatures could not only talk, but sing; after all, it was them that gave God the idea for music. Well one year it was decided to have a singing competition at the ceilidh. There were choruses of whales and wolves, choirs of crickets and nightingales. Everything had a song and it was very hard to decide. The contest went on for days. At last the two finalists were announced: a man (an Irishman, of course) and the bird most believed was the best singer of all creatures, the wren. The rest of the creation were the final judges. First the wren sang and the stars fell from the sky to hear her. Then the man sang and the tides all paused while he crooned. Well, they couldn’t decide and a nasty argument broke out. Most of the people sided with the man, not because they thought him best, but because he was one of them. All the rest, earth, stars, sun and moon and everything, were for the wren.
As the argument grew more heated curses were flung; each side cursed the other’s tongue and in that instant they were lost to each other. And when they saw themselves through the eyes of their own insults, they were ashamed and angry and turned away vowing never to speak to the other again. And to this day the grudge still holds. People speak only to their own and the rest of creation maintains a thunderous silence.
But occasionally, when music sails through the air like a sun-struck cloud or bursts from the heart like a pure spring flower, you may hear the oak and the alder, the rivers and rocks and all rest of creation softly humming, or perhaps — ever so softly — joining in. Listen: