Thursday, March 22, 2012

Away with the Fairies

I have been absent. I haven't done much to account for the time gone, and I'm not greatly sure where I've been. And considering that, I presume that I've been away with the fairies.

The expression first appeared to me in an email. I subscribe to an UK newsletter,, that delivers all sorts of word goodies to my inbox. The meaning of away with fairies according to this source is, 'not facing reality; in a dreamworld.' Ah yes, a dreamworld. Where would I be without one of those? To face the brutal reality of day-to-day life that just keeps coming at me in rapid fire succession? Heavens no!

After I had read the entry for this phrase, I began seeing it everywhere. It's not surprising as a lot of fiction that I read, is Irish or English. Just recently I read the novel Ghost Light by Joseph O'Conner. I was drawn to the novel because it is a fictional account of the playwright JM Synge and his fianc√©e, the actress Molly Allgood. I read Synge’s work in graduate school and loved the Irishness of it. The novel was not what I imagined, but it was good enough. In it, O’Connor used the expression away with the fairies … that in and of itself was worth the price of the book.

The title of the book, on the other hand, is delicious. A ghost light is also known as a will o’ the wisp. Oh I love a will o’ the wisp … but my idea of it is different than what it is known. I was under the impression that it was a character that flits across pastures and through wild flowers reciting poetry. She, and it always is a she in my imagining, is dressed in a floaty shift of chiffon, and her hair is decorated with the flowers from the field that she traverses. She is not high or drunk; rather she is quite alive and channels the beauty of the environs and the rhythm and rhyme of the poetry. In the film, Cold Comfort Farm, based on the novel by Stella Gibbon, one of the characters, Elfine Starkadder is what in my mind a will o’ the wisp is. She is who I fashioned a Halloween costume on once years ago. I don’t think that I quite pulled it off … it was more comical, than poetic. Oh Elfine! That is a will o’ the wisp, eh?
But back to what the intended meaning of the word given my limited, though satisfying, research. The will o’ the wisp, or ghost lights, are luminous balls of light seen moving around … bogs, swamps, and marshes. According to, a very reliable source I’m sure, says that ghost lights have been ‘scientifically’ recognized since the 1970’s. I choose to believe this. But beyond that, and much more tantalizing, is the idea that the ghost light is the light left on in the theater at the end of the evening so that ghosts have a light by which to perform. And hence the title of O’Connor’s book. Lovely.
And back to away with the fairies … that’s where I’ve been. Someone had left a light on for me to follow and moved to another … world. One that protected me from whatever was threatening to take me out.

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