Gods of Poetry (part three): Nuada

In Nuada Airgetlam, or Nuada of the Silver Arm, we encounter a political god of poetry: one that when ruling, poetry is thriving. He is an Irish god, related to the Leanan Sidhe, touched on in Part One. Their abodes are hidden in such a way that no mortal can see them, and no one knows if they came to Ireland by wind, sea, or land.

Nuada was the king of Ireland and leader of these Tuatha Dé Danann, “people of the Goddess Danu.” His was a good rule in which poetry and the economy thrived. But, he lost an arm in battle, disqualifying him from being king. His brother Bres took over, and ruled oppressively. Taxes and tributes soared far into tyrannical levels. Power was given over to outsiders. Poets as well as members of the ruling house, were set to menial tasks.

Nuada’s brother Dian Cecht made, or magically developed, a silver arm, with a hand that had each finger working dexterously. A bid to return Nuada to the throne won out, and he was reseated as king. Nuada’s Welch cognate is Lludd Llaw Eraint, “Lludd of the Silver Hand.”

Let’s back up into an aside, and look at the fabled source of poetry for the Tuatha Dé Danann. Here is a quote from Gods and Fighting Men: Part I Book I: Fight with the Firbolgs.

And the three things they put above all others were the plough and the sun and the hazel-tree, so that it was said in the time to come that Ireland was divided between those three, Coil the hazel, and Cecht the plough, and Grian the sun.

And they had a well below the sea where the nine hazels of wisdom were growing; that is, the hazels of inspiration and of the knowledge of poetry. And their leaves and their blossoms would break out in the same hour, and would fall on the well in a shower that raised a purple wave. And then the five salmon that were waiting there would eat the nuts, and their colour would come out in the red spots of their skin, and any person that would eat one of those salmon would know all wisdom and all poetry. And there were seven streams of wisdom that sprang from that well and turned back to it again; and the people of many arts have all drank from that well.

That well with the salmon of poetry, is not lost on the Irish to this day, vis a vis Salmon Publishing. And the idea travels. As a further aside, here is a link to a poem at PoemHunter.com:

Salmon by Jorie Graham

As the Norse poet drinks mead that fell from the up high gods, the Irish poet eats salmon from down deep magic. The Irish gods, alongside the folklore of faeries and elves, are beings more powerful than mere mortals; but, like people, are very much of the earth. The stories hint that these gods cames from the perceptions of a less powerful indigenous people, as more powerful outsiders came in to rule the territory with superior weaponry and more powerful economy. The new ruling group did not wipe out the indigenous people, but possibly kept the natives away from where they lived. Such ways of the new rulers–sometimes favorable, sometimes harsh–kept them mysterious, as if they were superior, beings who could hide their abodes from mortal eyes. And just as Londoners made up a werewolf to explain some grisley murders, the powerful folklore that sprang from the ruled versus the rulers, got filled with magic.

Encyclopedia Mythica characterizes Nuada as being similar to Neptune in what he is a god over, the sea, for instance, but sorcery and magic as well. One significant difference is that Neptune is not generally thought of as a god of poetry, not that he is somehow disqualified from inspiring a given poet, but he is not so characterized as Nuada is.

Two significant aspects of Nuada’s spring out to differentiate him: his magic silver hand or arm, and that poetry thrived under his rule. Nuada is our god who politically frees poets to write. It is okay for a poet to express him- or herself. Alternatively, Bres is the god who “inspires” governments to tyrannize poets. Nuada, through his economic planning and his dealings with other tribes and nations, supplies poets with the space and setting necessary for writing, indeed welcomes us.

A metaphor springs from the idea that his right arm was severed. This was the arm that wielded his invisible sword, with which he would cut foes in two. This arm becomes replaced with the silver arm while he is becoming the god of poetry, through differentiation with his brother Bres. Here we have the remarkable function that much great poetry has, of splitting the reader in a killing of sorts. And obviously, powerful poetry not only springs from good government, but is at the right hand of it, replacing the weaponry of war.


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