Sunday, March 15, 2009

With St. Patrick’s Day nearly upon us, I though I would take time to share some of my favorite examples of Irish poets in English and Irish.

Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill
is probably one of the best-known poets writing in the Irish language today. I heard her do a reading at the cavernous Beinecke Rare Book Library at Yale years ago and despite her small stature, she captivated her audience with her strong voice and ready sense of humor. Her poems are often a mix of culture, history, and femininity. She says she cannot write poetry in English and relies on others, often major poets themselves, to translate her work. The English version here was translated by poet Paul Muldoon.

Ceist na Teangan

Cuirim mo dhóchas ar snámh
i mbáidin teangan
faoi mar a leagfá naíonán
i gcliabhán
a bheadh fite fuaite
de dhuilleoga feileastraim
is bitiúman agus pic
bheith cuimilte lena thóin

ansan é a leagadh síos
i measc na ngiolcach
is coigeal na mban sí
le taobh na habhann,
féachaint n'fheaclaraís
cá dtabharfaidh an sruth é,
féachaint, dála Mhaoise,
an bhfóirfidh iníon Fharoinn?

The Language Issue

I place my hope in the water
in this little boat
of the language, the way a body might put
an infant

in a basket of intertwined
iris leaves,
its underside proofed
with bitumen and pitch

then set the whole thing down amidst
the sedge
and bullrushes by the edge
of a river

only to have it borne hither and thither
not knowing where it may end up;
in the lap, perhaps,
of some Pharaoh's daughter.

Another favorite poet of mine, is William Butler Yeats. Here are two shorter examples of his work.

Brown Penny

I whispered, 'I am too young,'
And then, 'I am old enough';
Wherefore I threw a penny
To find out if I might love.
'Go and love, go and love, young man,
If the lady be young and fair.'
Ah, penny, brown penny, brown penny,
I am looped in the loops of her hair.

O love is the crooked thing,
There is nobody wise enough
To find out all that is in it,
For he would be thinking of love
Till the stars had run away
And the shadows eaten the moon.
Ah, penny, brown penny, brown penny,
One cannot begin it too soon.

and the more popular:

He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven

Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.