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I am Raftery the poet -- Anthony Raftery

This week's theme - 'Songs of Myself', so to speak.
(Poem #171) I am Raftery the poet
I am Raftery the poet.
Full of hope and love.
My eyes without sight,
My mind without torment.

Going west on my journey
By the light of my heart,
Tired and weary
To the end of the road.

Behold me now
With my back to the wall.
Playing music
To empty pockets.
-- Anthony Raftery
Early 19th century.
Translated by James Stephens.

I've always been fascinated by the bardic tradition and, indeed, by oral
poetry in general [1]. Perhaps it's because wandering poets (minstrels,
troubadours, jongleurs, call them what you will) tend to be more in
touch with the common people, with the hustle and bustle of real life;
their poetry has an earthiness rooted in the dirt and grime and yes,
beauty of the everyday [2]. Which is not to say that they're incapable
of finer emotions or philosophical insight; it's just that they tend to
experience Life with a greater passion than most of us [3], and that
passion is often translated into words of wonderful poignancy.


[1] A fascination Martin shares... you do remember what our little
egroup is called, don't you?
    A wandering minstrel I
    A thing of shreds and patches
    Of ballads, songs and snatches
    And dreamy lullaby
                -- from The Mikado, W. S. Gilbert.
[2] It's interesting to contrast the rough beauty of Raftery's verse
with the oh-so-elegant fluff that was being produced by the Augustan
poets in England at approximately the same time. No prizes for guessing
which I prefer :-)
[3] probably why they became poets in the first place.


The most moving portrayal of spontaneous minstrelsy I've ever come
across is the description of the Singers, in Samuel R. Delany's
breathtakingly brilliant short story 'Time Considered as a Helix of
Semi-Precious Stones'. Read it.


Anthony Raftery,1779 - 1835, the poet, was, we are told, born in Cill
Liadain (Killeadan), near Kiltimagh County, Mayo, as the son of a weaver
from County Sligo. Blinded by smallpox in childhood and illiterate, he
was helped by his father's employer, Frank Taaffe, for whom he was a
household entertainer, until they fell out, allegedly because he killed
a favourite horse. Raftery then joined the thousands of homeless people,
who roamed Ireland to live off a population  not much better off than

    Mise Raiftearai an file,
    Lan dochas 's gra,
    Le suile gan solas,
    Le ciunas gan cra,
    Feach anois me
    Is mo chul le balla
    Ag seimn ceoil
    Do phocai folamh.

[I've omitted the diacritical marks for the benefit of those of you
whose mailers don't support extended ASCII; the curious can view the
poem in its 'true' form at the website listed below - t.]

This poem tells us how he lived. `I am Raftery,the poet, full of hope
and love; with eyes without light, with gentleness without misery, Look
at me now and  my back to the wall, playing music to empty pockets'.
However, he must have been better off than most. Because of his talents
as a poet and musician he was welcomed in many houses. He spent most of
his adult life in `Achréidh na Gaillimhe'(the rich farmland of East
Galway), where the `strong farmers' were his patrons. A poet of the
people, his work deals with events of the time and reflect the views of
the people of the area. Loud in his praise of those who helped him, his
sharp tongue was used against those who incurred his wrath.

    -- from


A more detailed biography (and far more interesting) essay on Raftery
can be found at [broken link]

For an alternative theory on the authorship of today's poem, check out
[broken link]

And for an essay on Gaelic literature in general, visit

[Random Thought]

I can't help but wonder how much Heinlein was influenced by the career
(and character) of Raftery while creating the immortal Rhysling. I'll
run 'The Green Hills of Earth' some day; you can judge for yourself.


49 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Bill Sheldon said...

I remembered this poem's title, and the spelling of "Raftery" from grade school, and I am now 55 years old! Quite simple and compelling.

R.CONLON said...

I have just read the poem "I am Raftery the Poet" and I was really happy to see it.My one feeling was why can't it be in Gaelic as it was spoken? I fully realise that it caters to the few, but it's. Sorry to sound like an old fogy (which I'm not. It's just that "mise Raftery an File" is so good.However they are both good.So thanks for the site,and keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

Good to see the interest, learned the poems in National school. Another is;
Tá Tír na n'Og ar cúl an tigh, tír alainn tine ceile, lucht ceirthe cos ag sú ár slí, gan broga ortha na leine, gan bearla acu na gaeilge.

I live close to Rafters Road, Drimnagh,
Dublin 12, the Dublin Irish is Bothar O'Reachtairí. The only road in Drimnagh not named after a mountain. A friend who lives there is very interested in finding out about the blind poet. I understand he travelled the country on a donkey, (ass).
Another great Irishman was O'Carolan, the harpist, monument in Mohill, Co. Leitrim.

Gó neiridh an bóthar libh.

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