Guest poem send in by David
(Poem #974) Donal Og
It is late last night the dog was speaking of you; the snipe was speaking of you in her deep marsh. It is you are the lonely bird through the woods; and that you may be without a mate until you find me. You promised me, and you said a lie to me, that you would be before me where the sheep are flocked; I gave a whistle and three hundred cries to you, and I found nothing there but a bleating lamb. You promised me a thing that was hard for you, a ship of gold under a silver mast; twelve towns with a market in all of them, and a fine white court by the side of the sea. You promised me a thing that is not possible, that you would give me gloves of the skin of a fish; that you would give me shoes of the skin of a bird; and a suit of the dearest silk in Ireland. When I go by myself to the Well of Loneliness, I sit down and I go through my trouble; when I see the world and do not see my boy, he that has an amber shade in his hair. It was on that Sunday I gave my love to you; the Sunday that is last before Easter Sunday. And myself on my knees reading the Passion; and my two eyes giving love to you for ever. My mother said to me not to be talking with you today, or tomorrow, or on the Sunday; it was a bad time she took for telling me that; it was shutting the door after the house was robbed. My heart is as black as the blackness of the sloe, or as the black coal that is on the smith's forge; or as the sole of a shoe left in white halls; it was you that put that darkness over my life. You have taken the east from me; you have taken the west from me; you have taken what is before me and what is behind me; you have taken the moon, you have taken the sun from me; and my fear is great that you have taken God from me!
Anonymous; 8th Century Irish ballad; translated by Lady Augusta Gregory; published in The School Bag, edited by Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes, 1997. Donal Og: 'Young Daniel' This poem combines a keening tone with some wonderful images and the result builds in anxiety, moving from the physical to the metaphysical. The poem, originally a ballad, begins with a report from the animal world: late last night the dog was speaking of you, the snipe (a wading marsh bird) was speaking of you; nature, both domesticated and wild, knows and tells of the absent seducer, who is transformed into a lonely bird. The stanza ends with an imprecation, a spell: may you be without a mate until you find me. This is followed by series of three stanzas, all of which start with a statement followed by three lines of elaboration, eg, to paraphrase the second stanza: you promised, and you lied, and here's what happened; third stanza: you promised me something very hard for you to do, and here's an elaboration of the different promises; stanza four: you promised me a thing not possible, and here's an elaboration of the impossible things. It would be an easy format for a balladeer to remember: opening promise/subsequent elaboration. In the third and fourth stanzas the 'thing' in the first line of each stanza is singular; the things promised are multiple, and increasingly surreal, suggesting multiple encounters, each with increasingly outlandish promises. That animals speak, that gloves could be made of the skin of a fish, shoes of the skin of a bird, a ship of gold -- all effectively testify to the credulousness of the young girl betrayed. In the following three stanzas the girl tells of her life: at the 'Well of Loneliness' she sees the world, but not her boy (whom we know to actually exist, from the 'has' in the following line.) I like to think of this boy as pre-figured by the 'bleating lamb' of the second stanza. The next stanza places the seduction as occurring on Palm Sunday, 'the last before Easter Sunday'. The introduction of Easter complicates the poem somewhat, introducing not just the notion of resurrection, but in the third line, forcing us to ask what the 'myself' opens up: is she to be like Christ, on his knees suffering; that would affect how we understand the 'you' of the fourth line: no longer just the absent lover, but now God? And of course, good advice comes to late, as mother's words (in stanza 7) are like 'shutting the door after the house was robbed.' Stanza 8 interrupts the previous three narrative stanzas for an emotional description focussing on the blackness in her heart (and in a homophonic playing on 'sole'/soul, keeping the move to the metaphysical alive). The poem concludes with four wonderfully balanced lines: you have taken all, is the sense, now on a stage that is timeless and universal. Here the move from the particular -- the many 'me/I/myself's' and 'you's' of the poem -- to something more eternal is completed. The last line echoes the last of the first stanza, each beginning with 'and', each ending with the similar 'find me'/'from me', and most importantly, each conveying the dialectic of presence and absence (of the lover, of the boy, of God) that equals fear of loss. David