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THE EARTH MOTHER'S
LAMENTATION



Calleach Birra's Lough, Slieve Gullion, county Armagh

translated from the Old Irish

by

Anthony Weir

original version published 1975
this vsrsion published 1994


with photographs from
the translator's archive

 

.
click for a high-resolution picture



My life is ebbing
: let it drain -
unlike the sea which flows again,
The boiling, unbegotten sea.

I whose gown was always new
am now so pitifully thin
that this old shift will outlive me.


Wedge-tomb, Srahwee, county Mayo.


They want only money now.
When I was young, love was what
I wanted - and so richly got.

People then were generous,
and in return they asked a lot.
They ask and give so little now.


Cure-stones, Killerry Church, county Sligo.


5.
I had chariots and horses then,
given by admiring kings.
I drank mead and wine with them.

Now among old onion-skins
of withered women I drink whey,
myself a withered onion-skin.

My hands are bony now, and thin;
once they plied their loving trade
upon the bodies of great kings.

My hands are bony, wasted things,
unfit to stroke an old man's head,
much less a young man's glowing skin

Young girls are happy in the Spring,
but I am sad and worse than sad,
for I'm an old and useless thing.

Figure from Lusty More Island, county Fermanagh. 


10. Nobody round me is glad;
My hair is grey and going thin.
My veil conceals what is well hid.

I once had bright cloth on my head
and went with kings - now I dread
the going to the king of kings. 
 
The winter winds ravish the sea.
No nobleman will visit me -
no, not even a slave will come. 

Corbels on church at Bussières-Badil (Dordogne) France. 

It's long ago I sailed the sea
of youth and beauty wantonly.
Now my Passion too has gone.

Even in Summer I wear a shawl
It's many a day since I was warm.
The Spring of youth has turned to Fall.

15. Wintry age's smothering pall
is wrapping slowly round my limbs.
My hair's like lichen, my paps like galls.

Standing-stone, Ardmore, county Donegal.


I don't regret my lust and rage,
for even had I been demure
I still would wear the cloak of age.

The cloak that wooded hillsides wear
is beautiful; their foliage
is woven with eternal care.

I am old: the eyes that once
burned bright for men are now decayed:
the torch has burned out its sconce.



My life is ebbing; let it drain
unlike the sea which flows again,
the man-torn and tormented sea.

20. Flow and ebb: what the flow brings
the ebb soon takes away again
- the flow and the ebb following.

The flow and the ebb following:
the flow's joy and the ebb's pain,
the flow's honey, the ebb's sting.

The flow has not quite flooded me.
There is a recess still quite dry
though many were my company.

Wedge-tomb, Carrowcrom, county Mayo.


Well might Jesus come to me
in my recess - could I deny
a man my only hospitality?

A hand is laid upon them all
whose ebb always succeeds their flow,
whose rising sinks into their fall.

25. If my veiled and sunken eyes
could see more than their own ebb
there's nothing they would recognise.

Happy the island of the sea
where flow always comes after ebb:
What flow will follow ebb in me?

I am wretched. What was flow
is now all ebb. Ebbing I go.
After the Tide, the Undertow.

 

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POSTSCRIPT

I am part of the landscape

A MONK'S YEAR

re-translated by Anthony Weir from the Old Irish


SPRING

By Belfast Lough
a bright-billed
blackbird trilled
from the effulgent gorse.

SUMMER

He is my joy
my sweet nut-grove.
He is my boy
and this
a kiss
for my love.

AUTUMN

The winds are wild tonight. They tear
and toss the sea's white hair.
And yet they bring my mind much ease
for Vikings sail on calmer seas.

WINTER

Here's my news:
stags calling loud;
winter snows,
summer's shroud.

The cold wind's high
and low the sun,
brief in the sky.
Big tides run.

The bracken's brown.
The wild geese
across the sound
cry to the ice
.

Cold has caught
the wings of birds.
Frost has brought
my winter words.


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Click here for another poem on the theme of old age written in 15th century France.