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Sunday, May 11, 2008

Indefatigable Hoof-Taps

Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill:

Mo ghrá go daingean tú!
Lá dá bhfaca thú
ag ceann tí an mhargaidh,
thug mo shúil aire dhuit,
thug mo chroí taitneamh duit,
d’éalaíos óm charaid leat
I bhfad ó bhaile leat.

Thomas Kinsella:

My steadfast love!
When I saw you one day
by the market-house gable
my eye gave a look
my heart shone out
I fled with you far
from friends and home.

Michael Smith:

My steadfast love!
I day I first saw you
by the market-house wall,
my eyes heeded you,
my heart fell in love with you,
I fled from my friends
far from home with you.

Vona Groarke:

when you stood out that market day
my eyes settled on you.
I knew I would have you
if it meant
stepping out of my whole life
carrying nothing with me.

Art O’Leary was a captain with the Hungarian Hussars. When teenage widow Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill saw him first he was carrying a sword in public, in contravention of the Penal Laws. The couple eloped and Eileen’s family broke off all contact with her. Art was declared ‘notoriously infamous’ by the High Sheriff of Macroom, with whom he developed a Ned Kelly-style feud over a horse: the Sheriff declared O’Leary’s mare forfeit, again under the Penal Laws, and demanded he sell it to him. O’Leary was shot dead in 1773, and when his horse galloped home to Eileen she rode it back to her husband’s body, whose blood she cupped and drank. Less endearingly she later shot the mare in a fit of grief-stricken rage.

Mr and Mrs Hall on an Irish wake in Ireland: Its Scenery and Character, in 1841:

The women of the household range themselves at either side, and the keen at once commences. They rise with one accord, and, moving their bodies with a slow motion to and fro, their arms apart, they continue to keep up a heart-rending cry. This cry is interrupted for a while to give the ban caointhe (the leading keener), an opportunity of commencing. At the close of every stanza, the cry is repeated… and then dropped; the woman then again proceeds with the dirge, and so on to the close.

All the above and more from the introduction to Vona Groarke’s marvellous new translation of Eileen’s Lament from Gallery Press:

Art of the sun,
like a mantle around him,
Art of the shapely words,
Art of the majestic mare,
cut down like some
bothersome thistle
on the verge at Carriginima.

Brave of Groarke to restrict herself to ‘husband’ for that famous first line, ‘Mo ghrá go daingean tú!’, but her boldness is more than repaid in the distance she manages to keep from the papier mâché hidden Irelandisms that have clogged up previous versions. She has also bravely forgone the safety net of a would-be English equivalent to the three-stress line of the original. I read her version and think of Jack Yeats’s horses, of Luciano Berio’s Sequenza III for female voice, of Beckett’s Not I… Beneath the hooftaps, the eighteenth century breathes its heartbroken gasps:

Rise up now and come with me,
for the weight of sorrow
across my heart
will not lift
unless you pitch it off.
It is like a chest
with stones in it
and I am very much afraid
that its rusted lock
and fastened latch
will never know a key.


Everyone should read this fine translation.

1 comment:

Mark Granier said...

Groarke's one stands out alright. Must get the book.