Site Meter

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Penguin Book of Irish Poetry

Across the sea will come Adze-head,
crazed in the head,
his cloak with hole for the head,
his stick bent in the head...

Here’s a song –
stags give tongue
winter snows
summers goes.

High cold blow
sun is low
brief his day
seas give spray...

Had the multitudinous leaves been gold
the autumn forests let fall,
and the waves been silver coins –
still Fionn would have given them all.

Stop, stop and listen for the bough top
Is whistling and the sun is brighter
Than God’s own shadow in the cup now!
Forget the hour-bell. Mournful matins
Will sounds, Patrick, as well at nightfall...

Monk, back off. Move
away from Niall’s grave.
You heap earth on his head;
I shared his bed.

Long time you’ve piled clods,
monk, on the royal corpse.
Too long already Niall’s lain still,
the pit unfilled...

{Quotations end}

Two quick observations from dipping into Patrick Crotty’s new Penguin Book of Irish Poetry. First, by far the greatest Irish poet remains ‘Anonymous’. And second, the single most important thing about the Irish tradition, let me suggest, and which the practicalities of book-binding alone didn’t stretch to including in this book beyond a few phrases here and there, remains the Irish language, a language in which less than, what, one per cent of contemporary Irish poetry is now conducted. What timely reminders, though, to set beside the PR bollocks of Dublin being designated a UNESCO city of literature or whatever it is the press release today says.

I would hope to have more to say on this book soon.


Justin Quinn said...

But at least the book has an editor who can deal directly with that Irish-language material, and thus whose opinion isn't second-hand.

Mark Granier said...

George, I agree that Anon is a marvel, in Irish poetry and elsewhere. But 'by far the greatest'? I'm not sure. MacNeice stated baldly that 'before Yeats the best English poetry written written by Irishmen was had been anonymous.' I have some sympathy with this view, though others might argue for Mangan (MacNeice dismissed his 'pineapple sweetness'). MacNeice wasn't just thinking of old Irish poetry, but of the street ballads (such as those of Zozimus) that have [he quotes MacDonagh] 'the timber and the sap of true poetry.' But Yeats was followed by Austin Clark, Kavanagh, Heaney, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Mahon, etc. I haven't got hold of the anthology yet and look forward to your thoughts on the 20th/21st Century sections.

puthwuth said...

Köszönöm, Mark.

So then, Anon and W.B. Yeats. Which is better? There's only one way to find out (cue Harry Hill-style Macnas dummies furiously slogging it out...)

Mark Granier said...

Tch, tch, David. I sent you an email asking you to remove the 'George' from my last comment and you retained it, just so you could greet me in Hungarian. How very pimasz.

puthwuth said...

Mark -- sorry, but if there's a way of editing comments on blogger like that I for one haven't yet worked out how to do it...

Mark Granier said...

Naw, David, you're probably right. I've never tried to edit anyone else's comment. I was thinking you could simply cut and paste it (minus the error) but of course that would mean it would come up as puthwuth's comment. So stet.

Anonymous said...

It's an unforgivable shame that the Irish editor didn't leave in the original language version of the translation.

It's incredibly disappointing !!