An attempt at translation …
Vision at the Turning of the Road (Casadh na Gráige)
by Michael Davitt
With a quick pen this morning
Rocky shore, heath, road –
It’s an eerie place, Casadh na Gráige.
The picture rises up before me …
I hear the thin cries of women
On the north wind,
I see the lonely grave of the sea,
The dark woman, her skeletal hands,
Keening toward the sky …
I fall down on my knees, devoutly.
Prayers glide from me
And I see the graven words on a slab:
THE DEAD MAN
A life lost at last
in the heart of the people
I rise …
And turn back
In pursuit of the picture.
Aisling ag Casadh na Gráige
le Michael Davitt
Breacaim sios im intinn
Le peann luath na maidne seo
Carraigeacha, fraoch, bóthar–
Áit uaigneach é Casadh na Gráige.
Imíonn an pictiúr soir uaim …
Cloisim scread chaol mnrá
Aduaidh ar an ngaoth,
Chím uaigh aonair sa bhfarraige
Is bean dubh, laacute;mha síe,
Ag caoineadh chun na spéire …
Ansan bhíos léi ar mo ghlúine, seasmhach.
Shleamhnaigh paidir uaim
Is chonac os mo chomhair scríofa ar leac:
AN FEAR MARBH
Saol marbh a mhaireann fós
I gcroí na ndaoine
Imím liom soir
Ar thóir an phictiúir.
About fifteen years ago, when I first moved to Minneapolis, I studied Irish with Sean T. Kelly in the basement of the Irish Well (where there’s now a big Menard’s lumberyard). I had tried to teach myself Irish once before, when I lived in London, and discovered that it’s a language that really requires a teacher.
I got about as good at it as you’d expect from weekly lessons under an Irish bar; I was able to read a little Flann O’Brien and Sean O’Faolain, sing along with Clannad and Capercaille, and hold my own in discussions of weather and drinking. But work and marriage and kids and all that sort of stuff took precedence over keeping up with an obscure language (even if it is, as Patrick O’Brian would have it, the native tongue of God and His angels).
While cleaning out some books in the basement recently, I ran across “Gleann ar Ghleann” (“From Glen to Glen”) by Michael Davitt, a modern Irish poet (born 1950, died 2005). I remember buying it at The Hungry Mind, with high hopes of using it in my Irish education, but I never got around to it.
So here, for what little it’s worth, is my first shot at translating this slim volume of verse. Surely there are better translations of Davitt available (I’ve also got some Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill committed to memory, but I don’t think I dare go head-to-head with Seamus Heaney); but I offer this up in the spirit of challenge to students of Irish and poetry: do better than I did, and I’ll sing your praises (and give you links and whatnot).
Translating poetry isn’t easy–a literal transcription just won’t do–and a language as idiomatic and slippery as Irish requires an especially nimble mind and tongue. I’m in awe of people (like Heaney) who do it well, and spending a little time with a poem in another language makes me very conscious of the nuances that my Sasanach brain will never comprehend.