Tag Archives: Michael Davitt

Faoileán – Seagull

According to my site stats, I pretty regularly get visitors here looking for a translation of this poem. I’m not sure if it’s a testament to the popularity of this poem, certainly Michael Davitt‘s best-known, or to the fact that it’s part of the curriculum in Irish language classes. I tend to suspect the latter is a big part of it: the searches tend to cluster around the beginning of the school year, and originate mostly from Dublin and its suburbs.

So in the interest of both helping out some scoláirí and giving Michael Davitt a wider (though not much) audience in the English-speaking world, here’s my rendering of “Faoileán”:

Faoileán

le Michael Davitt

Thíos ar an trá,
Is an mhaidin ag pléascadh sa chuan,
Braithim an bás,
An púca im thimpeall go buan.

Féach an faoileán uaibhreach,
Mar bhrúscar ar charraig dhudh,
Cloisim amhrán uaigneach,
I saoirse na farraige.

Bhíodh sé ar snámh,
Go hard os cionn tonntracha bán’
Leath a sciatháin
Ó Bheanntraí go Dún na nGall.

Ach tháinig an bád ola seo,
Trasna na farraige,
Is lion sé an cuan gleoite seo,
Le fual lucht an airgid.

Féach an faoileán uaibhreach,
Mar bhrúscar ar charraig dhubh
Cloisim amhrán uaigneach,
I saoirse na farraige.

Seagull

by Michael Davitt

Down the beach,
with morning exploding in the harbor,
I feel death,
that constant hobgoblin companion.

I see the proud seagull,
wrecked on a black rock,
I hear its lonely song,
the freedom of the seas.

It was swimming,
high on the white waves’ crown,
spreading its wings
from Bantry to Donegal.

But then came the oil tanker,
across the seas,
and caught the tidy bay,
and pissed out its moneyed cargo.

I see the proud seagull,
wrecked on a black rock,
I hear its lonely song,
the freedom of the seas.

I gCuimhne Ar Lís Ceárnaighe, Blascaodach – In Memory of Elizabeth Kearny, Blasket Islander

According to my logs, someone from Dublin wandered here a couple days ago looking for this particular poem; I’ll take that as a request and offer up a clumsy translation.

I gCuimhne Ar Lís Ceárnaighe, Blascaodach

le Michael Davitt

Tráth bhíodh cártaí ar bord,
Coróin is mugaí tae faoi choinneal
Cois tine ar caorthainn;
Asal amuigh san oíche,
Madraí tamall gan bhia
Is seanbhean dom mharú le Gaolainn.

Tráth bhíodh an chaint tar éis Aifrinn
Is nábh í dhamnaigh faisean
Stróinséirí in aon fhéachaint shearbhasash amháin
Is nár chuir sí Leathanta Breátha
Ó Ollscoil Chorca&iaacute; ina n-áit:
‘An tuairgín’, ‘an coca féir’, ‘an fuaisceán.’

Tráth prátaí is maicréal
Le linn na nuachta i lár an lae
Ba mhinic a fiafraí
Mar nárbh fhlúirsceach a cuid Béarla
Is déarfainn dhera go rabhadar ag marú a chéile
I dtuasceart na hÉireann.

Trá bhí sí ina dealbh
Ag fuinneog bharr an staighre
Ar strae siar amach thar ché
Abhaile chun an oileáin i dtaibhreamh
Is dá dtiocfainn suas de phreib taobh thiar di:
‘O mhuise fán fad’ ort, a chladhaire.’

In Memory of Elizabeth Kearny, Blasket Islander

by Michael Davitt

It was a time of cards at the table,
Crowns and mugs of tea by candlelight
Beside the rowan fire;
Ass out in the night,
Dogs without their meals
And the old woman slaying me with her Irish.

It was a time of talking about the Mass
And forming the habit
Of looking bitterly on strangers
Who spend High Holy Days
At the University of Cork:
‘The smiter,’ ‘the haystack,’ ‘the flustered.’

It was a time of potatoes and mackerels
Wrapped in newspaper in the middle of the day
And often the question was raised
In their bit of English
If there would be more killings
In Northern Ireland.

It was a time of destitution
At the window at the top of the stair
Astray out in the world
At home on the island dreaming
And two coming up from behind us:
‘O indeed you’ve wandered far, you rogue.’

String Quartet

String Quartet

le Michael Davitt

Triúr veidhleadóir
agus cailín an veidhlín mhóir
suite i bhfáinne
solais …

Mozart …
Nótaí ag imeacht leo go ciúin
ar aon bhóithrín smaointeach
amháin …

Bartok …
Nótaí ag teacht le chéile
is ag scaipeadh arís
róscaipthe dom chluais
dhaonna …

Caitheann fear magaidh
biorán ar an urlár
le teann fiosrachta …

Ceangal
Is é is lú a thuigeann
fonn-magaidh-cheal-tuisceana
ná an fear magaidh (cheal tuisceana)
a thuigeann …

Feabhra 1969


String Quartet

by Michael Davitt

A trio of violinists
and a small girl with a cello
arranged in a circle
of light …

Mozart …
Notes drift quietly
as from a pensive
lane …

Bartok …
Notes come together
and scatter again
too scattered for the
human ear …

The mocking man wears
spikes on the floor
out of sheer curiosity …

Look over there,
the filth …

Coda
We know less
wistful-mocking-wanting-wise
than the mocking man (who lacks wisdom)
knows …

February 1969


Go maith! I’ve done my worthwhile bit for the Irish language today; I’ll probably stop at Merlin’s Rest on my way home for a cúpla piontaí (if it’s not too full of amateurs) before the 2nd grade pot luck; I find PTO activities are so much more enjoyable after a Guinness…

Éan Fear agus Capall – Bird, Man, and Horse

Éan Fear agus Capall

le Michael Davitt

Éan ar ghéag
ag meánlae
ina aonar
ag moladh na maidne
a bhí imithe
is nach raibh.

Fear i dtigh tábhairne
ag meánoíche
ólta le huaigneas
is ag canadh
sa chiúnas
do chluasa adhmaid.

Capall bradach i bpáirc
ag méanfach
is ag déanamh seite
le púcaí
a saolaíodh
an oíche roimhe sin:

ba chuma leis
ach comhluadar
a beith aige.


Bird, Man, and Horse

by Michael Davitt

A bird on a branch
at midday
alone
is praising the morning
that is gone
not coming.

A man on his way to the pub
at midnight
to drink alone
is chanting
softly
to the wooden ears.

A loose horse in the field
yawning
is making its
hiding place
from its life
the night before:

it doesn’t matter
what company
one keeps.


I think there may be a pun on púcaí, concealment, with púca, the hobgoblin that often takes the shape of a horse that gives its captor a wild ride (and which gave its name to, or shares its name’s origins in some misty Indo-European past with, Shakespeare’s Puck). That the horse is bradach (there’s an idiom, bó bradach, for a “trespassing” cow, so I’ve rendered this horse as “loose”) might back it up, at least after a couple pints.

I’ve probably missed an idiom with cluasa adhmaid, wooden ears, but though my dictionary gives me many interesting phrases having to do with ears (a cup’s handle is cluas cupáin, which I may try to introduce into English), it doesn’t give me much direction on how to handle wooden ones.

Madrachas – Dogs

Madrachas

le Michael Davitt

Seanmadra cois tine
Gan aird ar an saol
Smaointeach mar fhile
Is cancarach ann féin.

Dúisiíonn le fiosracht
Comhaireann a mhéara
Éiríonn ina sheasamh
Is breacann véarsa.

Tagann bean an tí
Le cor ina srón
Léann an fhilíocht
Tugann cic dó sa tóin.

Seanmhadra faoin mbáisteach
Bréan den saol
Ag cumadh mar mháistir
Ach brónach ann féin.


Dogs

by Michael Davitt

A useless old dog
Lies by the fire
Spiteful and cranky.

He wakes with a start
Rises to his feet
And scatters verses.

The landlady comes
Turning up her nose
At his poetry
And gives a kick to his ass.

The old dog lying in the rain
With a foul life
Shaped by his master
But wallowing in his own sorrows.


I’m quite sure I didn’t get this one right; I was puzzled by Comhaireann a mhéara, which I take to mean Counts his fingers; though I’m not entirely certain that we’re talking about a literal dog here (“seanmadra” is literally “old dog,” but idiomatically can mean “veteran”), the fingers didn’t fit with the image that the poem otherwise consistently builds.

I chose to render Tugann cic dó sa tóin. as Gives a kick to his ass rather than something more genteel in part because the first Irish just about anyone learns, thanks in part to the great Shane MacGowan, is “póg mo thóin.” Irish is an earthy language, and a little malediction is to be expected.

Another interesting item to note here is the word véarsa (verse). The letter v is rare in Irish, appearing only in loan words from Latin and English. (The letter h is, strictly speaking, rare as well; it appears frequently to indicate aspiration, but usually acts more like a diacritical mark, replacing the aspiration dot found in the old script; as a letter in its own right, its appearance typically denotes a loan word from Greek or Norse.) Flann O’Brien would probably render “verse” as “bhears,” but he just did that sort of thing to be difficult.

Ar Fhilleadh Abhaile Ó Dhún Chaoin – On Turning Home To Dún Chaoin

Ar Fhilleadh Abhaile Ó Dhún Chaoin

le Michael Davitt

Aithne dhúnchaoineach atá anois agam
Orm fein.
An fada a mhairfidh sí?
An mbuailfead arís liom féin
Sa slua i Sráid Phádraig —
Seanchra caillte le mí —
Nó an seachnód é (mas féidir)
Go dtí aimsir na Nollag
Go mbainfimid beirt Dún Chaoin amach
Seans go raibh sé i nDún Chaoin le mí
I ngan fhios dom.

Deireadh Fómhair 1968


On Turning Home To Dún Chaoin

by Michael Davitt

Memories of Dún Chaoin
Are with me now.
How much longer will it be?
We met again
In the throngs on Patrick Street —
Old friends lost to me —
Or in the byways (if that’s possible)
At Christmastime
Shalll we two set out for Dún Chaoin
Again?
Perhaps it will make a change in me,
Perhaps Dún Chaoin will be
The secret within me.

October 1968


Dún Chaoin is at the westernmost point of the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry, well within the Gaeltacht (the Irish-speaking districts of the Western World). Here’s a lovely picture by Adelle Berwick of the area, looking out to the Blasket Islands. Davitt met the poet Sean Ó Riordáin in this region in 1967, a year before this particular poem was composed.

Cloisim – I Heard

I’ve had several visitors (well, about 10, but for me that’s a lot) who’ve been drawn here searching for the Irish poet Michael Davitt. I’m not sure why there’s a sudden increase in interest in a modern Irish poet, but since there seems to be an audience for him I might as well take advantage of the spike. From now until St. Patrick’s Day (and perhaps beyond if I have the momentum and my Foclóir Gaelge-Béarla holds up), I’ll try to offer a translation a day.

So here’s Davitt’s “Cloisim” from the collection “Gleann ar Ghleann,” first in the original Irish and then in my clumsy translation.

Cloisim

le Michael Davitt

Cloisim go bhfuil tú
ar thóir na gréine
a bhuachaill (ionam)

ach líonfaidh taoide fós
is fliuchfar an óige ionat
ach ná fliuchtar an ghrian

ionat (mar chaillfeá cuimhne
ar laethanta ar thrá
ag teitheadh ón taoide

a bhí róghlic duit uaireanta)
lasadh sí go geal
dod threorú. Is nuair

a thiocfaidh scamaill dhubha
buail fút go foighneach
sa dorchacht

mar imíonn a ghruaim
leo
de ghnáth.


I Heard

by Michael Davitt

I heard you
chasing the sun
my boy (in me)

but the high tide at last
drowns the youth in you
but doesn’t drown the sun

in you (like forgetting
on days at the beach
to flee the tide

you were too clever by half)
its bright flame
guided you. It’s a pity

the black clouds came
striking dispassionately against
their darkness

leaving behind the gloom
as they
always will.

Gaoth Chun Dé – A Wind from God

A Wind from God

by Michael Davitt

It is
an ill wind
indeed
that brings
rain
out of the west
as I watch
my old cap
fly into the air
over
God’s chapel.


Gaoth Chun Dé

le Michael Davitt

Níorbh aon
drochghaoth
í siúd
a thug
an bháisteach
léi aniar
mar chonaic
Seáinín caipín
san aer
os cionn
séipéal Dé.


This was a tough one; I’m sure I got it entirely wrong. It’s almost haiku-like in its simplicity and compression, and I had to make some guesses for things (like “drochghaoth,” which I’ve rendered “ill wind”) not covered in my Foclóir Póca.

Aisling ag Casadh na Gráige: Vision at the Turning of the Road

An attempt at translation …

Vision at the Turning of the Road (Casadh na Gráige)

by Michael Davitt

I sketched
With a quick pen this morning
A picture:
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
Pictiúr:
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

Dúisím …
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.

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