Cailleach

Augusta,_Lady_Gregory_-_Project_Gutenberg_eText_19028

The Cailleach was a celtic goddess associated with creativity and with natural events such as weather and tides.  The Cailleach appears as an old woman, a mystical and knowledgeable hag.  The poem below demonstrates how many of the ancient Celtic deities later came to be Christianised.  The Hag of Beara is often referred to as a wise old mendicant nun.  There can be no better symbol for Augusta Lady Gregory then the Cailleach.

Born this day in 1852 Lady Gregory was the creative impetus behind the foundation of the Irish National Theatre, the Abbey.  She was a leading figure of the gaelic revival, the nationalist Irish movement of the Arts that moved hand in hand with the cultural, political and military struggles for Irish Independence.

Lady Gregory preserved many ancient poems and stories, recording them by hearing them told in Gaelic, documenting them and translating them.

The Irish Cream Liqueur Drink “Coole Swan” is named after the W.B. Yeats poem; The Wild Swans at Coole”.  Yeats wrote the poem at Coole Park, Gregory’s home.

The Hag of Beare; (Trans) Augusta Gregory

It is of Corca Dubhne she was, and she had her youth seven times over,
and every man that had lived with her died of old age, and her
grandsons and great-grandsons were tribes and races. And through a
hundred years she wore upon her head the veil Cuimire had blessed.
Then age and weakness came upon her and it is what she said:

Ebb-tide to me as to the sea; old age brings me reproach; I used to
wear a shift that was always new; to-day, I have not even a cast one.

It is riches you are loving, it is not men; it was men we loved in
the time we were living.

There were dear men on whose plains we used to be driving; it is good
the time we passed with them; it is little we were broken afterwards.

When my arms are seen it is long and thin they are; once they used
to be fondling, they used to be around great kings.

The young girls give a welcome to Beltaine when it comes to them;
sorrow is more fitting for me; an old pitiful hag.

I have no pleasant talk; no sheep are killed for my wedding; it is
little but my hair is grey; it is many colours I had over it when I
used to be drinking good ale.

I have no envy against the old, but only against women; I myself am
spent with old age, while women’s heads are still yellow.

The stone of the kings on Feman; the chair of Ronan in Bregia; it is
long since storms have wrecked them, they are old mouldering
gravestones.

The wave of the great sea is speaking; the winter is striking us with
it; I do not look to welcome to-day Fermuid son of Mugh.

I know what they are doing; they are rowing through the reeds of the
ford of Alma; it is cold is the place where they sleep.

The summer of youth where we were has been spent along with its
harvest; winter age that drowns everyone, its beginning has come upon
me.

It is beautiful was my green cloak, my king liked to see it on me;
it is noble was the man that stirred it, he put wool on it when it
was bare.

Amen, great is the pity; every acorn has to drop. After feasting with
shining candles, to be in the darkness of a prayer-house.

I was once living with kings, drinking mead and wine; to-day I am
drinking whey-water among withered old women.

There are three floods that come up to the dun of Ard-Ruide: a flood
of fighting-men, a flood of horses, a flood of the hounds of Lugaidh’s
son.

The flood-wave and the two swift ebb-tides; what the flood-wave brings
you in, the ebb-wave sweeps out of your hand.

The flood-wave and the second ebb-tide; they have all come as far as
me, the way that I know them well.

The flood-tide will not reach to the silence of my kitchen; though
many are my company in the darkness, a hand has been laid upon them
all. My flood-tide! It is well I have kept my knowledge. It is Jesus
Son of Mary keeps me happy at the ebb-tide.

It is far is the island of the great sea where the flood reaches after
the ebb: I do not look for floods to reach to me after the ebb-tide.

There is hardly a little place I can know again when I see it; what
used to be on the flood-tide is all on the ebb to-day!

Lady Gregory’s Birthday

Lady_gregory

March 15th the Ides of March and that fateful day for one Julius Caesar in the year 44 BC.  After the death of Caesar his adopted nephew, Octavian, rose to power in Rome and became the first Emperor.   The senate awarded him the title “Augustus” in 27 BC, meaning “The illustrious one”.

In 1852 on Roxborough Estate in Galway a young girl was born to to Frances Persse and was named Isabella Augusta Persse.  She grew up and married Sir William Henry Gregory and became Lady Gregory.  She Co-founded and Managed the Abbey Theatre, Ireland’s National Theatre with William Butler Yeats, Edward Martyn, John Millington Synge etc.

Lady Gregory was a prolific playwright but her greatest legacy to Ireland was as a folklorist.  She learned the Irish language and established a school on her estate.  Then she collected and published a huge body of folk material.  She was the Irish version of the Brothers Grimm.

Here is one of her translations, a sinful, sexual and blasphemous piece of beauty:

Donal Óg; Anonymous 8th Century Irish poem.

Translation by Isabella Augusta (Lady Gregory)

 

It is late last night the dog was speaking of you;
the snipe was speaking of you in her deep marsh.
It is you are the lonely bird through the woods;
and that you may be without a mate until you find me.

You promised me, and you said a lie to me,
that you would be before me where the sheep are flocked;
I gave a whistle and three hundred cries to you,
and I found nothing there but a bleating lamb.

You promised me a thing that was hard for you,
a ship of gold under a silver mast;
twelve towns with a market in all of them,
and a fine white court by the side of the sea.

You promised me a thing that is not possible,
that you would give me gloves of the skin of a fish;
that you would give me shoes of the skin of a bird;
and a suit of the dearest silk in Ireland.

When I go by myself to the Well of Loneliness,
I sit down and I go through my trouble;
when I see the world and do not see my boy,
he that has an amber shade in his hair.

It was on that Sunday I gave my love to you;
the Sunday that is last before Easter Sunday.
And myself on my knees reading the Passion;
and my two eyes giving love to you for ever.

My mother said to me not to be talking with you today,
or tomorrow, or on the Sunday;
it was a bad time she took for telling me that;
it was shutting the door after the house was robbed.

My heart is as black as the blackness of the sloe,
or as the black coal that is on the smith’s forge;
or as the sole of a shoe left in white halls;
it was you that put that darkness over my life.

You have taken the east from me; you have taken the west from me;
you have taken what is before me and what is behind me;
you have taken the moon, you have taken the sun from me;
and my fear is great that you have taken God from me!

 

Happy Birthday Samuel Ferguson

Ferguson

Born in Belfast in 1810 Ferguson was a barrister and public servant, but also a poet and Irish antiquarian.  He studied Irish history and mythology fifty years before the Irish Literary revival led by Lady Gregory and William Butler Yeats.

He began writing poetry to pay for his education as a barrister, because his father flittered away the family money.

Ferguson married Mary Guinness of the Guinness Brewing family, and daughter of Robert Rundell Guinness, founder of Guinness Mahon bank.  He lived, and died, in Howth, a pretty fishing village north of Dublin.   But he was buried in Donegore, a tiny village in County Antrim.  I feel there must be an interesting story behind that choice of final resting place.

Many of his poems were written in both Irish and English.  Even in English you can hear the beautiful lyricism of the Gaelic come through.  His work has a sing song quality that could be adapted to music and indeed many of his poems read like ballad lyrics.

This poem Cean Dubh Deelish is Irish Gaelic Ceann dubh deiliúsach which translates as saucy dark head or impudent black hair or something endearing along those lines.

Cean Dubh Deelish; by Samuel Ferguson

Put your head, darling, darling, darling,
your darling black head my heart above;
O mouth of honey, with thyme for fragrance,
who, with heart in breast, could deny you love?

O many and many a young girl for me is pining,
letting her locks of gold to the cold wind free,
for me, the foremost of our gay young fellows;
But I’d leave a hundred, pure love, for thee!

Then put your head, darling, darling, darling,
your darling black head my heart above;
O mouth of honey, with thyme for fragrance,
who, with heart in breast, could deny you love?

Lovers

Lovers by Marc Chagall

Happy Birthday George Bernard Shaw

george_bernard_shaw_2

Born in Synge Street, Portobello, Dublin on this day in 1856 Bernard Shaw makes it onto my page more as a playwright as he was not really a poet.  I know of only one poem that he wrote and that is satirical.  in 1924 and 1925 a writer by the name of Herbert Langford Reed published two anthologies of Limericks.

Langford took a poetic form that was widely employed to tell rude jokes with sexual innuendo and cleaned it up for publication.  The result is a lot of sanitized and frankly unremarkable pieces of doggerel.  Shaw’s limerick is the perfect critique of the work of Langford Reed.

Shaw himself is rightly seen as a giant of the literature world.  How many writers get their own adjective?  When you describe something in the manner of Bernard Shaw you call it “Shavian”.  It may also be employed as a noun to identify a fan of Shaw.

A prolific writer of brilliant, intelligent and witty drama, rightly a Nobel Laureate.  Shaw was less successful with his pursuit of the 20th Century novel and turned down opportunities to pen librettos for opera with Elgar.  He was a friend of the Irish Literary Revival, a member of the Protestant ascendancy, albeit at the poorer end, he connected with William Butler Yeats, Lady Gregory, George Russell, James Joyce and was friend and inspiration to Sean O’Casey who became a playwright after seeing “John Bull’s Other Island” the play that made Edward VII laugh so hard he broke his chair.

When John Millington Synge passed away Yeats and Lady Gregory offered the post as director of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin to Shaw, but he declined.

Although he never returned to live here he maintained his links with Ireland throughout his life and in his will he bequeathed the rights of several of his plays to the National Art Gallery in Dublin.  One of the plays, Pygmalion, was given a musical overhaul by Lerner and Loewe in 1956 and became the smash hit musical “My Fair Lady” making the art gallery wealthy in the process.

Contemporary with Oscar Wilde and both leading lights on the London theatre scene at the very height of its prominence.  Shaw was the later arrival, Wilde already a celebrated star before Shaw emerged on the scene.  It is said that Shaw admired all Wilde’s work until “The Importance of Being Ernest” which he detested.

Shaw was a mixed bag.  For all you find to love in him you will find plenty to dislike.  He was a eugenicist, an anti-vaxxer, he admired aspects of fascism and Hitler, met Stalin and described him as a Georgian Gentleman, was opposed to anti-semetism and his views on religion and spirituality are confusing, conflicting and contradictory.  His sexuality is a matter for debate, he was painfully shy and celibate until age 29 and did not marry until age 42 to a woman of his own age.

 

Langford Reed saved the limerick verse: by George Bernard Shaw

Langford Reed saved the limerick verse,
From being taken away in a hearse.
He made it so clean
Now it’s fit for a queen,
Re-established for better or worse.

Happy Birthday Edward Plunkett

Edward_Plunkett,_18th_Baron_Dunsany

Better known under his pen name; Lord Dunsany, his full name and title was Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, 18th Baron of Dunsany.  A leading light on the Irish literary scene Plunkett worked with Lady Gregory and William Butler Yeats and was a prime mover in the Celtic revival.  Like James Stephens he took inspiration from Irish folklore for many of his works and he is best remembered for his seminal fantasy novel “The King of Elfland’s Daughter”.  Some fantasy writers consider him on a par with Tolkien, but the general public have not voted as confidently with their shillings.

Prior to WW1 he was considered one of the greatest writers living in the English speaking world.  He was pistol shooting champion of Ireland and Ireland’s chess champion even holding the Grand Master Capablanca to a draw in a simultaneous exhibition match.  He served in the Boer War and in WW1, where he was refused the front because of his value as a trainer.  He was injured during the 1916 rising in Dublin, fighting on the British side.

Born, on this day in 1878

 

Night: by Lord Dunsany

Night falls on the lone
sahara, and spark by spark
Arabs I have not known
light fires in the dark.

Of the specks of ash in the smoke,
which atom knows
from what fire it awoke,
or whither it goes?

In the wilds of Space, in the dark,
spiral nebulae
twirl spark upon spark,
whereof one are we.

Who can say for what task
they arose, or whither they slip?
And all the Spirits I ask
stand, finger on lip.