This is different from the kind of posts I normally write, but I discovered it and I wanted you to see it.
There are many reasons why this strange mesmerizing work has such a powerful effect on so many people. One is its economy—the writer’s rarely-achieved ideal of not a single unnecessary word. Others are its lyricism and its evocative imagery, its haunting non-metrical rhythms, and its repetitions and grammatical strangeness that lead at the poem’s end to an almost unbearable emotion.
The poem’s uniqueness is struck right away in the opening line by the mixed tenses—“It is” (present tense) is matched with “last night …was speaking of you” (past tense). The “correct” tenses would be far less effective in portraying the feelings of this woman.
It was written by an anonymous 8th-century Irish poet and translated into English by Lady Augusta Gregory (1852-1932). It’s titled “Donal Og,” “Young Donal.”
Read it out loud to yourself.
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 forever.
My mother has 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 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.
The poem is rich in exotic descriptive detail along with great simplicity and lack of straining for effect—qualities of all true art. The imaginative phrases as well as the rustic setting blend with the lonely speaker’s sad lament, contributing to the reader’s compassion and the poem’s powerful effect.
© 2016 David J. Rogers
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