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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6 responses to “Woman with a Broken Heart”
Thank you so much for bringing that to me this Sunday. What stark, simply complex interweaving of emotions and insights are present in this verse, and the last line is the definition of bleakness, especially given the context of the age in which the piece was written.
I keep reflecting on how little has changed in terms of our emotions, wishes, wants and insecurities, despite the fact that every thing has changed, though we have thrown much of substance out with the rubbish. This poem brings that belief home to me again, and with unvarnished profundity.
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Thanks for your comment, Peter. I’m glad the poem touched you the way it did me. You are so right. Despite all the changes, the essence of human experience and the painful emotions we endure remain unchanged throughout the centuries.
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Good morning David….this is indeed a beautiful poem…When I read it aloud, I could hear the Irish lilt…the wonderful rhythm of that beautiful brogue and language. It is a lament – and as you say written with such simplicity and deep meaning. Thank you so much. I hope you enjoy a lovely weekend and Easter. Janet:)
Janet, so glad you like this poem. I love it. I first heard it in the movie The Dead, based on the short novel by James Joyce. It seems to deeply affect many people. Our weather here is improving, and the winter was mild–very little snow and not a single day with a wind-chill of 85 degrees F below zero or anything near it which we have experienced many times in the past. I don’t know much about the weather in England, but often when I think about it, what comes to mind is wet, overcast, and foggy–“A foggy day in London Town.” Is that accurate, or is that just how it’s portrayed in so many movies? A great weekend and happy Easter holiday to you as well.
Good morning David….Ah the weather, you have touched on one of my favourite subjects. I am one of those people who watches the weather forecast as others might watch a play:) I inherited this from my Father. When I was a child we had thick fogs in London….and then in the mid to late fifties the burning of coal and fossil fuels in homes was banned….all the grand buildings in London were sand blasted…They went from dark grey to a lovely golden colour, which they are today. It wasn’t too long before fog became a thing of the past, and the River Thames came alive again with wonderful wildlife. However, having said that, we do get quite few overcast, rainy and misty days ….today being one of them. We started our winter with very warm weather…then in January it became cooler and more recently we have been in a cool snap….which for us means about 50 degrees F. The temperatures you mention are just amazing…..and so in short our climate is quite moderate compared to many. We are a tiny island and so the gulf and jet streams have a huge influence on us. Right now the weather is coming from Scandinavia…hence the cooler days. We have had spring flowers blooming for at least six weeks – and so hopefully milder days will be with us soon so that we can all sit out and enjoy. Hope you have a lovely weekend and Easter….Janet:)
Janet, I love the image in my mind of the sandblasted buildings in London, which until now I believed were gray. The buildings must be beautiful. I still get a kick out of the way you use ou instead of our American o, as in favourite, and then I say to myself, “of course she’d spell it that way; she’s British.” I check the weather report every day and sometimes many times a day, particularly in winter, since in winter you don’t know from hour to hour what the weather is going to be, and what it will be sometimes causes problems, particularly the snowfalls, which here can be quite severe, although they weren’t this year. The temperatures here in the Chicago area can range from 25 below zero F or even colder to more than a hundred degrees in July and August. Or in other words, a very wide range of temperatures, and of course made even far worse due to the atrocious wind-chills in the winter and high humidity in the summer, caused by our bordering on Lake Michigan. It makes me laugh every time I think of my daughter-in-law from Los Angeles, who was walking across a street with me in Chicago with a temperature of about 20 below and the wind whipping (Chicago is called the windy city), our eyeballs freezing (it actually feels like that), and her saying, “How can the people here live like this?” And I said, which is a standard response of people around here, “Middle Westerners are a very hardy people.” They are, and they pride themselves on that. Now spring is here, the birds have returned and are making their nests in the trees, and in a few weeks the baseball season will start. Hope you are enjoying lovely spring weather and I wish you also a happy Easter.
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