Recently I thought it would be nice to try to translate an Irish poem into English in a form that retained the Irish rhyming system and all the internal rhyme and alliteration. (I have not yet succeeded at this.) But, I went looking for a short, fun poem to try out, and found this Classical Modern Irish poem. I have found a translation of it online already, but it is quite flawed, so I decided to make it my first post on this blog. It’s entirely possible that my translation is flawed as well, but I believe it is less so, and, at the very least, it is differently flawed.
The poem is by Isibeul ní Mhic Cailín, a 15th century countess of Argyll (so the Classical Irish here is on its way to becoming Scottish Gaelic), to whom a number of poems are attributed, including this lovely one about a priest’s penis. In addition to choosing this poem for its short length, I also wanted the excuse to work on my Classical Irish, which I have only barely studied formally (usually I just triangulate between Scottish Gaelic, Modern Irish, and Old Irish, if I have to). This poem is also somewhat unusual in being written by a woman, and in being an example of personal, rather than professional, poetry. As impressive as the meters and ornamentation of the professional poems are, I get a bit bored reading about how some lord had really great hair and was just like every ancient Irish hero.
Because I haven’t managed to do a translation that incorporates the rhyming schemes of the original, explanation of that and of the grammar (as I understand it) will follow my quite literal translation.
Mairg darab galar an grádh, It’s a pity that love is sickness
gibé fath fá n-abraim é Whatever reason that I speak it
is deacair sgarthain re a pháirt; It’s difficult parting his company
truagh an cás a bhfuilim féin. ‘Tis a pitiable state that I’m in.
An grádh-soin tugas gan fhios, That love, I fell into without knowledge
ós é mo leas gan a luadh, And him my benefit without his saying
muna fhaghad furtacht tráth, If it does not get comfort soon
biaidh mo bhláth go tana truagh. My flower will be withered and pitiable.
An fear-soin dá dtugas grádh, This man with whom I fell in love
‘s nách féadaim a rádh ós aird, And cannot say aloud
dá gcuire sé mise i bpéin, If he should put me in pain
go madh dó féin bhus céad mairg! May it be to him that is a hundred sorrows!