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Laoiseach Mac an Bháird

This bard bridges the old and the new. Times were a-changing. He knew the value of earlier days and customs, but he also dared to present themes that were enlarged on by his successors. His depiction of the young girl lacking a lover was enlarged on by Brian Merriman a century and a half later in his Rabelaisian "Cúirt an Mheáin Oidhche", The Midnight Court, so ably translated by the late Frank O'Connor. It has recently been re-worked in a highly acclaimed theatrical presentation by the Abbey Theatre Players. Laoiseach also retained the bardic love of nature, and his lament for the cutting down of a a beloved tree pressaged the green revolution of own times. The following three poems are examples of his reach, the first two translated by Bergin, and "Man of Experience" by O'Connor.


Courtier and Rebel

O man who follows English ways, who cut your thick-clustering hair .... you are not Donnchadh's good son.

If you were, you would not give up your hair for an artificial English mode--the fairest ornament in the land of Fódla!--and your head would not be tonsured.

You think the yellow head of hair unfashionable--he detests both wearing locks and going bald after the English style--your characters are different indeed.

A man who never loved English ways is Eoghan Bán, beloved of noble ladies. To English ways he never gave his heart: a savage life he chose.

Your mind is nothing to Eoghan Bán, a man who would give breeches for a trifle, who asked no cloak but a rag, who had no wish for coat and leggings.

He would hate to carry at his ankle a jewelled spur on a boot, or stockings in the English style; he will have no locks upon him.

A blunt rapier that would not kill a fly, the weight of an awl sticking out behind as one goes to a hill of assembly--the son of Donnchadh sees no beauty in that!

Little he cares for a mantle gold-embroidered, or a [high Dutch collar] or a gold ring that would only be irksome, or a satin scarf down to the heels.

He has no longing for a feather bed, he had rather lie upon rushes. Pleasanter to Donnchadh's good son is a hut of rough poles than the [battlements] of a tower.

A troop of horse at the brink of a gap, a fierce fight, a struggle with foot-soldiers, these are some of the desires of Donnchadh's son--and seeking battle against the foreigners.

How unlike are you to Eoghan Bán--they laugh at your foot on the stepping-stone.
Pity that you have not seen your fault, O man who follows English ways.


On the Cutting Down of an Ancient Tree

Hail to thee, O hill yonder: at thy fall I am not joyous; thy brown thorn is a cause of woe, the smooth stem that was wont to be seen above thee.

The thorn of acclamation, a torment to all, I used to see as a place of assembly: the cutting of the branch, my day of sorrow! the state of the land is baser thereafter.

My heart in my breast is sad for thy ancient tree, 0 hill yonder; the stem from which I was wont to see each tract, thy smooth thorn I see not there.

That bough was wont to guide my way--it was a transient possession!--far back from this land in the north I could see in the distance the branch behind me.

The wind has ravaged its root, that branch so long unshattered; many was the man it sheltered; a woeful plague was the destruction of the thorn.

Shapely bough of ruddy hue, I am sad it has gone under a wisp; woe to him who has not thought of the sufferings of Christ, since I have found occasion to weep for this branch.

It has been cut away, our utter ruin! the comely thorn that was a storehouse for the bird; a thorn like it never grew from the soil; to me until death it will be a cause of tears.

My gnawing pain to the brink of my death, alas that it rises no more! Never do I see the hill of the fruitful stems but that the ruin of the thorn stirs my sorrow.

The hill of the shoutings, torment of the schools, in the possession of enemies to-dayl After its slopes sad to me is the fair hill that hath pierced my affection.


A Man of Experience

Really, what a shocking scene!
A decent girl, a public place!
What the devil do you mean,
Mooching round with such a face?

Things can't really be so bad,

Surely someone would have said
If---of course the thing is mad,
No, your mother isn't dead.

Sighing, sniffling, looking tense,

Sitting mum the whole day through;

Speaking from experience

I can guess what's wrong with you.

Roses withering in the cheek,
Sunlight clouding in the hair,
Heaving breasts and looks so meek--
You're in love, my girl, I swear.

If love really caused all this
So that looks and grace are gone
Shouldn't you tell me who it is?-
Even if I should be the man.

If I really were the man

You wouldn't find me too severe,

Don't think I'm a Puritan,

I've been through it too my dear.

And if you'd whispered in my ear:
"Darling, I'm in love with you"
I wouldn't have scolded, never fear;
I know just what girls go through.

How does it take you, could you say?
Are you faint when I pass by?
Don't just blush and look away--
Who should know love if not I?

You'll be twice the girl tonight
Once you get it off your chest;
Why--who knows?--you even might
Win me to your snowy breast.

Make love just the way that seems
Fittest to you, 'twill be right.

Think of itl Your wildest dreams

Might come true this very night.

That's enough for once, my dear
Stop that snivelling and begin;
Come now, not another tear--
Lord, look at the state you're in!


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