Donal Og (young Donal)
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 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!
Anonymous (8th century Irish ballad)
Translated by Lady Augusta Gregory
From Wikipedia … Isabella Augusta, Lady Gregory was an Irish dramatist, folklorist and theatre manager. With William Butler Yeats and Edward Martyn, she co-founded the Irish Literary Theatre and the Abbey Theatre, and wrote numerous short works for both companies.
From the Guardian …
The translation from the Gaelic leaves much of the original’s grammatical structure in place, giving her English remarkable energy
Well, in the 8th century a woman needed a man for financial support and a living apart from love getting in the way.
And it is the same old story of a lover promising the world and the beloved half believing through misty eyes. The promises detailed in terms of agricultural life – that you would be before me where the sheep are flocked. And she giving three hundred cries and none were heard. She knew his promises were meaningless – you promised me a thing that is not possible. But did that matter? Lovers are generally prone to be forgiving of the faults in others.
And religion joins forces with her passion it being Passion Sunday the day she gave herself to him and to him forever – my two eyes giving love to you for ever.
She is in deep depression at the loss of love; the loss of him – it was you put that darkness over my life.
The counsel of her mother was too late – it was a bad time she took for telling me that; / it was shutting the door after the house was robbed.
That last line brings in religion again – and my fear is great that you have taken God from me! Perhaps she believes that if she does commit suicide God would be taken from her. And perhaps she is feeling suicidal. Commit is not the word to use today in that association.
This lament is the story of love, grief and despair which flows endless through the centuries.