Wednesday, 18 May 2016

The yellow bittern - Thomas MacDonagh

The yellow bittern that never broke out
In a drinking-bout, might well have drunk;
His bones are thrown on a naked stone
Where he lived alone like a hermit monk.
O yellow bittern! I pity your lot,
Though they say that a sot like myself is curst—
I was sober a while, but I'll drink and be wise
For fear I should die in the end of thirst.

It's not for the common birds that I'd mourn,
The blackbird, the corncrake or the crane,
But for the bittern that's shy and apart
And drinks in the marsh from the lone bog-drain.
Oh! if I had known you were near your death,
While my breath held out I'd have run to you,
Till a splash from the Lake of the Son of the Bird
Your soul would have stirred and waked anew.

My darling told me to drink no more
Or my life would be o'er in a little short while;
But I told her 'tis drink gives me health and strength,
And will lengthen my road by many a mile.
You see how the bird of the long smooth neck,
Could get his death from the thirst at last—
Come, son of my soul, and drain your cup,
You'll get no sup when your life is past.

In a wintering island by Constantine's halls,
A bittern calls from a wineless place,
And tells me that hither he cannot come
Till the summer is here and the sunny days.
When he crosses the stream there and wings o'er the sea,
Then a fear comes to me he may fail in his flight—
Well, the milk and the ale are drunk every drop,
And a dram won't stop our thirst this night.

Thomas MacDonagh (1878 - 1916) Ireland
This poem is a free translation of the 18th-century poem "An Bunán Buí" by Cathal Buí Mac Giolla Ghunna. Other translations that are closer to the original include one by Séamus Heaney

1 comment:

Please keep your comments relevant and free from abusive language. Thank you. Note that comments are moderated so it may be a day or two before your comment is posted - irrelevant or abusive comments will not be published.