12 June 2014

Poetry Thursday - Colmcille the Scribe, translated by Seamus Heaney

"Its bird-mouth issues a blue-dark / Beetle-sparkle of ink" (via)

Colmcille the Scribe
from the Irish, 11th century

My hand is cramped from penwork.
My quill has a tapered point.
Its bird-mouth issues a blue-dark
Beetle-sparkle of ink.
Wisdom keeps welling in streams
From my fine-drawn sallow hand:
Riverrun on the vellum
Of ink from green-skinned holly.
My small runny pen keeps going
Through books, through thick and think,
To enrich the scholars' holdings -
Penwork that cramps my hand.

The 6th century saint Colmcille is also known as St Columba. The poem is available as a "Poems on the Underground" poster and you can hear Heaney read it here. Another translator's version - and the original Irish - are on the Leabhar Mor site.

Seamus Heaney (1939-2013) was a prolific translator as well as poet, working from Greek, Latin, Anglo-Saxon, and Scots as well as Irish. Beowulf is probably his best-known translation, wonderful to listen to.

"Heaney has translated other Gaelic works, of course, like Buile Shuibhne, 'the madness of Sweeney', and like Yeats before him, I suppose it represents an effort on their part, as primarily anglophone Irish poets, to weave together a harmonious melody and rhythm of cultural and linguistic identity.... For Heaney, it is through writing that this can be achieved, furious penwork to cramp his hand. It's no surprise then that 'digging' is one of his earliest metaphors for writing (spade-work versus penwork) with the connection to the land that it evokes, and that its echo resounds through his work even today. It's where all the answers are, not just to Heaney's poetry, but to understanding Ireland." (via)

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