Presented below is the latest in the series of translations by ILS member Brian O’Connor of the great Irish poet of the late 17th and early 18th century, Aodhagán Ó Rathaille (c.1670–1726). O’Connor’s earlier translations for us from Ó Rathaille are also available on the ILS blog.
For those without Irish it is worth reading the original to appreciate the complexity of the syllabic structure of the verse. In her excellent Irish Song-Craft and Metrical Practice Since 1600 (Edwin Mellen Press, 2003) Virginia Blankenhorn has written about how this poem “demonstrates the poet’s awareness of relative syllabic quantities and their potentiality for ornamental effect. In the penultimate foot of each line, two short syllables are followed by a long syllable. The first of the two short syllables, which receives the stress, contains the ‘short unrounded’ vowel, while the unstressed long syllable nevertheless achieves a degree of prominence not only by virtue of its length vis-à-vis the other two syllables but also through its containing the assonantal diphthong ‘ia’… clues supplied by the ornamental system of a stanza may enable an editor to guess very precisely what the poet originally had in mind, in the case of a poem having suffered through faulty oral transmission. Perhaps even more basic, however, is the necessity that a would be editor possess a thorough understanding of the structural importance of ornament within the line and within the stanza.”
Translation by BRIAN O’CONNOR
Faoi Lár na Lice seo / Under this Slab
|Faoi lár na lice seo curtha tá an ollaphiast reamhar|
Do chráidh le dlighthibh an fhuirionn ba mhinic riamh teann
Do b’fhearrde mise, is gach nduine atá ag fulang pian Gall
An bás dá sciobadh tá tuilleadh is fiche bliadhain ann.
|Sprawled underneath this slab, the bloated hell hound|
Who used laws from abroad to torment a folk once well found
‘Twere better for me and all whom the foreigners cowed
If, twenty years past, death had swooped and swallowed him down.
|Coingibh go lom fáth bhonn, a ghairbhleach mhór|
An mursaire fallsa, do mheabhruigh gangaid is gó
Le dlighthibh na nGall thug scannradh ar Bhanba is tóir
‘S go bhfeiceam an t-am bheidh fá’n samhail seo a maireann dá phós
|Grasp him soundly and strong, you coarse and rough stone|
The false hearted scoundrel who doled out meanness and woe
Whose foreign laws Irishmen learned to fear and to loathe
May all his descendants join him one day here below.
|An marbh so féach, mo léan, nár smachtuigh a thoil|
Is mairg do Threig Mac Dé is mar Pheadair nár ghoil
A mharbh ní héacht, ‘s an méid nár mhairbh ní bocht
Acht gur marbh é féin mar aon idir anam is corp.
|This dead man, it’s sad, indulged to the full his desires|
Betraying the Son of God without shedding tears
His death leaves his victims no better, is no cause for grief
His soul is as dead as the body that lies here asleep.
|Is iomdha marbh do mhairbh an marbh so fút-sa, a líog|
Is mairg don mharbh do mhairfeadh le rún a chroídhe
Marbh do mhairbh na mairbh ‘s nár ionntuigh slighe
‘S is marbh é an marbh so i n-Acheron súighte síos.
|How many dead met their deaths from the dead one beneath this stone|
Whose death leaves him here with his own heart’s secrets to mourn
The dealer of death who would not turn from death’s road
In the darkness of Acheron’s waters he moulders alone.
Brian O’Connor has been a member of the Irish Literary Society since the time of Professor Raymond Chapman’s Chairmanship. He was born in Cork, graduated from UCC and worked as a journalist and researcher.