traditional Irish, this translation by Lady Gregory
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
observations: A search is on in Ireland at the moment to find the country’s favourite poem. There is now a shortlist of ten poems – you can find it here – and it’s a very fine selection with some excellent poems. Well worth looking at on St Patrick’s Day.
But my favourite Irish poem (and one of my favourite poems of all) is not there, and it’s this one. Lady Gregory – co-founder of the Abbey Theatre, a key figure in the Irish Literary Revival, and a friend of WB Yeats – translated the poem from the Gaelic, but very much added her own stamp to it.
It is also known as The Grief of a Young Girl’s Heart, and Broken Vows.
I was reluctant to try to pin down a picture of the young woman concerned, but was finally happy with these two impressionistic versions.
The top one is called The Irish Girl by Ford Madox Brown (grandfather to one of my all-time favourite authors, who renamed himself after the artist).
The lower one – with her gloves and her shoes and her silk – is Woman in Black Gloves by Henri Lebasque.