Posted by on Friday, January 20th, 2006

I was originally thinking I should wrap up my self-indulgent Nuala-fest with a translation of my own . . . and then I found a translation that made mine look inelegant and wordy, so I figured I’d leave it to Paul Muldoon, whom I love.  Thankfully, you can get to the original Irish and the excellent translation for free in an edition of Archipelago, which they have actually asked be disseminated over the web.   They covered An Leabhar Mor: The Great Book of Gaelic, a book and project that has had me so excited for the last several years I am often tempted to shake people really hard, screaming "Just buy a copy, will you!  You need to own this!"  It’s an anthology of centuries’ worth of great Celtic-language poetry with accompanying English translations.  But it’s illuminated and caligraphed, and I think it’s one of the most gorgeous collaborations I’ve ever seen.  And the Archipelago snippet includes one of the most powerful poems Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill has written.

Right, so, you’ll have some scrolling to do, but go here: Fall 2003 Archipelago.  It’s a PDF, so it may take a while to load.  Once it does, save it to your hard-drive.  Read the whole thing.  I guarantee it will amaze you–or you’ll get your money back. 

Now, take a look at page 75, and you’ll find Dubh, which is a poem Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill wrote in reaction to the bombing of Srebrenica.  The title means black.  I wish I could invite you all into my head, because I’ve seen and heard Nuala read this poem, and it’s heart-breakingly good.  The word "dubh" echoes throughout the poem.  It sounds like bombs falling.  It sounds like shock-waves.  It sounds like war.  The rhythm is quick and hard, and her voice sounds so raw on this one.  Strong stuff. 

A lot of Irish people were in London during the blitz.  A lot of Irish people know what it feels like to live in fear of explosions tearing apart your body and your life.  The war in Serbia was particularly hard on Ireland, little pacifist gem that it is.  Thousands of refugees poured into Ireland, which only knew emigration, not immigration.  All fleeing genocide, a terror which Europe thought it would never have to revisit after World War II.  All searching for peace wherever they could find it.

When I was working for the Irish government in 1999, even the hawks in the Dail were beside themselves over NATO’s operations in Kosovo, whether they were doing the right thing, whether there even was a right thing to do.  I think Americans are only now beginning to understand the terror of experiencing attacks on our own soil.  I’m not trying to make a political statement, and I don’t think Nuala really was either.  It’s all about a visceral reaction to war and destruction.  All black.  Black with rage at the idea that another group of people–people like us–had again decided to slaughter their neighbors–people like us.  And that people like us let it go on for years before reacting violently.   Makes a fallen Catholic quasi-Quaker tree-hugging dirt-worshipper all weepy, through and through.

So, er, downer!  So sorry.  The Berryman discussions are going to be chipper, right?  Ok, no, but several of the poems in the Archipelago issue are great.  Check out:
Cathal O’Searcaigh’s Claochlo/Transfigured;
Colm Breathnach’s Dan do Scathach/A Poem to Scathach;
Iseabail no mheic Cailein’s Eistibh a Luchd an Tighese/Listen, People of this House (racy for 1500, no?);
And Scel Lem Duib/Brief Account

And buy a copy of the book, darn it!  It’s amazing. 

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