The Tain, translated by Ciarán Carson

Posted by on Thursday, June 12th, 2008

The Tain, translated by Ciarán Carson

When I came across an actual copy of this book during my visit to Chicago, I was almost afraid to buy it.  I had to buy it, of course–it's not often I find real evidence of Celtic Studies works showing up in bookstores, and when I do find titles that fit the bill, I always buy them.  Bookstores need to be supported and congratulated for stocking things that are outside of the mainstream.

I was afraid to read the book because I was convinced that Thomas Kinsella's translation, graced by Louis le Brocquy's genius illustrations, was the only translation I could ever love.  I'm a huge fan of Carson's, so I really wanted his work to shine.  Moreover, a few years ago I had a fraught, life-affirming conversation with Carson about translation and poetry and voice where he convinced me with just a few words that I should keep up my own attempts at poetry in translation.  So I needed his version of this great work to be wonderful.

I needn't have worried.  Carson opens the book with an introduction explaining just how hesitant he was to publish a translation of  the Táin Bó Cúailnge, in light of Kinsella's masterful work.  Carson even calls his translation an homage to Kinsella.  Like Kinsella, Carson used Recension I.  Carson chose not to include the remscéla, or fore-tales, which are some of my favorite bits, but which aren't physically included in Lebor na hUidre or The Yellow Book of Lecan, the two texts in which The Tain survives.

Carson is a wonderful translator.  He's fluent in modern Irish, and he's a musician as well as a poet and writer, and I think those skills combine to enrich his translation.  He is clearly intrigued by the true characters of Cú Chulainn, Medb, Ailill, and Fergus, and by the mores surrounding sex, violence, honor, ownership, land, family–all the big ones.  Having read his and compared it to Kinsella's, I don't think I can read one without the other again.  Both convince me to keep struggling through language and myth that is so distant from my daily life. 

Filed in Books,Celtic | 3 responses so far

3 Responses to “The Tain, translated by Ciarán Carson”

  1. kon 13 Jun 2008 at 6:08 pm 1

    I really get off on how much you get off on this. It makes me happy that somebody has something out there that she can enjoy as much as breathing, or maybe more. (I also get a little jealous, because you make me want to learn all this stuff.)

  2. kon 13 Jun 2008 at 6:11 pm 2

    Holy Cow! It’s in my local library system! I won’t get as much from it as you, but I’ll still have fun.

  3. bibliotecariaon 20 Jun 2008 at 11:35 am 3

    Is there an audiobook version?

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