Two poems for you this Saint Patrick’s Day weekend. The first from Seamus Heaney, his ars poetica. The second from Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill, about her decision to write in the Irish language, followed by an English translation by Paul Muldoon.
for Michael Longley
As a child, they could not keep me from wells
And old pumps with buckets and windlasses.
I loved the dark drop, the trapped sky, the smells
Of waterweed, fungus and dank moss.
One, in a brickyard, with a rotted board top.
I savoured the rich crash when a bucket
Plummeted down at the end of a rope.
So deep you saw no reflection in it.
A shallow one under a dry stone ditch
Fructified like any aquarium.
When you dragged out long roots from the soft mulch
A white face hovered over the bottom.
Others had echoes, gave back your own call
With a clean new music in it. And one
Was scaresome, for there, out of ferns and tall
Foxgloves, a rat slapped across my reflection.
Now, to pry into roots, to finger slime,
To stare, big-eyed Narcissus, into some spring
Is beneath all adult dignity. I rhyme
To see myself, to set the darkness echoing.
Ceist na Teangan
Cuirim mo dhochas ar snamh
i mbaidin teangan
faoi mar a leagta naionan
a bheadh fite fuaite
de dhuilleoga feileastraim
is bitiuman agus pic
bheith cuimilte lena thoin.
ansan e a leagadh sios
i measc na ngioicach
is coigeal na mban si
le taobh na habhann,
a dtabharfaidh an sruth e,
feachaint, dala Mhaoise,
an bhfoirfidh inion Phorain?
–Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill
The Language Issue
I place my hope on the water
in this little boat
of the language, the way a body might put
in a basket of intertwined
its underside proofed
with bitumen and pitch,
then set the whole thing down amidst
and the bulrushes by the edge
of a river
only to have it borne hither and thither,
not knowing where it might end up;
in the lap, perhaps,
of some Pharaoh’s daughter.
–English translation by Paul Muldoon