Thomas MacDonagh (1878 - 1916)
One of the leaders of the Easter Rising 1916 in Ireland, MacDonagh
in ordinary life was a lecturer in English literature at University
This poem is a translation of the 18th-century poem "An
Cathal Buí Mac Giolla Ghunna. Of his translation method MacDonagh
my translations are very close to the originals. In my version of
this poem I have changed nothing for the purpose of elucidation.
I have even translated the name of Loch Mhic an Ein, a lake in the
North-west of Ireland. Some of the references must be obscure to
all but students of Irish literature; I think, however, that the
poem does not suffer too much from the difficulty of these."
The bittern is a wading bird and member of the heron family, a bird
of the marsh and wetlands. Constantine was
Roman Emperor (A.D. 306-37)
This is a masterly poem, a wonderfully dramatic - melodramatic -
piece in the voice of the drunken narrator. One day I hope to hear
Rab C. Nesbitt (Gregor Fisher) recite a Scots version of The Yellow
The Yellow Bittern
The yellow bittern that never broke out
a drinking bout, might as well have drunk;
are thrown on a naked stone
he lived alone like a hermit monk.
O yellow bittern!
I pity your lot,
they say that a sot like myself is curst -
sober a while, but I'll drink and be wise
fear I should die in the end of thirst.
for the common birds that I'd mourn,
black-bird, the corn-crake, or the crane,
But for the
bittern that's shy and apart
in the marsh from the lone bog-drain.
Oh! if I had
known you were near your death,
my breath held out I'd have run to you,
Till a splash
from the Lake of the Son of the Bird
soul would have stirred and waked anew.
told me to drink no more
life would be o'er in a little short while;
But I told
her 'tis drink gives me health and strength
lengthen my road by many a mile.
You see how
the bird of the long smooth neck
his death from the thirst at last -
of my soul, and drain your cup,
no sup when your life is past.
In a wintering
island by Constantine's halls
bittern calls from a wineless place,
me that hither he cannot come
the summer is here and the sunny days.
When he crosses
the stream there and wings o'er the sea
a fear comes to me he may fail in his flight -
milk and the ale are drunk every drop,
dram won't stop our thirst this night.