12 April 2006

More Nuala

Here's what I promised last time: Michael Harnett's translation of "Geasa," which I like better than McGuckian's:


If I put my hand on holy ground
if I built a river bridge
all built by day by craftsmen
is felled on me by morning.

Up the river a nocturnal boat:
a woman stands in it,
candles alight in her eyes, her hands.
She has two oars.

She takes out a pack of cards.
She asks: "Will you play forfeits?"
We play. She wins each game
and sets me this problem, this forfeit, this load:

never to eat two meals in one house
never to stay two nights under one roof
never to sleep twice in one bed --
until I have found her again. I asked her where she'd be.

"If it's east I am, it's west, if it's west I am, it's east."
Off with her in lightning flashes
and I am left on the bank.
The two candles still light by my side.
She left me the two oars.

(Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, Selected Poems / Rogha Dánta)

(A couple of other bilingual editions of her poetry are The Water Horse and Pharoah's Daughter.)

11 April 2006

A Gift (for those of you who haven't met Nuala)

It's spring, and it's nearly the full moon, and I'm reminded tonight of Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill. I'll give you "Geasa" later -- I don't like McGuckian's translation, found on the link above -- but that site does give Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin's excellent translation of "Madame":

Lady under the lake
Your bright rooms
Where they are killing bullocks
And sheep are turning on spits,

Your whitewashed courts
On islands near the coast
Or touching the horizon
Have been seducing me

Ever since I was a child.
Your dwelling is no
Tree-house, woven shelter
But a hall to feast in.

The door is twenty
Feet wide, the roof
Made of birds’ feathers
Red and blue

No need here to shut
Windows or doors —
It makes no odds, the water
Enters everywhere.

And I am guiding
My mother towards you
Across a bridge of glass,
With careful steps

A tentative foot forward,
But we are arriving.
In the doorway of your sunny chamber
A cold sweat comes over me

On the doorstep,
At the revolving door
Turning widdershins,

For the one that mounts
Your stone staircase
Will never be
Seen again.

Ní Dhomhnaill's worth learning Irish for. Yay, the priestess poets.