Monthly Archives: March 2018


Springtime & Loneliness

Another translation and commentary of my series of Brendan Behan poems. This time it’s his poems ‘Teacht an Earraigh” and ‘Uaigneas’

1. Springtime

Oh you course Celtic Cold!
I hate your sour expression!
The north wind blows:
Tough tormented trembling
Without vitality or verve
Without youth or use
Until the bright feast of Brigid
And the resurrection of joy

The wind comes from the south :
A promise of sun for my limbs
A fresh life exciting me
Awakening of the blood

Winter weather
You ancient season:
Twenty welcomes to you and more,
Oh Spring of the young!

2. Loneliness
The taste of blackberries
After the rain
On top of the hill

In the silence of a prison
The train’s cold whistle

The excited whispering of lovers
To the lonely


The first poem, ‘Teacht an Earraigh’, is filled with alliteration in Irish. I haaaaate alliteration! It always sounds so plastic and puerile, although Brendan does put it to good use in this poem by linking connected words:

‘Creathanna cráite crua
Gan fás gan fónamh
Gan beatha ná beocht’

This poem included the word ‘Ghaelaigh’ in the first line, however I changed it to ‘Celtic’ in order to capture the alliteration. This poem could be about the waning of the nationalist movement in Ireland, and the revival which Brendan can see on the horizon. It simply could be, however, about winter. With Brendan, one never really knows.

In one line Brendan uses the phrase:

‘Gan beatha ná beocht’

Which is difficult to translate since they both mean “life” in different senses of the word. Beatha is life in general or the state of living, while beocht means something like “liveliness” or “energy” in reference to living beings or personified objects. I did my best with that translation!

The last line features epanalepsis which reminds me of the phrase: “the king is dead; long live the king!” The most important part of the phrase is that Brendan devotes a whole stanza for a celebration of the end of winter, and the beginning of spring at the same time.

The second poem, titled ‘Loneliness’ in most English translations is actually quite popular as a poem, since Brendan translated it himself into English. A quick google search of “Brendan Behan, loneliness” will turn up a few translations. His translation in English is actually better than the original, probably because Brendan was of course not a native of Irish. It is also not a literal translation, and in my series of poems I am aiming for as literal a translation as possible. For example, Behan uses the word ‘blas’ which translated to “taste” yet he translates it himself as “tang”– a word choice which I appreciate there, but inaccurate as far as translations are concerned.

Haiku-style poems, especially when they describe the intangible, usually come up notoriously short. This poem is a surprise to me because it’s actually quite good, in English and in Irish. I think Uaigneas is an intrinsically Irish poem, not through any structural analysis of motif, but through the images it paints. The loneliness of their heritage being destroyed, the solace of a blackberry grove amidst the fog after a Celtic rain. The loneliness of prison after fighting for your home, as Brendan knew well and the place he learned to speak Irish. The loneliness of a train whistle; the rapid industrialization of a green farming island.

My translation is woefully inadequate to capture the poignancy of the Irish, so I ask you to learn some Irish and read it. Both these poems are short and sweet, like the tang of blackberries on a hilltop.


New week, new life, and Irish things!

Hello, my faithful followers! That is to say, no one.

Finals are over, and that means that I can return to my own pursuits. Currently that includes being faithful to my blog, so here I am with some updates and thoughts.

One morning, professor Harris suggested that I talk to a professor of Irish studies by the name of Maria Tymoczko in the comparative literature department. He thought that talking to her would be interesting to me. I emailed her, and she told me that she was on sabbatical in order to finish her book, but would be happy to call me. I did, and was so impressed at my knowledge of Irish that she offered to host a seminar to teach Old Irish at UMass next semester! All that I had to do was find a few interested students for the class and she would teach it, despite being on sabbatical. When I told professor Harris, he immediately said that he would love to join. I’m really excited! Not only can I learn Old Irish in an academic setting, but I can do so for credit towards my English major.