Category Archives: Translation


Some things never change…

Life gets in the way. That’s all I’ll say.

The Völsunga Saga, also called the Saga of the Völsungs, is one of the greatest and renowned Norse epics apart from the Eddas. It influenced, and in turn was influenced by the Niebelungenlied written in the Middle Ages in Middle High German, as well as the Anglo-Saxon Epic of Beowulf. The most interesting part is that all the three epics share characters, stories, and motifs with each other, such as the characters of the Niebelungen family (Niflungs in the Völsunga Saga) and the role of the scop and skald in Beowulf and the Völsung Saga respectively.

In the Saga of the Völsungs, king Sigmund of the Völsung Clan (not sure if you can call ancient Germanic peoples as belonging to clans, but this is my blog so I do what I want) has a son named Helgi. In fitt 9, Helgi goes out to raid the neighboring lands and comes across a retinue of women dressed in “magnificent attire.” The leader of the women, named Sigrun, told Helgi that she would be his wife if he would besiege her king named Hogni, who wanted to marry her off to a man she hated named Hodbrodd. Helgi accepted the task at once, and the battle commenced.

During the battle, Sinfjotli, a warrior in Helgi’s band, stood up and faced the opposing warriors, addressing King Granmar, Hodbrodd’s father. What follows is what Jesse L. Byock calls in his commentary a “senna,” or a battle of insults:

“Sinfjotli (said): “you probably do not remember clearly now when you were the witch on Varinsey and said that you wanted to marry a man and you chose me for the role of husband. And afterward… I sired nine wolves on you at Laganess, and I was the father of them all.”

Granmar responded: “You are a great liar. I do not think you could sire anyone because you were gelded by the giant’s daugheters on Thrasness…”

Sinfjotli answered: “Do you remember when you were a mare with the stallion Grani and I rode you at full speed on Bravoll?…”

The two warriors eventually destroyed each other, but not before they literally went back and forth, calling each other gay. Some things never change…


Casadh an tSúgáin

Hello all!

I know it’s been a horribly long time since I’ve last spoken to you, and I am planning a post updating my life and why I’ve taken so long to start posting again. The short answer is, my summer is packed with jobs. Here is a peace offering, in the form of a traditional Irish song called Casadh an tSúgáin (the twisting of the rope). The song is about a man who falls in love with a girl (probably a classic personification of Ireland) on a lonely strand of a beach, and yet she rejects him. He then reminisces about when he was young, lusting after other women. Finally, he returns to his present state, lamenting the fact that he ever left his own home. The final line “‘s chuir an t-seanbhean amach ag casadh an tsúgáinín mé” probably refers to the girls mother, who forced the speaker to tie the girl’s wedding rope, which he followed as he wound it up, eventually walking it right out the door.

I believe this song is a true Irish song, a song of the diaspora, a song of the millions of Irish like my grandparents who fled Ireland to come to America, Canada, Australia, and Patagonia only to have their hopes of riches and freedom dashed. Some longed for their old home in Ireland, figuring that even if they had to go back to their old chains that at least they would have their own Gaelic friends, and they’d be able to see their old girl Ireland again before they died. Tragically, many millions were never able to return to the warm fecundity of Waterford, or the green hills of Connacht, instead they were stuck in the gray smoke-filled metal-mountains of New York City, Chicago, and Boston, and the baking sun of Sidney, and the harsh winters of the Newfoundland coast. This hypothesis is only strengthened for me, by the fact that the 2017 movie “Brooklyn”, which is a story about Irish immigration to New York in the early 20th century features a rendition of the song sung by Iarla Ó Lionaird.

In a broader sense, I think that one of the final lines of the song, “fé chlócaíbh dearga i bhfad ó mo cháirdibh gael?”
“(what drove me to this land) under red cloaks, far from my Gaelic friends” 
means a lot more than just Irish immigrants separated from their Irish friends. This line is so powerful because everyone knows the feeling of being separated from those friends who you grew up with, the lifelong friends, the friends you made mischief with, the friends who you roamed around the forests and fields with, who understand you better than you understand yourself. These are the friends who made you who you are, and with whom you share a common culture, a common consciousness. When life moves along, and this group of friends grows separate from one another, cloistered into their own lives and sometimes moving far away from each other, an intense feeling of regret and nostalgia accompanies it. I think this song is about Ireland, yes, but it has a much more universally human meaning, which is what gives it its power. Here is a full version sung by Iarla in his band The Gloaming.

Casadh an tSúgáin

Do casadh cailín deas orm in uaigneas na dtrá,
Ar lúb na coille glaise uair bheag roim lá.
Sin an fhreagar’ ó a thug sí liom go ciúin agus go tláth:
“Tá an saol ‘na gcodladh, ’s bogaimís an súisín bán!”

‘S má bhíonn tú liom bí liom, a stóirín mo chroí,
‘S má bhíonn tú liom bí liom os comhair a’ tí,
Má bhíonn tú liom, ‘s gur liom gach órlach de do chroí,
‘Sé mo mhíle chnoc nach liom Dé Domhnaigh tú mar mhnaoi!

Ó do bhíos-sa sheal im’ bhuachaill éadrom mhear ghroí,
‘S do bhíos-sa sheal agus d’imireoinn cárta le mnaoi
Ó do bhíosa seal agus d’imireoinn cúig le nó thrí-
Chun gur dhein a bhean seo leongó liúngó dhom chroí.


‘S a Dhia na bhFeart, cad do chas i ndúthaigh seo mé?
Fé chlócaíbh dearga i bhfad ó mo cháirdibh gael?
Ó do chuas isteach mar a raibh mo shearc agus dian-ghrá mo chléibh,
‘S chuir an t-seanbhean amach ag casadh an tsúgáinín mé.



The Twisting of the Rope

A nice girl met me in the loneliness of the beach
On the bend of the green forest in the wee hours of the morning
These are the words that she said to me, quiet and wan:
“The world is in bed, so let us prepare a white blanket!”

And if you’re with me, be with me, love of my heart,
And if you’re with me, be with me at my house’s threshold,
If you’re with me, every inch of your heart will be with me,
It gives me a thousand regrets that you won’t be with me Sunday as my wife

Oh awhile ago I was a hearty, quick, light little boy
And awhile ago I was, and I would play cards with women
Oh awhile ago I was, and I’d play five or three
Until his woman did make my heart go thump-thump


And oh God of miracles, what drove me to this land,
In red cloaks, far from my Gaelic friends?
Oh, I went into where my love was, my lifelong love,
And her old woman put me out, twisting the rope



Caoineadh Cill Cáis / / The Keening of Kilcash

I am sorry that this post took so long! The semester at UMass became busy, and I became lazy.

Here’s another Irish song. The song is a nationalistic song sung in memory of a Viscountess of Kilcash. I like the song, honoring the Viscountess Margaret Butler by likening her to Kilcash itself. The word ‘caoineadh’ (or ‘caoine’ as it’s sometimes spelled) is a favorite word of mine, because it’s one of the only Irish words that made its way into English in the English word “keen” and “keening”. This song is a remarkably tender song, and even without knowing the backstory, through the lyrics the listener can easily feel that unique sort of Irish nostalgia so common in their songs. Here is a version by the Wolfe Tones that I like, even though their Irish pronunciation is rather lacking in my opinion.

Here are the Irish lyrics:

Cad a dhéanfaimid feasta gan adhmad?

Tá deireadh na gcoillte ar lár;

níl trácht ar Chill Cháis ná ar a teaghlach

is ní bainfear a cling go bráth.

An áit úd a gcónaíodh an deighbhean

fuair gradam is meidhir thar mhnáibh,

bhíodh iarlaí ag tarraingt tar toinn ann

is an t-aifreann binn á rá.


Ní chluinim fuaim lachan ná gé ann,

ná fiolar ag éamh sois cuain,

ná fiú na mbeacha chun saothair

thabharfadh mil agus céir don tslua.

Níl ceol binn milis na n-éan ann

le hamharc an lae a dhul uainn,

ná an chuaichín i mbarra na ngéag ann,

ós í chuirfeadh an saol chun suain.


Tá ceo ag titim ar chraobha ann

ná glanann le gréin ná lá,

tá smúid ag titim ón spéir ann

is a cuid uisce go léir ag trá.

Níl coll, níl cuileann, níl caor ann,

ach clocha is maolchlocháin,

páirc an chomhair gan chraobh ann

is d’ imigh an géim chun fáin.


Anois mar bharr ar gach míghreanní,

chuaigh prionsa na nGael thar sáil

anonn le hainnir na míne

fuair gradam sa bhFrainc is sa Spáinn.

Anois tá a cuallacht á caoineadh,

gheibbeadh airgead buí agus bán;

‘s í ná tógladh sillbh na ndaoine,

ach cara na bhfíorbhochtán.


Aicim ar Mhuire is ar Iosa

go dtaga sí arís chughainn slán,

go mbeidh rincí fada ag gabháil timpeall,

ceol veidhlín is tinte cnámh;

go dtógtar an baile seo ár sinsear

Cill Chais bhreá arís go hard,

is go bráth nó go dtiocfaidh an díle

ná feictear é arís ar lár.


And here are the English lyrics:


What will we do from now on without lumber?

The end of the woods is at hand

There is no talk of Kilcash nor its household

And its bell will not be rung any longer

That place where the good lady lived

Most honorable and mirthful of women

Earls used to come over the waves there

And a sonorous mass was said


I don’t hear the sound of ducks or geese there

Nor the eagles crying over the bay

Nor any longer the bees at their work

Taking honey and wax to the people

The sweet melodious song of the birds sounds out no more

As the sunset comes to us

Nor the little cuckoo in the tree branches

From which it puts the world to rest


Fog is a-falling on the boughs there

Which neither sun nor day can clean

Mist is a-falling from the sky there

And its clear water is ebbing

Neither hazel, nor holly, nor berry there

Except stones and bare pebbles

The fields of our neighbors without branches there

And all the game has gone away


Now to add to the same

The prince of the Gaels has set sail

Away with the maiden of sweetness

Who is the most honored in France and Spain

Now her company is keening her

Who would give golden money, and white;

She who would never take land from the people

But was a friend of the truly poor


I beseech Mary and Jesus

That she returns once more safely to us

That we’ll have long dancing in circles

The music of violins giving heat to our limbs

That this home of our ancestors

Good Kilcash will take wing once again,

And until doomsday or the flood comes back

We will not see it again laid low


Amhrán Mhuínse – Song of Mweenish

Taking a break from Behan for right now, because our good friend Brendon is boring me. I decided to turn to the translation of a sean-nós song that I really love. And bounty of bounties! I think I can post the original Irish lyrics! Note that there are many versions of this song, and while I translated the most complete version of the song I could find into English, I will only post the Irish lyrics that are contained in the song by Ragús which I link here. Here they are:

Dhá mbeinn trí léig i bhfarraige
nó ar sléibhte i bhfad ó thír
Gan aoinneach beo i mo ghaobhar ann
ach raithneach ghlas is fraoch,
An sneachta á shéideadh anuas ón thuaidh is ó dheas,
is an ghaoith dhá fhuadach díom,
‘S mé a bheith ag comhrá le mo Taimín Bán,
níorbh fhada liom an oíche.

A Mhuire dhílis, céard a dhéanfas mé,
tá an geimhreadh seo ag tíacht fuar,
A Mhuire dhílis, céard a dhéanfas mé
leis an teach seo ‘s a bhfuil ann?
Nach óg, a stór, a d’imeodh tú uaim,
le linn na huaire breá,
Le linn don chuach a bheith ag seinm ceoil,
‘S gach duilliúr glas ag fás.
Agus gearraí amach mo chónra dhom
Ó  na péine is fearr

Má tá Seán Ó hEidhin i Muínis
Bíodh sé déanta óna dhá láimh;
Bíodh mo chaipín ‘s mo ribín inti istigh,
S’ é go ródheas ar mo cheann,
Beidh triúr ban óg ó shléibhte ann
le mé a chaoineadh os cionn cláir.

Agus gabháil siar thar Inse Ghainimh dhom
beidh an farraigí ag éirí ard,
Ná cuirigí i Leitir Caladh mé
mar níl mo mhuintir ann;
Ach tugaí siar go Muínis mé,
Is é an áit a gcaoinfear mé go hard,
Beidh soilse ar na dúmhchannaí
S’ ní bheidh uaigneas orm ann.


Translation of Amhrán Mhuínse

And if I were three leagues out to sea
or in the mountains far from land
without any living thing near me there
except the green fern and heather
with the snow blowing down on me
and the wind blowing it off again
if only i could talk with my dear Tom,
the night would not feel so long to me

And oh, faithful Mary, what will I do?
This cold winter is coming
Faithful Mary, what will I do?
with this house and all who liver there?
It’s as if it was you who were to leave
and me the one staying behind
forever and ever I would never think that any
soul could take your place
were you not young, darling, when you went out from me
in the good times?

And if only I had my family in my house
the night that I would die
and they would mourn me beautifully
three nights and three days
they’d have long clay pipes
and the kegs, they’d be full
and I would have three . young women from the mountains
Who would lament me over the boards of my coffin

So cut out my coffin for me
from the best and brightest timbers
and if john O’Hayne is in Mweenish
have it be done by his hand
have my hat and my ribbon be inside
and placed nicely on my head
and have Patrick More bring me to Mweenish
or it will be a rough day

And taking me west by Sandyisle,
let there be a flag on the mast
and don’t take me to Lettercallow
because my people are not there
but take me west, to Mweenish
to the place where I’ll be mourned loudly
and there will be lights on the dunes
and I won’t be lonely anymore




I just love this song. There’s something profound and poignant about it.


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.


The Return of Mac Eachaidh

I’m starting off my posts of Irish poems with translations of poems by Brendan Behan. The book I am translating currently is called Poems and a play in Irish published by Gallery Books. I’d post the original poem in its entirety, if it wasn’t for copyright laws.

I myself am not particularly fanatic about Modernist poetry, Irish or otherwise. I believe it was Yeats who said that during the Gaelic Revival, the most potent garbage can be passed for poetry as long as it is written in Irish. Whoever said it, it’s pretty damn true. In reading a lot of Irish Modernist poetry, one finds that function has been beheaded in favor of form. The quality is decidedly lower.

However, I do still believe that lots of value can be found in these poems. Brendan Behan is peculiar among the Modernist Irish authors because he is not a native Irish speaker. Brendan was thrown in prison for possession of explosives (which he had as a result of his IRA activities) and he learned Irish from a fellow prison mate. He eventually studied under An Cadhaineach himself. I don’t remember off the top of my head any other Irish modernist fringe writers who learned Irish so fluently from an Anglo background and became quite as lucrative. It’s impossible to read Brendan’s poems and not see his passion for Ireland. Whatever can be said about the Óglaigh na hÉireann, it can’t be said that it wasn’t filled with passionate, idealistic members. Furthermore, I think that anyone who truly learns Irish as a second language in order to write literature should be appreciated to a certain extent.

The Return of Mac Eachaidh

Patrick, my friend. Did you hear the shouts?
Did you hear the majesty, the schism and the din?
Did you hear about how the police went to Ulster
Strong in numbers on the road?
A pipe and guns were brandished festively
The skies brightly shining, the birds in full song
Welcoming Mac Eachaidh back to the North—
For in the end, pride  is stronger than sadness

At first I thought that they were going in a procession
That it was a keening pipe that was sighing,
And the guns—their voices seemed worried:
But it’s like the big triumphant band of O’Neill
on his returning from the Pope and the Englishman left in anguish—
The light-hearted Gael and the reaving under full sail—
Welcoming Mac Eachaidh back to the North
—For in the end, pride is stronger than sadness

Today the trip will be to Milltown
With his family all around him, the thousands in homage,
His smooth gracious kingly way through the crowd
Is like the chieftain’s journey in the olden times of our freedom:
The Fianna, the young supporters of the Republic of Ireland
Soldiers of the land between men & women,
Small girls in bright Gaelic dress—
A music band playing and all bearing mantles—
Thousands will be humbly following his coffin,
The great Treasure of Ireland, with the loyal heart of the lion
Welcoming Mac Eachaidh back to the North
—For in the end, his death is stronger than their power.

Seán Mac Eachaidh was lost to a hunger strike in Portlaoise prison, 1946.
His body was carried back to Belfast.


Behan wrote this poem as an elegy for Seán Mac Eócaidh, a Republican Army leader in the early 20th century. The poem depicts the IRA member’s  funeral procession to the man’s birthplace in Northern Ireland. This poem was rather easy to translate in comparison to lots of other Behan poems that I’ve tried my hand at.

The original Irish used the words ‘siosma’ and ‘gleo’ which I interpreted as “schism and din” because I liked the cadence of the English words.

My favorite line was:

‘an Gael go gealmheidhreach is an chreach faoi lán seoil’

I interpreted it as “the light-hearted Gael and the reaving under full sail” because I was not actually familiar with the word creach. The dictionary hinted that it’s an old word, meaning some sort of connection with cattle-raiding, and considering the story of Aodh Ó Néill, I figured that the word ‘reaving’ would fit. To be honest, I don’t really know what Behan meant when he said “an Gael go gealmheidhreach”, because it’s odd to find an adverbial ‘go’ after a noun.

Gealmheidhreach is also a compound noun and it’s rather hard to translate compound nouns in any way except literally. Geal of course is ‘bright’, and meidhreach is ‘light-hearted’… I chose ‘light-hearted’ instead of ‘bright-hearted’ because I liked the contrast between ‘light-hearted Gael’ and ‘the reaving’.

The contrast between peace & light and violence is a subtheme in this poem. Consider the reference to policemen amassing in Ulster for the funeral, as well as the music of pipes contrasted with the worried sound of guns. The reference to Na Fianna is a duality between light and dark in and of itself, for the Fianna were soldiers, yes, but soldiers of freedom and independence. The greatest example of duality greets the reader at the end of every line:

“– mar sa deireadh is treise an bród ná an brón” contrasts pride and death. This poem can be interpreted as the pessimistic scribblings of a war-ravaged mind, but in considering the life of Behan, and the passion and pride contained in his soul, I think that pride is truly what this poem is about; Behan lightly tips his hat to the violence, darkness, and death that surrounds him and overwhelms him and his people at times. In fact, pride and passion can never put an end to that part of life. He instead posits that in the end, darkness can be used as an example for Ireland to prove her worth and to rear back her head and roar.