Following on from my previous post, here is my own translation of Aodhagán Ó Rathaille’s “Is fada liom oíche fhír-fhliuch” (c. 1710), which was published in the Summer 2002 issue of Translation Ireland. The poem has been translated many times before, including by Thomas Kinsella, and Michael Hartnett, and I don’t claim to top them. I will say that translation is in many respects arbitrary, the subjective way that one person might render another’s poem into a different language, at a given time. Kinsella’s version of the first line and title as “The drenching night drags on” (in An Duanaire/1600-1900: Poems of the Dispossessed) is probably the best – but I like “sopping night” too. As with Kinsella, I have not attempted to replicate the metre of the original poem, which would most likely come off seeming artificial in English. Every strategic decision implies a trade-off, however. The above photo is Muckross Abbey, Killarney, where Ó Rathaille (†1729) is buried.
Aodhagán Ó Rathaille
This Sopping Night
(translated from the Irish by Michael S. Begnal)
This sopping night seems endless—sleepless, snoreless,
without cattle, means, sheep stock or horned cows;
a storm on the wave nearby has unsettled my head,
and I was not raised to eat dogfish or cockles.
If he still lived, the patron king from the banks of the Laune,
with his following by his side—they would understand—
and if he still held sway in that gentle, sheltered, harboured haven,
my poor people would not stay in the bleak district of Duibhne.
MacCarthy, strong and ferocious (who despised fraud),
MacCarthy of the Lee (imprisoned without parole, enfeebled),
MacCarthy, king of Kanturk (in the grave with his family)—
there’s desolation in my heart: no sign of them at all.
My heart withers in my chest, my body weakens,
those heroes were never stingy whose right it was to rule
from Cashel to Clíodhna’s Wave and over to Thomond,
their towns and their lands have been plundered by foreigners.
O high wave down there roaring loud,
my mind is overwhelmed with your screeching—
if help were ever to return to bright Ireland
I’d shove those bitter howls right down your throat!