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The Song of Amergin: Modern English Translations

The Song of Amergin
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I am the sea breeze
I am the ocean wave
I am the surf's thunder
I am the stag of the seven tines
I am the cliff hawk
I am the sunlit dewdrop
I am the fairest flower
I am the rampaging boar
I am the swift-swimming salmon
I am the placid lake
I am the excellence of art
I am the vale echoing voices
I am the battle-hardened spearhead
I am the God who gave you fire
Who knows the secrets of the unhewn dolmen
Who understands the cycles of the moon
Who knows where the sunset settles ...



The Song of Amergin
an original poem by Michael R. Burch

He was our first bard
and we feel in his dim-remembered words
the moment when Time blurs . . .

and he and the Sons of Mil
heave oars as the breakers mill
till at last Ierne―green, brooding―nears,

while Some implore seas cold, fell, dark
to climb and swamp their flimsy bark
. . . and Time here also spumes, careers . . .

while the Ban Shee shriek in awed dismay
to see him still the sea, this day,
then seek the dolmen and the gloam.



The Song of Amergin II
a more imaginative translation by Michael R. Burch

after Robert Bridges

I am the stag of the seven tines;
I am the bull of the seven battles;
I am the boar of the seven bristles;

I am the wide flood cresting plains;
I am the wind sweeping deep waters;
I am the salmon swimming in the shallow pool;

I am the dewdrop lit by the sun;
I am the fairest of flowers;
I am the crystalline fountain;

I am the hawk shrieking after its prey;
I am the demon ablaze in the campfire ashes;
I am the battle-waging spearhead;

I am the vale echoing voices;
I am the sea's roar;
I am the rising sea wave;

I am the meaning of poetry;
I am the God who inspires your prayers;
I am the hope of heaven;

Who else knows the ages of the moon?
Who else knows where the sunset settles?
Who else knows the secrets of the unhewn dolmen?

Translator's Notes:

The "Song of Amergin" and its origins remain mysteries for the ages. The ancient poem, perhaps the oldest extant poem to originate from the British Isles, or perhaps not, was written by an unknown poet at an unknown time at an unknown location. The unlikely date 1268 BC was furnished by Robert Graves, who translated the "Song of Amergin" in his influential book The White Goddess (1948). Graves remarked that "English poetic education should, really, begin not with Canterbury Tales, not with the Odyssey, not even with Genesis, but with the Song of Amergin." The poem has been described as an invocation and a mystical chant.

I did not attempt to fully translate the ending of the poem. I have read several other translations and it seems none of them agree. I went with my "gut" impression of the poem, which is that the "I am" lines refer to God and his "all in all" nature, a belief which is common to the mystics of many religions. I stopped with the last line that I felt I understood and will leave the remainder of the poem to others. The poem reminds me of the Biblical god Yahweh/Jehovah revealing himself to Moses as "I am that I am" and to Job as a mystery beyond human comprehension. If that's what the author intended, I tip my hat to him, because despite all the intervening centuries and the evolution of the language, the message still comes through quite well. If I'm wrong, I have no idea what the poem is about, but I still like it.

Who wrote the poem? That's a very good question and the answers seem speculative to me. Amergin has been said to be a Milesian, or one of the sons of Mil who allegedly invaded and conquered Ireland sometime in the island's deep, dark past. The Milesians were (at least theoretically) Spanish Gaels. According to the Wikipedia page:

Amergin Glúingel ("white knees"), also spelled Amhairghin Glúngheal or Glúnmar ("big knee"), was a bard, druid and judge for the Milesians in the Irish Mythological Cycle. He was appointed Chief Ollam of Ireland by his two brothers the kings of Ireland. A number of poems attributed to Amergin are part of the Milesian mythology. One of the seven sons of Míl Espáine, he took part in the Milesian conquest of Ireland from the Tuatha Dé Danann, in revenge for their great-uncle Íth, who had been treacherously killed by the three kings of the Tuatha Dé Danann, Mac Cuill, Mac Cecht and Mac Gréine. They landed at the estuary of Inber Scéne, named after Amergin's wife Scéne, who had died at sea. The three queens of the Tuatha Dé Danann, (Banba, Ériu and Fódla), gave, in turn, permission for Amergin and his people to settle in Ireland. Each of the sisters required Amergin to name the island after each of them, which he did: Ériu is the origin of the modern name Éire, while Banba and Fódla are used as poetic names for Ireland, much as Albion is for Great Britain. The Milesians had to win the island by engaging in battle with the three kings, their druids and warriors. Amergin acted as an impartial judge for the parties, setting the rules of engagement. The Milesians agreed to leave the island and retreat a short distance back into the ocean beyond the ninth wave, a magical boundary. Upon a signal, they moved toward the beach, but the druids of the Tuatha Dé Danann raised a magical storm to keep them from reaching land. However, Amergin sang an invocation calling upon the spirit of Ireland that has come to be known as The Song of Amergin, and he was able to part the storm and bring the ship safely to land. There were heavy losses on all sides, with more than one major battle, but the Milesians carried the day. The three kings of the Tuatha Dé Danann were each killed in single combat by three of the surviving sons of Míl, Eber Finn, Érimón and Amergin.

It has been suggested that the poem may have been "adapted" by Christian copyists of the poem, perhaps monks. An analogy might be the ancient Celtic myths that were "christianized" into tales of King Arthur, Lancelot, Galahad and the Holy Grail.

Keywords/Tags: Amergin, song, translation, Ireland, Irish, Celtic, Gaelic, Gaels, Milesian, Druid, Banshee
kevin wright Jun 10
Isolation
living from the land
on a prayer

winter so dark and wet
seals canter the mountainous waters
sheep cowering before the wind
ships torn apart by jagged stone

eyes peering through the salt stained windows
whilst oats are being ground
bubbling gruel over the fire
oily wool being teased
thick yarn being worked

a bedevilled figure appears on a doorstep
a wreck survivor shivers in soaked skin
they bring him in before a fire
tweeds for the sea angel
exhaustion and gruel draw him to sleep
he will live and reap

the months pass by
sustained by a meagre thrift
Gaelic songs of old
reviving those long gone
stories so bold
simple games to hold

hammer out the rock
lower a body
reanoint and cover with honed rock
one more enters the island of Hirta
lifted out of the hole by an ancestor and one not surviving a wreck
transcend the  drift wood hall
eternal summer celebrations for all
dancing and talking in a common spiel
watching over their offspring of Kilda zeal

storms are abating and spring thrusts in
wavering candles lights the verse
crinkled hands are opened in praise
closed eyes against the cold
warms hearts now engaged
thanks, and a prayer
are given to Hirta spirts and creators alike
St Kilda an isolated island where a singular culture, language, a fight for survival and a place where ships were often wrecked depended on a strong faith. Also known as Hirta which here represents an ancestral plane.
I'll hold you in my dreams until our first day.
I don't know your face, but I know your presence.
My heart has been yours since you first caressed my cheek
But seas between us have made me grow weary;
Will time be on our side?
Or will our shadows forever fade with the sunset?

Cumaidh mi thu na aislingean mi gus a' chiad latha againn
Chan eil mì eòlach air d' aghaidh, ach tha fios agam air do lathaireachd.
Tha mo chridhe air a bhith leatsa bho bhuail thu mo ghruaidh an toiseach
Ach tha cuantan eadar sinn air mo dhèanamh sgìth;
Am bi ùine air ar taobh?
No am bi na faileasan againn gu bràth a 'dol fodha le dol fodha na grèine?
Someday, I'll find you.
I loved you at your darkest
You only loved me at my brightest
Your silent tears were an illusion
As you devoured me until depletion
A thousand curses on the hands which broke me
And a thousand curses on the ones which you see
You will never forsake me again.

Bha gaol agam ort aig an àm as dorcha
Cha robh gaol agad orm ach aig an ìre as soilleire
B 'e manadh a bh' anns an deòir sàmbach agad
Fhad 's a bha thu gam ithe gus an robh mi air falbh
Mìle mallachd air na làmhan a bhuail mi
Agus mìle mallachd air na fheadainn a chi thu
Cha trèig thu mi a-chaoidh truilleadh
You were a ghost in my arms; a phantom in my bed.
I swear you had no reflection as if you were dead.
This affair’s death was inevitably beginning to show.
Chaos was in my heart, but emptiness was in your shadow.
Even though you walked like a lioness in her pride,
There was a vacuum of sorrow in my insides.
Internally, it was a cascade of dark, no-void form.
But externally, you were the one who brought the storm.
You forever etched your image across my skyline.
But alas, the sun is gone, and your image has died.

Bha thu an thaibhse an mo ghàirdeanan; taibhse na mo leabdaidh.
Tha mi a’ mionnachadh nach robh sgàthan agad; mar na mairbh.
Bha bàs an daimbh seo gu cinnteach a ‘toiseachadh a’ nochdabh.
Bha gealtach nam chridhe, ach bha falambh nad sgàil.
Eadhon ged a choisich thu mar uaill an leòmhann.
Bha mi làn bròn nam broinn.
Taobh a-staigh, gleann de chruth dorcha gun bheàrn
Ach air an taobh a-muigh, b ‘e thusa a-thig an stoirm.
Tha thu gu bràth air do ìomhaigh a dhèanamh thairis air faire agam.
Ach, thig a lorg, tha a ‘ghrian air falbh, agus tha an ìomhaigh agad air bàsachadh.
Bidh beatha a leantainn, eadhon às deidh bàs
Dh'ionnsaich thu dhomh sin mar a gabh thu d' anail mu dheireadh
Gus am buail an solas orm, fuirichidh mi ann an spiorad
Oir nad chridhe, fuirichidh mi as fhaisge ort
Nuair a thig an solas sin air an latha mu dheireadh agam
Bidh mi còmhla ruit nuair a bhios mi air falbh.

Life carries on, even after death.
You taught me that as you took your last breath
Until the light takes me, I will remain in spirit
For in your heart, I will remain the nearest.
When that light comes on my last day,
I will be with you as I'm spirited away.
Tha cuimhne agam air an latha fliuch sin;
An latha a thòisich thu a 'tathaich orm.
**** thu aon sùil, agus leag thu mi leis na sùilean sin.
Thuirt thu aon fhacal, agus thuit mi ann an gaol.
Beannaichidh mi an latha a lorg thu mi;
Agus beannaichidh mi an latha a thig sinn gu bhith na aon.

I remember that rainy day;
the day you first [began haunting] me.
You took one look, and leveled me with those eyes.
You said one word, and I instantly [become infatuated].
I will bless the day you found me;
And I will bless the day we become one.
Some things get lost in translation; feelings do not.
Tha 's e seallad air beulaibh orm
Thàinig sin o na h-ainglean
Tha cuibhlichean na h-ùine air stad dhuinn
Mar a ràinig sinn an am seo ann an ùine
Oir mar as fhaisg a tha mi ort
Mar as fhaisg a tha mi air neambh

English:

There is a view in front of me
That came from the angels
The wheels of time have stopped for us
As we approach this moment in time
Because the closer I am to you,
the closer I am to heaven.
Thank you to my muse for the inspiration.
I originally wrote this in my native language, Scottish Gaelic. Both the English and Gaelic versions are here.

My beloved, my darling,
Do you have a new heart?
I have one for you.
Early last morning,
My heart was saved from the
seven elements of the storms
Because dreaming is the only way
that I can see you,
My beloved, my darling.

Fàidh Cridhe

A ghràidh, m'eudail,
A bheil cridhe ùr agam?
Tha fear agam dhut.
Moch maduinn air latha roimhe
Thogadh mo chridhe
Side non seachd sian
Bhitinn a'cadal gu math a-noch
Is bruadar an aon dòig
A chi mi thu,
A ghràidh, m'eudail.
A lament don Ghaeilge

A language
in my Blood
but not - on my tongue.

The prose and poetry of my ancestors
fallen - on deaf ears.

When did we accept this anglicized assonance,
to marr the seanchaithe tale of soil and air?

The Land of Saints and Scholars -
speaking words from others tongues.
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