Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Imagine being loved like that

I don't surf the net so much as lurch it, like someone staggering drunk through the snow whose attention keeps getting distracted, so it's no real surprise that, having started out checking the blog of a Scottish Highlander called Pat the Chooks, who runs poultry of all sorts and spends a lot of time walking through and taking stunning photos of the Highland landscapes, I've somehow ended up in the great John Huston's final film. I assume this kind of thing happens to everyone.

A commenter was asking the Scottish blogger whether there were any 'snipes' in the region he lives in, and the word tripped a memory of one of the most astonishing poems I've ever come across, an anonymous Gaelic poem called 'The Grief of a Girl's Heart' that one of the dinner guests recites a bit of in Huston's 1987 film The Dead. When he finishes reciting, one of the guests says wonderingly: 'Imagine being loved like that.'

The poem, for which back then I searched for days in libraries but which is of course now online, was translated from the Gaelic by Augusta, Lady Gregory (above, image from here -- Yeats's Lady Gregory, whom I discovered, while I was looking for a pic of her (see 'lurch', above), that Colm Tóibín has written a biography of, called Lady Gregory's Toothbrush, which I'll now have to chase up as well. But here's the poem.

The Grief of a Girl's Heart

O Donall og, if you go across the sea, bring myself with you and do not forget it; and you will have a sweetheart for fair days and market days, and the daughter of the King of Greece beside you at night.

It is late last night the dog was speaking of you; the snipe was speaking of you in her deep marsh. It is you are the lonely bird through the woods; and that you may be without a mate until you find me.

You promised me, and you said a lie to me, that you would be there before me where the sheep are flocked; I gave a whistle and three hundred cries to you, and I found nothing there but a bleating lamb.

You promised me a thing that was hard for you, a ship of gold under a silver mast; twelve towns with a market in all of them, and a fine white court by the side of the sea.

You promised me a thing that is not possible, that you would give me gloves of the skin of a fish; that you would give me shoes of the skin of a bird, and a suit of the dearest silk in Ireland.

O Donall og, it is I would be better to you than a high, proud, spendthrift lady: I would milk the cow; I would bring help to you; and if you were hard pressed, I would strike a blow for you.

O, ochone, and it's not with hunger or with wanting food, or drink, or sleep, that I am growing thin, and my life is shortened; but it is the love of a young man that has withered me away.

It is early in the morning that I saw him coming, going along the road on the back of a horse; he did not come to me; he made nothing of me; and it is on my way home that I cried my fill.

When I go by myself to the well of loneliness, I sit down and go through my trouble; when I see the world and do not see my boy, he that has an amber shade in his hair.

It was on that Sunday I gave my love to you; the Sunday that is last before Easter Sunday. And myself on my knees reading the Passion; and my two eyes giving love to you forever.

O, aya! My mother, give myself to him; and give him all that you have in the world; get out yourself to ask for alms, and do not come back and forward looking for me.

My mother said to me not to be talking with you to-day, or to-morrow, or on the Sunday; it was a bad time she took for telling me that; it was shutting the door after the house was robbed.

My heart is as black as the blackness of the sloe, or as the black coal that is on the smith's forge; or as the sole of a shoe left in white halls; it was you put that darkness over my life.

You have taken the east from me; you have taken the west from me; you have taken what is before me and what is behind me; you have taken the moon, you have taken the sun from me; and my fear is great that you have taken God from me.

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