Sunday, September 4, 2016

Poems I Journey With 2

Given the hundred year celebrations of that most significant of years in the history of our nationhood I shall  quote in full another favourite poem from that tragic period of bloodshed. I have always loved the writings - prose and poetry, whether in Gaelic or in English - of Patrick Pearse or Padraig Mac Piarais as he is better known in Irish Gaelic. One of my favourite poems of his in the Gaelic is the famous much anthologized one "Fornocht do chonac thú" which we learned by heart when we were at school. If the reader of these lines knows Gaelic at all s/he will appreciate the richness of the language, especially the apt and resounding use of assonance therein. To read it aloud in the Gaelic is to become enthralled and enchanted by the magic and the beauty of the language and also to be carried away with the depths of Pearse's vision of the Gaelic dream of freedom and the thoughts of his own imminent death. The translation that follows is my own:
Fornocht do chonac thú
Fornocht do chonac thú,
a áille na háille,
is do dhallas mo shúil
ar eagla go stánfainn.

Do chualas do cheol,
a bhinne na binne,
is do dhúnas mo chluas
ar eagla go gclisfinn.

Do bhlaiseas do bhéal
a mhilse na milse,
is do chruas mo chroí
ar eagla mo mhillte.

Do dhallas mo shúil,
is mo chluas do dhúnas;
do chruas mo chroí,
is mo mhian do mhúchas.

Do thugas mo chúl
ar an aisling do chumas,
‘s ar an ród so romham

m’aghaidh do thugas.

Do thugas mo ghnúis
ar an ród so romham,
ar an ngníomh do-chim,
‘s ar an mbás do gheobhad.

Some of my pupils who received the national flag for the school from the President

Naked I saw you,
O beauty of beauties,
And I shielded my eyes
For fear I should stare.

I heard your music,
O harmony of harmonies,
And I closed my ears
For fear I should fail.

I tasted your mouth,
O sweetness of sweetnesses,
And I hardened my heart
For fear I should succumb.

I shielded my eyes,
And I closed my ears,
I hardened my heart
And I smothered my desire.

I turned my back
On the vision I had created,
And to this road before me
I turned my attention.

I have turned my attention
To this road before me,

To the deed that I see
And the death I shall die.

Patrick Pearse was at once a visionary and a mystic as well as being a teacher and revolutionary. Mystics and visionaries are too often misunderstood and in that misunderstanding of their motives, many can accuse them of being extremists. Unfortunately, many commentators have well and truly made that mistake.  Pearse was enchanted by the vision of a Gaelic and free Ireland, very Romantic and almost Utopian in its vision. And so the apparition of that Ireland, that alluring Ireland, which in the poetic tradition of the Gaelic language would always have been visualized as a young woman who is oppressed and enslaved by the British. (In the tradition of the "Aisling" or "Dream of Freedom" poem, the poet always encountered a "spéirbhean" or "lovely lady of the sky" who is in fact Ireland herself). With this in mind, we can now see the vision that he had to shield himself from, that literary vision of Gaelic enchantment, the lure its literature, the sweetness of its music, the satisfaction of the emotions and the love for its women folk.  However, another more bloody vision of the sacrifice of his life in revolutionary action for the freedom of Ireland beckoned to him - this was the highway to the Uprising, "this road" before him that led to the 1916 Easter Rising and the death of many. 

Like the previous poem, "The Wayfarer," "Fornocht do chonac thú" is suffused with the notion of the transience of life and the reality of human mortality.  However, it contrasts two clashing visions, one of the sacrifice of death for the victory of freedom and the other, the enchanted world of Celtic or Gaelic mysticism.  Pearse knew he had to sacrifice his life so that his Gaelic vision might be realized.

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