THE EARTH MOTHER'S
from the Old Irish
original version published 1975
this vsrsion published 1994
with photographs from
the translator's archive
for a high-resolution picture
My life is
ebbing: let it drain -
unlike the tide which turns again,
the boiling, unbegotten sea.
gown was always new
am now so pitifully thin
that this old shift will outlive me.
They want only money now.
When I was young, love was what
I wanted - and so richly got.
then were generous,
and in return they asked a lot.
They ask and give so little now.
5. I had chariots and horses then,
given by admiring kings.
I drank mead and wine with them.
of withered women I drink whey,
myself a withered onion-skin.
are bony now, and thin;
once they plied their loving trade
upon the bodies of great kings.
are bony, wasted things,
unfit to stroke an old man's head,
much less a young man's glowing skin
are happy in the Spring,
but I am sad and worse than sad,
for I'm an old and useless thing.
10. Nobody round me is glad;
My hair is grey and going thin.
My veil conceals what is well hid.
had bright cloth on my head
and went with kings - now I dread
the going to the king of kings.
The winter winds ravish the sea.
No nobleman will visit me -
no, not even a slave will come.
ago I sailed the sea
of youth and beauty wantonly.
Now my passion too has gone.
Summer I wear a shawl
It's many a day since I was warm.
The Spring of youth has turned to Fall.
Wintry age's smothering pall
is wrapping slowly round my limbs.
My hair's like lichen, my paps like galls.
I don't regret my lust and rage,
for even had I been demure
I still would wear the cloak of age.
that wooded hillsides wear
is beautiful; their foliage
is woven with eternal care.
I am old: the eyes that once
burned bright for men are now decayed:
the torch has burned out its sconce.
My life is ebbing; let it drain
unlike the sea which flows again,
the man-torn and tormented sea.
and ebb: what the flow brings
the ebb soon takes away again
- the flow and the ebb following.
and the ebb following:
the flow's joy and the ebb's pain,
the flow's honey, the ebb's sting.
has not quite flooded me.
There is a recess still quite dry
though many were my company.
Well might Jesus come to me
in my recess - could I deny
a son of man my only hospitality?
is laid upon them all
whose ebb always succeeds their flow,
whose rising sinks into their fall.
my veiled and sunken eyes
could see more than their own ebb
there's nothing they would recognise.
island of the sea
where flow always comes after ebb:
What flow will follow ebb in me?
I am wretched. What was flow
is now all ebb. Ebbing I go.
After the Tide, the Undertow.
to the translator reading this translation.