The School Bag

The Yellow Bittern

Cathal Buí Mac Giolla Ghunna

Yellow bittern, I’m sad it’s over.
     Your bones are frozen and all caved in.
It wasn’t hunger but thirst and craving
    That left you floundering on the shore.

What odds is it now about Troy’s destruction
     With you on the flagstones upside down,
Who never injured or hurt a creature
     And preferred bog-water to any wine?

Bittern, bittern, your end was awful,
     Your perished skull there on the road,
You that would call me every morning
     With your gargler's song as you guzzled mud.
And that’s what’s ahead of your brother Cahal
     (You know what they say about me and the stuff),
But they’ve got it wrong, and the truth is simple:
     A drop would have saved that croaker’s life.

I am saddened, bittern, and broken-hearted
     To find you in scrags in the rushy tufts
And the big rats scampering down the ratpaths 
     To wake your carcass and have their fun.
If you could have got word to me in time, bird,
     That you were in trouble and craved a sup
I’d have struck the fetters of those lough waters
     And have wet your thrapple with the blow I struck.

Your common birds do not concern me,
     The blackbird, say, or the thrush or crane,
But the yellow bittern, my heartsome namesake
     With my looks and locks, he’s the one I mourn.
Constantly he was drinking, drinking,
     And by all accounts I am just the same.
But every drop I get I’ll down it
     For fear I might get my end from drouth.

The woman I love says to give it up now
     Or else I’ll go to an early grave,
But I say no and keep resisting 
     For taking drink’s what prolongs your days.
You saw for yourselves a while ago
     What happened the bird when its throat went dry;
So, my friends and neighbors, let it flow:
     You’ll be stood no rounds in eternity. 
Irish - Early 18th century - translated by Seamus Heaney