The School Bag

from The Lament for Arthur O’Leary

Eibhlín Dhubh Ní Chonaill

My love forever!
The day I first saw you
At the end of the market-house,
My eye observed you,
My heart approved you,
I fled from my father with you,
Far from my home with you.

I never repented it:
You whitened a parlor for me,
Painted rooms for me,
Reddened ovens for me,
Baked fine bread for me,
Basted meat for me,
Slaughtered beasts for me;
I slept in ducks’ feathers
Till midday milking-time,
Or more if it pleased me.

My friend forever!
My mind remembers
That fine spring day
How well your hat suited you,
Bright gold-banded,
Sword silver-hilted —
Right hand steady —
Threatening aspect —
Trembling terror
On treacherous enemy —
You poised for a canter
On your slender bay horse.
The Saxons bowed to you,
Down to the ground to you,
Not for love of you
But for deadly fear of you,
Though you lost your life to them,
Oh my soul’s darling.

My friend you were forever!
I knew nothing of your murder
Till your horse came to the stable
With the reins beneath her trailing,
And your heart’s blood on her shoulders
Staining the tooled saddle
Where you used to sit and stand.
My first leap reached the threshold,
My second reached the gateway,
My third leap reached the saddle.

I struck my hands together
And I made the bay horse gallop
As fast as I was able,
Till I found you dead before me
Beside a little furze-bush.
Without Pope or bishop,
Without priest or cleric
To read the death psalms for you,
But a spent old woman only
Who spread her cloak to shroud you —
Your heart’s blood was still flowing;
I did not stay to wipe it
But filled my hands and drank it.

My friend and my treasure!
It’s bad treatment for a hero
To lie hooded in a coffin,
The warm-hearted rider
That fished in bright rivers,
That drank in great houses
With white-breasted women.
My thousand sorrows
That I’ve lost my companion.

Bad luck and misfortune
Come down on you, Morris!
That snatched my protector,
My unborn child’s father:
Two of them walking
And the third still within me,
And not likely I’ll bear it.

My friend and my pleasure!
When you went out through the gateway
You turned and came back quickly,
You kissed your two children,
You kissed me on the forehead,
You said: ‘Eileen, rise up quickly,
Put your affairs in order
With speed and with decision.
I am leaving home now
And there’s no telling if I’ll return.’
I mocked this way of talking,
He had said it to me so often.

My friend and my dear!
Oh bright-sworded rider,
Rise up this moment,
Put on your fine suit
Of clean, noble cloth,
Put on your black beaver,
Put on your gauntlets,
Up with your whip;
Outside your mare is waiting.
Take the narrow road east,
Where the trees thin before you,
Where streams narrow before you,
Where men and women will bow before you,
If they keep their old manners —
But I fear they have lost them.

My love and my dear!
Your stooks are standing,
Your yellow cows milking;
On my heart is such sorrow
That all Munster could not cure it,
Nor the wisdom of the sages.
Till Art O’Leary returns
There will be no end to the grief
That presses down on my heart,
Closed up tight and firm
Like a trunk that is locked
And the key is mislaid.

All you women out there weeping,
Wait a little longer;
We’ll drink to Art son of Connor
And the souls of all the dead,
Before he enters the school —
Not learning wisdom or music
But weighed down by earth and stones.  

 Irish - 1773 - translated by Eilis Dillon