Last Song

Aoghan O’Rathaile
Image of Aoghan O’Rathaile’s poem in Irish Image of Aoghan O’Rathaile’s poem in Irish

Last Song

translated by Daniel Tobin

                   The last bard on his death bed, destitute

                   and despondent, writes to a friend …

A version after Aoghan O’Rathaile (1670-1726)

I will not cry out till they have put me in the narrow box,

And, if I did, I swear by the book no help would come;

All of our strong-handed chieftains in lines running back

Have had their courses stopped, their bold lives gutted.

Like a flung wave my head trembles; my last hope lost.

My own gut feels ripped open; arrows jut into my heart —

Our kine, our drink, our hungry hills and fields, our kin

All gone for fuck-all to that gang of bloody Sassenachs.

Shannon and Liffey, and the melodious Lee reel out of tune

With the Blackwater’s Bride and Brick, the ambling Boyne.

And Lough Derg’s strands and Toime’s rollers, both run red

Since that knave upped the ante on the true-crowned king.

Let this be my mad dog’s growl instead of unending tears.

Grief bends my soul like a limb, burdened and abandoned,

And no song takes hold when I brood on mucky tracks,

Only the squeal of a butchered pig that pays for my hearth.

Some lout lords it over Rinne, Cille, this bard’s frayed patch.

He’s fleeced the townlands clean with his foul-play and greed.

The plumed brute who owns all scores everything to shreds.

He gives no favor to my kind, though we share one blood.

Out of the vast ruins of ancients from whom I come

A mighty crashing rush ploughs through my every thought

As from pure springs born on the crests of Kerry’s Reeks,

Shed with the Blackwater’s into the tidal flats of Youghal.

I’m done now, picked clean, now that death’s cliff is on me.

Since the dragon warriors of Laune, and Leane, and Lee

Have been cast down, I go to my beloved heroes in the grave,

The good lords who’ve fostered me from before Christ’s death.


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