The HyperTexts

Poems about Ireland and the Irish
by Michael R. Burch



These are original poems and translations about Ireland and/or the Irish people and their colorful history and culture. My mother is English and one of her sisters, my aunt Barbara, married an Irishman, Patrick Gallagher. His mother spoke Gaelic and their family had either coal-black or flaming red hair. I lived in England for five years as a boy, and summered there four other years, and thus had numerous opportunities to visit with my Irish cousins, who lived within walking distance of my grandparents' house in Mattersey. Those meetings led to my lifelong interest in Ireland and her people ...



Midsummer-Eve
by Michael R. Burch

What happened to the mysterious Tuatha De Danann, to the Ban Shee (from which we get the term “banshee”) and, eventually, to the druids? This poem is an epitaph of sorts for the eldest of the Irish ancestors ...

In the ruins
of the dreams
and the schemes
of men;

when the moon
begets the tide
and the wide
sea sighs;

when a star
appears in heaven
and the raven
cries;

we will dance
and we will revel
in the devil’s
fen ...

if nevermore again.

Originally published by Penny Dreadful



Lament for the Sídhe

by Michael R. Burch

Smaller and fairer
than their closest kin,
the faeries learned only too well
never to dwell
close to the villages of larger men.

Only to dance in the starlight
when the moon was full
and men were afraid.
Only to worship in the farthest glade,
ever heeding the raven and the gull.

The eldest Irish fairies were known as the Aes Sídhe, the Aos Sí and the Sídhe. Because "Sídhe" means "mound" in Irish, they were literally the "people of the fairy mounds." The Irish poet William Butler Yeats and others later shortened the term to simply "Sídhe." In my poem the Sídhe avoid their larger, very dangerous kinfolk, and use sharp-eyed ravens and gulls as lookouts, explaining why we never see them.



The Kiss of Ceridwen
by Michael R. Burch

The kiss of Ceridwen
I have felt upon my brow,
and the past and the future
have appeared, as though a vapor,
mingling with the here and now.

And Morrigan, the Raven,
the messenger, has come,
to tell me that the gods, unsung,
will not last long
when the druids’ harps grow dumb.

According to an ancient Celtic myth, the Welsh witch Ceridwen came originally from Ireland, where she was known as the giantess Kymideu Kymeinvoll. She had a magical cauldron with the power to restore dead warriors to life. Bran the Blessed offered Ceridwen safe harbor away from Ireland, where she was greatly feared, in exchange for her cauldron. The Morrígan or "Phantom Queen" was the Irish goddess of destiny, death and battle. She would appear as a raven or crow and was the keeper of fate and dispenser of prophecy.



It Is NOT the Sword!
by Michael R. Burch

This poem illustrates the strong correlation between the names that appear in Welsh and Irish mythology. Much of this lore predates the Arthurian legends, and was assimilated as Arthur’s fame (and hyperbole) grew. Caladbolg is the name of a mythical Irish sword, while Caladvwlch is its Welsh equivalent. Caliburn and Excalibur are later variants.

“It is not the sword,
     but the man,”
           said Merlyn.
           But the people demanded a sign—
     the sword of Macsen Wledig,
Caladbolg, the “lightning-shard.”

“It is not the sword,
     but the words men follow.”
           Still, he set it in the stone
           —Caladvwlch, the sword of kings—
     and many a man did strive, and swore,
and many a man did moan.

But none could budge it from the stone.

“It is not the sword
     or the strength,”
           said Merlyn,
           “that makes a man a king,
     but the truth and the conviction
that ring in his iron word.”

“It is NOT the sword!”
     cried Merlyn,
           crowd-jostled, marveling
           as Arthur drew forth Caliburn
     with never a gasp,
with never a word,

and so became their king.

Originally published by Songs of Innocence, then by Romantics Quarterly, Neovictorian/Cochlea and Celtic Twilight



I am of Ireland
(anonymous Medieval Irish lyric, circa 13th-14th century AD)

loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I am of Ireland,
and of the holy realm of Ireland.
Gentlefolk, I pray thee:
for the sake of saintly charity,
come dance with me
in Ireland!

Ich am of Irlaunde,
Ant of the holy londe
Of Irlande.
Gode sire, pray ich the,
For of saynte charité,
Come ant daunce wyth me
In Irlaunde.

The Medieval poem above still smacks of German, with "Ich" for "I." But a metamorphosis was clearly in progress: English poetry was evolving to employ meter and rhyme, as well as Anglo-Saxon alliteration. And it's interesting to note that "ballad," "ballet" and "ball" all have the same root: the Latin ballare (to dance) and the Italian ballo/balleto (a dance). Think of a farm community assembling for a hoe-down, then dancing a two-step to music with lyrics. That is apparently how many early English poems originated. And the more regular meter of the evolving poems would suit music well.



The Song of Amergin: Modern English Translations

The "Song of Amergin" and its origins remain mysteries for the ages. The ancient poem, perhaps the oldest extant poem to originate from the British Isles, or perhaps not, was written by an unknown poet at an unknown time at an unknown location. The unlikely date 1268 BC was furnished by Robert Graves, who translated the "Song of Amergin" in his influential book The White Goddess (1948). Graves remarked that "English poetic education should, really, begin not with Canterbury Tales, not with the Odyssey, not even with Genesis, but with the Song of Amergin." Amergin is, in the words of Morgan Llywelyn, "the oldest known western European poet." The poem has been described as an invocation, as a mystical chant,

The Song of Amergin I
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I am the sea breeze
I am the ocean wave
I am the surf's thunder
I am the stag of the seven tines
I am the cliff hawk
I am the sunlit dewdrop
I am the fairest flower
I am the rampaging boar
I am the swift-swimming salmon
I am the placid lake
I am the excellence of art
I am the vale echoing voices
I am the battle-hardened spearhead
I am the God who gave you fire
Who knows the secrets of the unhewn dolmen
Who understands the cycles of the moon
Who knows where the sunset settles ...

The Song of Amergin II
a more imaginative translation by Michael R. Burch, after Robert Bridges

I am the stag of the seven tines;
I am the bull of the seven battles;
I am the boar of the seven bristles;

I am the wide flood-cresting plains;
I am the wind sweeping deep waters;
I am the salmon swimming in the shallow pool;

I am the sunlit dewdrop;
I am the fairest of flowers;
I am the crystalline fountain;

I am the hawk shrieking after its prey;
I am the demon ablaze in the campfire ashes; 
I am the battle-hardened spearhead;

I am the vale echoing voices;
I am the sea's roar;
I am the rising sea wave;

I am the meaning of poetry;
I am the God who inspires your prayers;
I am the hope of heaven;

Who else knows the ages of the moon?
Who else knows where the sunset settles?
Who else knows the secrets of the unhewn dolmen?

The Song of Amergin
by Michael R. Burch

Amergin was one of the Milesians, or sons of Mil: Gaels who invaded Ireland and defeated the mysterious Tuatha De Danann, thereby establishing a Celtic beachhead, not only on the shores of the Emerald Isle, but also in the annals of Time and Poetry.

He was our first bard
and we feel in his dim-remembered words
the moment when Time blurs . . .

and he and the Sons of Mil
heave oars as the breakers mill
till at last Ierne—green, brooding—nears,

while Some implore seas cold, fell, dark
to climb and swamp their flimsy bark
. . . and Time here also spumes, careers . . .

while the Ban Shee shriek in awed dismay
to see him still the sea, this day,
then seek the dolmen and the gloam.



Erin
by Michael R. Burch

All that’s left of Ireland is her hair—
bright carrot—and her milkmaid-pallid skin,
her brilliant air of cavalier despair,
her train of children—some conceived in sin,
the others to avoid it. For nowhere
is evidence of thought. Devout, pale, thin,
gay, nonchalant, all radiance. So fair!

How can men look upon her and not spin
like wobbly buoys churned by her skirt’s brisk air?
They buy. They grope to pat her nyloned shin,
to share her elevated, pale Despair ...
to find at last two spirits ease no one’s.

All that’s left of Ireland is the Care,
her impish grin, green eyes like leprechauns’.

My poem "Erin" was very loosely inspired by one of my Irish cousins who was a bit of a "wild child" in her youth.



Isolde's Song
by Michael R. Burch

Through our long years of dreaming to be one
we grew toward an enigmatic light
that gently warmed our tendrils. Was it sun?
We had no eyes to tell; we loved despite
the lack of all sensation—all but one:
we felt the night's deep chill, the air so bright
at dawn we quivered limply, overcome.

To touch was all we knew, and how to bask.
We knew to touch; we grew to touch; we felt
spring's urgency, midsummer's heat, fall's lash,
wild winter's ice and thaw and fervent melt.
We felt returning light and could not ask
its meaning, or if something was withheld
more glorious. To touch seemed life's great task.

At last the petal of me learned: unfold.
And you were there, surrounding me. We touched.
The curious golden pollens! Ah, we touched,
and learned to cling and, finally, to hold.

Originally published by The Raintown Review and nominated for the Pushcart Prize

According to legend, Isolde (also known as Iseult and Yseult) was an Irish princess who married King Mark of Cornwall. However, she fell in love with the Cornish knight/minstrel Tristram (also known as Tristan) and in some versions of the story used a love potion to get him; in other versions she was under the same spell. There are different versions of the denouement but they all end badly for the star-crossed lovers. After the deaths of Tristram and Isolde, a hazel and a honeysuckle grew out of their graves until the branches intertwined and could not be parted. It seems the English legend is based on an older Irish legend, The Pursuit of Diarmuid and Gráinne. In the Irish legend the aging king Fionn mac Cumhaill takes the lovely young princess Gráinne to be his wife. At the betrothal ceremony she falls in love with Diarmuid Ua Duibhne, one of Fionn's warriors. Gráinne gives a sleeping potion to everyone else, then convinces Diarmuid to elope with her. The fugitive lovers are then pursued all over Ireland by the Fianna. Later tales of the King Arthur-Sir Lancelot-Guinevere ménage à trois are likely descendents of The Pursuit of Diarmuid and Gráinne.



Hearthside
by Michael R. Burch

“When you are old and grey and full of sleep...” — W. B. Yeats

For all that we professed of love, we knew
this night would come, that we would bend alone
to tend wan fires’ dimming bars—the moan
of wind cruel as the Trumpet, gelid dew
an eerie presence on encrusted logs
we hoard like jewels, embrittled so ourselves.

The books that line these close, familiar shelves
loom down like dreary chaperones. Wild dogs,
too old for mates, cringe furtive in the park,
as, toothless now, I frame this parchment kiss.

I do not know the words for easy bliss
and so my shriveled fingers clutch this stark,
long-unenamored pen and will it: Move.
I loved you more than words, so let words prove.

"Hearthside" is a poem about the great Irish poet William Butler Yeats, thinking about the love of his life, Maude Gonne. My poem is a later take on Yeats's loose translation of a Ronsard poem, "When You Are Old." I also refer to Yeats in my elegy for the great English war poet Wilfred Owen ...



At Wilfred Owen's Grave
by Michael R. Burch

A week before the Armistice, you died.
They did not keep your heart like Livingstone's,
then plant your bones near Shakespeare's. So you lie
between two privates, sacrificed like Christ
to politics, your poetry unknown
except for one brief flurry: thirteen months
with Gaukroger beside you in the trench,
dismembered, as you babbled, as the stench
of gangrene filled your nostrils, till you clenched
your broken heart together and the fist
began to pulse with life, so close to death
.

Or was it at Craiglockhart, in the care
of "ergotherapists" that you sensed life
is only in the work, and made despair
a thing that Yeats despised, but also breath,
a mouthful's merest air, inspired less
than wrested from you, and which we confess
we only vaguely breathe: the troubled air
that even Sassoon failed to share, because
a man in pieces is not healed by gauze,
and breath's transparent, unless we believe
the words are true despite their lack of weight
and float to us like chlorine—scalding eyes,
and lungs, and hearts. Your words revealed the fate
of boys who retched up life here, gagged on lies.

Originally published by The Chariton Review



The Celtic Cross at Île Grosse

by Michael R. Burch

“I actually visited the island and walked across those mass graves [of 30,000 Irish men, women and children], and I played a little tune on me whistle. I found it very peaceful, and there was relief there.” – Paddy Maloney of The Chieftans

There was relief there,
and release,
on Île Grosse
in the spreading gorse
and the cry of the wild geese . . .

There was relief there,
without remorse
when the tin whistle lifted its voice
in a tune of artless grief,
piping achingly high and longingly of an island veiled in myth.
And the Celtic cross that stands here tells us, not of their grief,
but of their faith and belief—
like the last soft breath of evening lifting a fallen leaf.

When ravenous famine set all her demons loose,
driving men to the seas like lemmings,
they sought here the clemency of a better life, or death,
and their belief in God gave them hope, a sense of peace.

These were proud men with only their lives to owe,
who sought the liberation of a strange new land.
Now they lie here, ragged row on ragged row,
with only the shadows of their loved ones close at hand.

And each cross, their ancient burden and their glory,
reflects the death of sunlight on their story.

And their tale is sad—but, O, their faith was grand!



Bio: Michael R. Burch is an American poet who lives in Nashville, Tennessee with his wife Beth, their son Jeremy, and three outrageously spoiled puppies. His poems, epigrams, translations, essays, articles, reviews, short stories and letters have appeared more than 6,000 times in publications which include TIME, USA Today, The Hindu, BBC Radio 3, CNN.com, Daily Kos, The Washington Post, Light Quarterly, The Lyric, Measure, Writer's Digest—The Year's Best Writing, The Best of the Eclectic Muse, Unlikely Stories and hundreds of other literary journals, websites and blogs. Mike Burch is also the founder and editor-in-chief of The HyperTexts, a former columnist for the Nashville City Paper and, according to Google's rankings, a relevant online publisher of poems about the Holocaust, Hiroshima, the Trail of Tears, Darfur, Haiti, Gaza and the Palestinian Nakba. He has two published books, Violets for Beth (White Violet Press, 2012) and O, Terrible Angel (Ancient Cypress Press, 2013). A third book, Auschwitz Rose, is still in the chute but long delayed. Burch's poetry has been translated into fourteen languages and set to music by nine composers. His poem "First They Came for the Muslims" has been adopted by Amnesty International for its Words That Burn anthology, a free online resource for students and educators. Burch has also served as editor of International Poetry and Translations for the literary journal Better Than Starbucks.

For an expanded bio, circum vitae and career timeline of the poet, please click here: Michael R. Burch Expanded Bio.

Related Pages: "Davenport Tomorrow" Analysis, "Epitaph" Analysis, "Neglect" Analysis, "Passionate One" Analysis, "Something" Analysis, "Self Reflection" Analysis, "Will There Be Starlight" Analysis

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