Hearing his two note carillon this morning, brought to my mind the three-room national or primary school I attended in Duniry, near to the Sliabh Aughty mountains, between Loughrea and Woodford, in South Galway, where my dad was headmaster. He was a tough task-master, as befitted his time, a proponent of corporal punishment, no nonsense teaching and strict rules, but we all learned and did ok and above all he did instill in me a love of poetry, both in English and Irish. The cuckoo call reminded me of the wonderful poem by Seamus Dall MacCuarta who penned this about 400 years ago in his native Irish, Gaeilge or Gaelic language.
This bitter-sweet tribute to the cuckoo was written by Ulster poet, Séamus Dall Mac Cuarta (1650 – 1733). He was blind, a victim of smallpox or one of the many other debilitating diseases that took more children back then than were spared. His voice echoes like the cuckoo's call across the ages, the easy cadence of his lines and the wonderfully poignant words, well only a blind man could see the beauty of the arrival of spring in this way!
Despite losing his sight at an early age Seamus Dall Mac Cuarta lived to achieve an enduring reputation as one of the masters of poetry in Irish. Don't be put off by the Irish version, the language and words are easy to understand and pronounce. Go on, give it a go, try reading it aloud in Irish first, don't be embarrassed don't worry about your accent, or pronunciation. Say the poem, hear your voice echo the words of a long-forgotten poet, in a magical, mysterious, still living language, the language of the Celts.
Here is his lovely poem, first in Irish, and then followed by a less-rich version in English. Enjoy!
Fáilte don Éan (Welcome to the bird)
Fáilte don éan is binne ar chraoibh
Labhras ar caoin na dtor le gréin;
Domsa is fada tuirse an tsaoil
Nach bhfeiceann í le teacht an fhéir.
Cluinim, cé nach bhfeicim a gné,
Seinnm an éan darb ainm cuach;
Amharc uirthi i mbarra géag
Mo thuirse ghéar nach mise fuair.
Gach neach dá bhfeiceann cruth an éin,
Amharc Éireann deas is tuaidh,
Blátha na dtulca ar gach taoibh,
Dóibh is aoibhinn bheith dá lua.
Mo thuirse nach bhfuaireas bua ar m’amharc d’fháil
Go bhfeicim ar uaigneas uaisle an duilliúir ag fás!
Cuid de mo ghruaim – ní ghluaisim chun cruinnithe le cách
Ar amharc na gcuach ar bhruach na coille go sámh.
Welcome to the Bird
Welcome to the bird, the sweetest in the trees
Who sings the beauty of the shrubs to the sun;
For so long a time I’ve been tired of life
For I cannot see her when the grass is new.
I can hear it, though I cannot see her,
The chant of the bird they call cuckoo;
To look on her in the branches above
‘Tis my bitter grief that I don’t have that gift.
Each one may behold the charm of the bird,
For all Ireland is gazing, north and south,
With all of the flowers on the hills around,
And everyone can speak of such things with delight.
My sorrow that I did not receive the gift of sight
So that in my loneliness I could watch the beauty of the leaves as they grow!
Part of my sadness – I’m not along with all those people
As they go at their leisure to watch the cuckoos at the forest’s rim.
Other Cuckoo Poems
Of course many other poets have written about the cuckoo, William Wordsworth among them.