Friday, February 24, 2017

Fáilte don Éan or Welcome to the Bird by Séamus Dall Mac Cuarta (1650 – 1733)

I heard the first Cuckoo call this morning, 21st April 2013, echoing across the bogs and lakes at Poll na gCloch, near Barna, in west Galway. Around here the arrival of the Cuckoo and his signature call, is the definite sign of Spring, and although a few weeks late, it is surely better late than never.

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.

An tAmhrán
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.

'O blithe new-comer! I have heard,
I hear thee and rejoice:
O cuckoo shall I call thee Bird,
Or but a wandering Voice?
The same whom in my school-boy days
I listen'd to; that cry
Which made me look a thousand ways
In bush, and tree, and sky.
O bless'd Bird! the earth we pace
Again appears to be,
An unsubstantial, fairy place,
That is fit home for Thee!

The Cuckoo; 

The cuckoo is an amazing bird really, with an extraordinary life-cycle. The Cuckoo over-winters in Africa and migrates here and to other northern European countries to mate, in April. 
The cuckoo is one of almost 50 'brood parasite' birds in the world. The male Cuckoo does all the calling, from dawn to dusk, attracting a female mate and also spotting suitable nests for his young. The female cuckoo lays her eggs, not in her own nest, but in that of specific smaller birds. She waits 'til the hen leaves the nest to feed and quick as a flash, the female cuckoo lays one egg in the vacated nest in less than 30 seconds and flies away, taking with her one of the other bird's eggs, before the smaller bird returns. While birds do count their eggs, they do not differentiate among them. After hatching, the fledgling cuckoo baby proceeds to eat all round it and the other chicks (of the surrogate mother) die of starvation or trampling, or eviction.  The demanding young cuckoo chicks do this in order to have all the foster-parent's care and attention showered on themselves, the shameless usurpers.
The male cuckoo stops calling in late June and presumably he and she return to Africa. The young birds follow suit later in the year, after they have fully grown (they look like a small hawk) usually in September, though how they know where to fly to, is anyone's guess.
The cuckoo's journey to Ireland has been summed up very briefly in the following lines of a children's skipping rhyme:-
'The cuckoo comes in April,
He sings his song in May;
He plays his tune in the middle of June,
And then he flies away.'

,First published by Brian Nolan on April 13, 2013

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First published by Brian Nolan on 13th April 2013. 
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1 comment:

steve folan said...

love it. Reminds me of growing up near Clifden. Thanks much from Chicago on a suitably soft afternoon. Steve