Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A poem which attempts to dissuade you from bringing your Yellow Bittern to the Off Licence

Ah yes, tis time for this collection in progress to take on the more serious themes, and indeed carve out its niche in the canon of Irish Literature - taking inspiration from its forebearers, standing on the shoulders of giants etc etc.

With all this in mind I give you

A poem which attempts to dissuade you from bringing your Yellow Bittern to the Off Licence
Don't bring your Yellow Bittern to the Off Licence
I don't care if he offers you tuppence or Thripence
To bring him, listen to me, for this is my sense
The idea would be so far from sensible
Despite all the drink there he'd still end up parched
For it's only bog water that gets him on the march
Or he'd maybe eat reeds for his fix of some starch
No, vodka would leave him distensible
He'd nest in the peanuts and skulk round the cans
Oh he wouldn't pick up for you too many fans
This chestnut necked bird would disrupt all your plans
Your drinks order incomprehensible
Oh leave him alone, leave him down by the shore
Don't give him a shot, or a glass, oh no more
for this flyer would be left all hungover and sore
No Off Licence for your Yellow Bittern today

Background and academic notes:

The last time a poem of this beauty and originality referring to the yellow bittern bird was written would have been between the 17th and 18th Century in Ireland when Cathal Buí Mac Giolla Ghunna (more on him here) wrote his effort on the poor Bittern, an Bonnán Buí, who died of thirst, which resolved the poet to never let himself get thirsty again. The below is Seamus Heaney's translation, one of many.

By Seamus Heaney
(Translated from An Bonnán Buí in the Irish
of Cathal Buí Mac Giolla Ghunna)

Yellow bittern, there you are now,
Skin and bone on the frozen shore.
It wasn’t hunger but thirst for a mouthful
That left you foundered and me heartsore.
What odds is it now about Troy’s destruction
With you on the flagstones upside down,
Who never injured or hurt a creature
And preferred bog water to any wine?

Bittern, bittern, your end was awful,
Your perished skull there on the road,
You that would call me every morning
With your gargler’s song as you guzzled mud.
And that’s what’s ahead of your brother Cathal
(You know what they say about me and the stuff)
But they’ve got it wrong and the truth is simple:
A drop would have saved that croaker’s life.

I am saddened, bittern, and broken hearted
To find you in scrags in the rushy tufts,
And the big rats scampering down the rat paths
To wake your carcass and have their fun.
If you could have got word to me in time, bird,
That you were in trouble and craved a sup,
I’d have struck the fetters of those lough waters
And wet your thrapple with the blow I struck.

Your common birds do not concern me,
The blackbird, say, or the thrush or crane,
But the yellow bittern, my heartsome namesake
With my looks and locks, he’s the one I mourn.
Constantly he was drinking, drinking,
And by all accounts I’ve a name for it too,
But every drop I get I’ll sink it
For fear I might get my end from drouth.

The woman I love says to give it up now
Or else I’ll go to an early grave,
But I say no and keep resisting
For taking drink’s what prolongs your days.
You saw for yourself a while ago
What happened to the bird when its throat went dry;
So my friends and neighbours, let it flow:
You’ll be stood no rounds in eternity.

And here's the original - now sung as a Sean Nós number, with a mournful tune in most versions that I've heard of... you'll find it too on youtube, if you care.

An Bonnán Buí

A bhonnán bhuí, is é mo léan do luí,
Is do chnámha sínte tar éis do ghrinn,
Is chan easba bidh ach díobháil dí
a d'fhág i do luí thú ar chúl do chinn.
Is measa liom féin ná scrios na Traoi
Tú bheith i do luí ar leaca lom',
Is nach ndearna tú díth ná dolaidh sa tír,
Is nárbh fhearra leat fíon ná uisce poll.

A bhonnáin álainn, is é mo mhíle crá thú,
Do chúl ar lár amuigh romham sa tslí,
Is gurbh iomaí lá a chluininn do ghrág
Ar an láib is tú ag ól na dí.
Is é an ní a deir cách le do dheartháir Cáthal,
Go bhfaighidh sé bás mar siúd, más fíor,
Ach ní hamhlaidh atá, siúd an préachán breá
Chuaigh in éag ar ball le díth na dí.

A bhonnáin óig, is é mo mhíle brón
Thú bheith sínte fuar i measc na dtom,
Is na luchaí móra ag triall chun do thórraimh,
Ag déanamh spóirt agus pléisiúir ann;
Is dá gcuirfeá scéala in am faoi mo dhéinse
Go raibh tú i ngéibhinn, nó i mbroid fá dheoch,
Do bhrisfinn béim duit ar an loch úd Bhéasaigh
A fhliuchfadh do bhéal is do chorp isteach.

Ní hiad bhur n-éanlaith atá mé ag éagnach,
An lon, an smaolach, nó an chorr ghlas,
Ach mo bhonnán buí, bhí lán de chroí,
Is gur chosúil liom féin é ina ghné is ina dhath.
Bhíodh sé go síoraí ag ól na dí,
Is deir na daoine go mbímse mar sin seal;
Níl aon deor dá bhfaighinn nach ligfinn síos,
Ar eagla go bhfaighinnse bás den tart.

Is é a d'iarr mo stór orm ligint den ól,
Nó nach mbeinnse beo ach seal beag gearr;
Ach dúirt mé léithi go dtug sí an bhréag,
Is gurbh fhaide mo shaolsa an deoch úd a fháil.
Nach bhfaiceann sibh éan an phíobáin réidh
A chuaigh in éag den tart ar ball;
Is a chomharsain chléibh, fliuchaíg bhur mbéal
Óir chan fhaigheann sibh braon i ndiaidh bhur mbáis.


Titus said...

Both brilliant.
Thripence! Distensible!
Thrapple! Drouth!

Fabulous choice of creature and location. I never will again.

Totalfeckineejit said...

A true classic! (Yours, not theirs)
I am mightily smitten with your alcohol free bittern.

Rhyme of the week prize goes to ..distensible/incomprehensible

Kat Mortensen said...

"drinks order incomprehensible" I'm rolling here! Love these, Niamh!


NanU said...

Birders everywhere take note!

Niamh B said...

Thank you Titus, make sure you don't.
Tks TFE - theirs ain't bad either though, to be fair
Tks Kat, glad you're enjoying em
Thanks NanU - we can only hope they are listening out there somewhere.

Peter Goulding said...

The poor fecker. Only two poems written about him in 200 years.
What's wrong with Heaney? Can't he write any of his own stuff?

The Dead Acorn said...

When I find myself feeling all lonely and horr’ble
I find my mood lightens at the sound of her warble
And I don’t care for drinking without my best bud
Can I buy her Kahlua and tell her it’s mud?

There's nothing worse than a hungover bittern. Bitterngrumpy, they are.

Totalfeckineejit said...

Fer fex sake give the little fucker a drink.

Niamh B said...

Peter - I guess you run out of things to do in poetry after the first 80 years. that's 49ish more years of production for me.
Acorn - your talent astounds - I wish I'd thought of the kahlua and mud.
TFE - she can have a drink, she just can't go to the off licence today

GUNS said...

beautiful.... just beautiful :-)

and yellow bitterns in off-licenses?.. terrible things to buy drink for!