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Stories, Myths & Legends

The Lament of the Old Woman of Beare

ANONYMOUS (10th century) 

Cailleach.jpg (37152 bytes)

 

In this version from Ancient Irish Poetry Kuno Meyer has left out twelve quatrains. ”The reason why she was called the Old Woman of Beare was that she had fifty foster-children in Beare. She, had seven periods of youth one after the other, so that every man who had lived with her came to die of old age, and her grandsons and great-grandsons were tribes and races. For a hundred years she wore the veil which Cumine had blessed upon her head. Thereupon old age and infirmity came to her.”

 

EBB TIDE to me as of the sea! 

Old age causes me reproach. 

Though I may grieve thereat – 

Happiness comes out of fat. 

I am the Old Woman of Beare, 

An ever-new smock I used to wear: 

Today – such is my mean estate – 

I wear not even a cast-off shift.

It is riches 

Ye love, it is not men: 

In the time when we lived 

It was men.

Swift chariots,

 And steeds that carried off the prize,– 

Their day of plenty has been, 

A blessing on the King who lent them!

 

My body with bitterness has dropt 

Towards the abode we know:

When the Son of God deems it time

Let Him come to deliver His behest. 

My arms when they are seen 

Now are bony and thin: 

Once they would fondle and caress 

The bodies of glorious kings. 

When my arms are seen, 

And they bony and thin, 

They are not fit, I declare, 

To be raised over comely men.

 

The maidens rejoice 

When May-day comes to them: 

For me, sorrow the share; 

I am wretched, I am an old hag. 

I hold no sweet converse. 

No wethers are killed for my wedding-feast, 

My hair is all but grey, 

The mean veil over it is no pity. 

I do not deem it ill 

That a white veil be on my head; 

Time was when cloths of every hue 

Bedecked my head as we drank good ale.

 

The Stone of the Kings on Femen, 

The Chair of Ronan in Bregon, 

Long since storms have reached them: 

The slabs of their tombs are old and decayed.

 

The wave of the great sea talks aloud, 

Winter has arisen: 

Fermuid the son of Mugh today 

I do not expect on a visit.

 

I know what they are doing: 

They row and row across 

The reeds of the Ford of Alma – 

Cold is the place where they sleep.

 

’Tis ”O my God!’’ 

To me today, whatever will come of it.

 I must cover myself even in the sun:

 The time is at hand that shall renew me.

 

Youth’s summer in which we were 

I have spent with its autumn: 

Winter-age which overwhelms all men, 

To me has come its beginning. 

Amen! Woe is me! 

Every acorn has to drop 

After feasting by shining candles 

To be in the gloom of a prayer-house!

 

I had my day with kings

 Drinking mead and wine: 

To-day I drink whey-water 

Among shrivelled old hags. 

I see upon my cloak the hair of old age, 

My reason has beguiled me: 

Grey is the hair that grows through my skin – 

’Tis thus! I am an old woman. 

The flood-wave And the second ebb tide – 

They have reached me, 

I know them well.

 

The flood wave 

Will not reach the silence of my kitchen:

Though many are my company in darkness, 

A hand has been laid upon them all. 

O happy the isle of the great sea 

Which the flood reaches after the ebb! 

As for me, I do not expect 

Flood after ebb to come to me. 

There is scarce a little place toda

That I can recognise: 

What was on flood 

Is all on ebb.

Translated by Kuno Meyer

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