A Bé Find

A Bé Find, in raga lim,
i tír n-ingnad i-fil rind?
Is barr sobairche folt and;
is dath snechtai corp co ind.

Is and nád-bí muí ná taí.
Gela dét and; dubai braí;
is lí súla lín ar slúag;
is dath sion and cech grúad.

Is corcur maige cach muin;
is lí súa ugae luin;
cid caín déicsiu Maige Fáil,
annam íar ngnáis Maige Máir.

Cid caín lib coirm Inse Fáil,
is mescu coirm Tíre Máir.
Amra tíre tír as-biur;
ní thét oäc and ré siun;

Srotha téithmillsi tar tír,
rogu de mid ocus fhín,
doíni delgnaidi cen on,
combart cen peccad, cen chol.

At-chiam cách for cach leth,
ocus níconn-acci nech:
teimel imorbais Ádaim
dodon-aircheil ar áraim.

A ben, día rís mo thúaith tind,
is barr óir bias fort chind;
muc úr, laith, lemnacht la lind
rot-bía lim and, a Bé Find.

O Fair Lady

O Fair Lady, will you come with me
to the wondrous land where harmony is?
Hair is like the crown of the primrose there,
and the body is snow-coloured to the ends.

In that land mine and thine do not exist.
Teeth are white there; brows are black;
the number of our hosts is a delight of the eye;
every cheek there is the colour of foxglove.

The surface of every plain is purple;
the blackbird’s eggs are a delight to the eye:
though fair it is, seeing the Plain of Fál,
it is desolate after knowledge of the Great Plain.

Though you love the beer of the Ireland,
there in the Great Land beer is more intoxicating.
In the wonder of a land, the land of which I speak,
there the young do not go before the old.

Gentle sweet streams water the earth there,
the best of mead and wine is drunk,
fine and flawless are the dwellers of that land;
conception there is without sin or guilt.

We see everyone upon everyside,
and no-one sees us:
it is the darkness caused by Adam’s sin
which hides us from reckoning.

O lady, if you should come to my proud folk,
a crown shall be upon your head;
fresh pork, ale, milk and drink
shall you have there with me, O Fair Lady.

I’m neither a lady nor fair, but I’d take him up on that offer. Sex without guilt! Awesome beer! Plus, a crown. What’s not to like?

More seriously, this poem is from Tochmarc Étaíne (The wooing of Étaín), part of the early Irish mythological cycles. It includes characters from the Ulster Cycle, the Cycle of Kings- and is a central text in early Irish literature in it’s own right. This poem’s author is Midir, attempting to seduce Étaín away from Eochaid. Not to spoil a millenium-old story, but he succeeds in at least one version.

The language is of the 8th or 9th Century, making it one of the earlier Old Irish texts we have. It is found in two manuscripts, the Lebor na hUidre (Book of the Dun Cow), and the Yellow Book of Lecan.

A few things ought to be noted. Midhir calls Étaín ‘Bé Find’ throughout the poem. This literally translates as ‘Fair Woman’ or ‘Lady’, and so I have rendered it. Similarly ‘Maige Fáil’ (Plain of Fál) and ‘Inse Fáil’ (Island of Fál) both refer to Ireland; Fál is a poetic term. The first time I left the name in Irish, the second time I did not. No reason in particular- it just seemed better that way. There are also the usual intricacies of translation, but these seemed particularly important to note.

As always, I appreciate any criticism of the work.