The Hag Of Beare

In an angry mood, I thumbed through my Faber Book of Irish Verse and fell upon this. I liked it, and it calmed my raging, nonsensical storm. Or, perhaps it made it worse and I merely felt better. There is no specified translator of this 9th century Gaelic piece, so at the very least I’d like to credit the editor of the book, who also translated many of the works in this volume. I’m sure that if he had done this particular piece he would have credited himself, (as he does numerous times elsewhere), but alas, there is none. Tip of the hat to John Montague, just in case.

The Hag Of Beare

Ebb tide has come for me:
My life drifts downwards
Like a retreating sea
With no tidal turn.

I am the Hag of Beare
Fine petticoats I used to wear,
Today, gaunt with poverty,
I hunt for rags to cover me.

Girls nowadays
Dream only of money–
When we were young
We cared more for our men.

Riding over their lands
We remember how, like nobles,
They treated us well;
Courted, but didn’t tell.

Today every upstart
Is a master of graft;
Skinflint, yet sure to boast
Of being a lavish host.

But I bless my King who gave–
Balanced briefly on time’s wave–
Largesse of speedy chariots
And champion thoroughbreds.

These arms, no bony, thin
And useless to younger men,
Once caressed with skill
The limbs of princes!

Sadly my body seeks to join
Them soon in their dark home–
When God wishes to claim it,
He can have back his deposit.

No more gamy teasing
For me, no wedding feast:
Scant grey hair is best
Shadowed by a veil.

Why should I care?
Many’s the bright scarf
Adorned my hair in the days
When I drank with the gentry.

So God be praised
That I mis-spent my days!
Whether the plunge be bold
Or timid, the blood runs cold.

After Spring and Autumn
Come age’s frost and body’s chill:
Even in bright sunlight
I carry my shawl.

Lovely the mantle of green
Our Lord spreads on the hillside!
Every spring the divine craftsman
Plumps its worn fleece.

But my cloak is mottled with age–
No, I’m beginning to dote–
It’s only grey hair straggling
Over my skin like a lichened oak.

And my right eye has been taken away
As down payment on heaven’s estate;
Likewise the ray in the left
That I may grope to heaven’s gate.

No storm has overthrown
The royal standing stone.
Every year the fertile plain
Bears its crop of yellow grain.

But I, who feasted royally
By candlelight, now pray
I this darkened oratory.

Instead of heady mean

And wine, high on the bench
With kings, I sup whey
In a nest of hags:
God pity me!

Yet may this bup of whey
O! Lord, serve as my ale-feast–
Fathoming its bitterness
I’ll learn that you know best.

Alas, I cannot
Again sail youth’s sea;
The days of my beauty
Are departed, and desire spent.

I hear the fierce cry of the wave
Whipped by in the wintry wind.
No one will visit me today
Neither nobleman nor slave.

I hear the phantom oars
As ceaselessly they row
And row to the chill ford,
Or fall asleep by its side.

Flood tide
And the ebb dwindling on the sand!
What the flood rides ashore
The ebb snatches from your hand.

Flood tide
And the sucking ebb to follow!
Both have I come to know
Pouring down my body.

Flood tide
Has not yet rifled my pantry
But a chill has been paid
On many who in darkness visited me.

Well night the Son of Mary
Take their place under my roof-tree
For if I lack other hospitality
I never say ‘No’ to anybody–

Man being of all
Creatures the most miserable–
His flooding pride always seen
But never his tidal turn.

Happy the island in mid-ocean
Washed by the returning flood
But my ageing blood
Slows to final ebb.

I have hardly a dwelling
Today, upon this earth.
Where once was life’s flood
All is ebb.

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