“The Lament of the Old Woman of Beare” 10th Century Irish Poem


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 today
That I can recognise:
What was on flood
Is all on ebb.

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