poem index

New York CityMarch 2, 1967

The Yellow Bittern (An Bunnan Bui)

Cathal Bui Mac Giolla Gunna
The yellow bittern that never broke out
In a drinking bout, might as well have drunk;
His bones are thrown on a naked stone
Where he lived alone like a hermit monk.
0 yellow bittern! I pity your lot,
Though they say that a sot like myself is curst
I was sober a while, but I'll drink and be wise
For I fear I should die in the end of thirst.

It's not for the common birds that I'd mourn,
The blackbird, the corn-crake, or the crane,
But for the bittern that's shy and apart
Where he drinks in the marsh from the lone bog-drain.
Oh! if I had known you were near your death
While my breath held out I'd have run to you,
Till a splash from the Lake of the Son of the Bird
Your soul would have stirred and waked anew.

My darling told me to drink no more
Or my life would be o'er in a little short while;
But I told her 'tis drink gives me health and strength
And will lengthen my road by many a mile.
You see how the bird of the long smooth neck
Could get his death from the thirst at last
Come, son of my soul, and drain your cup,
You'll get no sup when your life is past.

In a wintering island by Constantine's halls
A bittern calls from a wineless place,
And tells me that hither he cannot come
Till the summer is here and the sunny days.
When he crosses the stream there and wings o'er the sea
Then a fear comes to me he may fail in his flight—
Well, the milk and the ale are drunk every drop,
And a dram won't stop our thirst this night.

Translated by Thomas MacDonagh.

Cathal Bui Mac Giolla Gunna