Nuala NÍ Dhomhnaill Sept 3, 2008 17:08:34 GMT 2
Post by moira on Sept 3, 2008 17:08:34 GMT 2
NUALA NÍ DHOMHNAILL’S “THE LANGUAGE ISSUE”
by Joyce Nower
(The following is one of four revised excerpts from a three-part article on Irish poetry published in my column “Intersections” in The Alsop Review.
The four excerpts include poems by Eavan Boland, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Nuala NÍ Dhomhnaill, and Medbh McGuckian, all four born in the Forties and Fifties of the last century. Further poems by these poets may be found in Contemporary Irish Poetry, Ed. Anthony Bradley, University of California Press, 1988; and Modern Irish Poetry, Ed. Patrick Crotty, The Blackstaff Press Limited, Northern Ireland, 2001.)
Ireland is the ancestral country for more than 34 million Americans; for mythologists, it is the place of fairies, other kinds of wee people, mists, and fairy mounds; and for jewelry makers, it is the treasure house of Celtic design in rings and pendants.
My sister and I traveled through the Irish Republic during the first two weeks of May 2004 and were quickly drawn into the deep well from which Irish poets derive their inspiration and imagery: The rivers, the rain, the warming gulf steam, tombs older than the Egyptian pyramids, mist over the Wicklow Mountains, beautiful hamlets and villages, urbane cities perking with coffee houses, Celtic spirals, Guinness beer and Tullamore Dew whisky, fairy rings in flat fields, holy springs, ancient abbeys and a stark history. Signs are in both English and Irish Gaelic.
Gaelic is a living language, spoken daily in various parts of Ireland, a required course in school, and an official language in the European Union - but who knows for how long this can persist. For Ní Dhomhnaill (1952- ), however, it is her first language: she writes in Gaelic and translates her own poetry into English. In the last few decades, she has been a clear public voice in the mediation between Ireland’s two languages.
Ní Dhomhnaill grew up in County Tipperary and in Kerry Gaeltacht, was graduated from University College Cork, and spent the 1970’s in Holland and Turkey. She has published at least eight collections of poems, several plays for children, a collection of prose essays, and has edited a collection of short stories and poems for Habitat for Humanity. A winner of many prizes for her work, the poet now lives in Dublin with her husband and children. “The Language Issue” has been translated by fellow Irish poet Paul Muldoon.
The Language Issue
by Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill
I place my hope on the water
in this little boat
of the language, the way a body might put
in a basket of intertwined
its underside proofed
with bitumen and pitch,
then set the whole thing down amidst
and bulrushes by the edge
of a river
only to have it borne hither and thither,
not knowing where it might end up;
in the lap, perhaps,
of some Pharaoh’s daughter.