Summer Has Gone
The following poem is attributed to the legendary hero Finn macCumhaill,
a.k.a. Finn uá Baíscni (descendant of Baíscne). It is preserved only in a
gloss on the word rían ³sea² in the Middle Irish commentary on the late 6th
century Amra Choluim Chille. This version is based on the almost identical
texts to be found in two manuscripts transcribed in the first quarter of the
12th century: Lebor na hUidre and the Bodleian MS. The language of the poem
and the fact that it is included in the oldest copies of the commentary on
the Amra, point towards the 9th or 10th century as the date of composition.
the meter, 3¹3¹3¹3¹ (which means that each line consists of 3 syllables, and
the accent falls on the last syllable of each line), with rhyme between
between b and d, has several names, the most suitable of which seems to be
Cethramtu Rannaigechta Móire ³quarter of Rannaigecht Mór. The absence of
lenition in some of the words, dúib, sam etc., also indicate that the poem
was written before the 12th century.
The poem itself is an excellent example of Early Irish Poetry. It is
concise and vividly descriptive. The anonymous poet has achieved the
perfect blend of form and content. It is a spare, bleak description of a
spare, bleak season: especially when compared to the earlier paeon to
summer, Cétemain, which is more than 3 times as long with a 5 syllable
meter, which can barely contain its lush, luxuriant descriptions.
The profusion of alliteration uaim, is also typical of Early Irish
Poetry. My translation is an attempt to mimic the bleakness and brevity of
the form, while maintaining the content.
Scél lem dúib:
ro fáith sam:
Gáeth ard úar;
gair a rrith;
ro cleth cruth;
ro gab gnáth
Ro gab úacht
é mo scél.
Here¹s my story;
sad stag roars;
High cold wind;
low cold sun;
Rust red fern;
croaks and cries;
Birds don¹t sing
songs of glory;
Ice wrapped wings;
That¹s my story.
³Description of Winter and Memory of the Past² is from Acallam ne
Senórach (The Colloquy of the Ancient Men), which is frame story consisting
of more than 200 anecdotes supposed to have been related by Caeilte or
Oisín, survivors of the third century Fiana, to St. Patrick and others in
the fifth century. This poem dates back to at least the twelfth century
The Acallam tells us that Caílte, having bidden goodbye to the king of
Ulaid, met St. Patrick in the Fews Mountains (Co. Armagh) . There Cas Corach
played fairy music to St. Patrick and was promised heaven for himself in
return for it and blessings on all inheritors of the musical art. Éoghan
Aedbriugu (Chief Hospitaller), a rich vassal of the King of Ireland, joined
them. It was Samhain night. Heavy snow fell. After description of it the
Acallam continues with Caílte¹s words.
The poem is in the form of Deibhí (7x + 7x+1) this was the meter
preferred and used most by the old poets. There is Comhardach (rhyme)
between the last accented vowel of line a, and the last unaccented vowel of
line b; likewise for c and d. This is known a rinn (last word) agus ardrinn.
Is ann a-dubairt Caílte: Inam¹ ar sé, do dhamhaib allaidi & d¹eilltibh
dul a n-innib cnoc 7 carrac an-osa; & inam éighnedh do dhul i cúsaibh
brúach.¹ & a-dubhuirt an laid:
Then Caílte spoke; It is time¹ said he, for stags and does to withdraw
to the inmost parts of hills and rocks; and it is time for salmon to retreat
to hollows beneath banks.¹ And he spoke this poem.
Is úar geimred; at-racht gáeth;
éirgid dam díscir derbáeth;
nocha te in-nocht in slíabh slán,
gé beith dam dían ac dordán.
Ní thabair a tháeb re lár
dam Sléibe Cairn na comdál;
nii luga at-chluin céol cúaine
dam cinn Echtge innúaire.
Mise Caílte, is Díarmait donn,
ocus Oscar áith étrom,
ro choistmis re ceeol cúaine
deirid aidche adeuaire.
Is maith chotlas in dam donn
fuil is a chnes re Coronn
mar do beth fa Thuinn Túaige
deirid aidche innúair!
In-díu isam senóir sen;
ní aithnim acht becán fer;
ro chraithinn coirrsleig co crúaid
i matain aigrid innúair.
A-tlochar do Ríg nime,
do Mac Maire ingine:
do-beirinn mór socht ar slúag
gé ber in-nocht co hadúar.
(note ³ía² and ³úa²)
Winter is cold; the wind has risen; the fierce stark-wild
stag arises; not warm tonight is the unbroken mountain,
even though the swift stag be belling.
The stag os SlieveCarran of the assemblies does not lay
his side to the ground; the stag of the head of cold
Aughty listens likewise to wolf-music.
I Caílte, and brown-haired Díarmait, and keen light
Oscar, used to listen to wolf-music at the end of a very
Well, forsooth, sleeps the brown stag pressing his hide to
Corran¹s earth as though he were beneath the water of
the Tuns at the end of a truly cold night!
Today I am old and aged; few men do I recognize; I used to brandish a
pointed spear hardily on a morning of truly
I thank the King of Heaven, Son of the Virgin Mary:
often used I to still armies, though I be tonight very cold.
Winter is cold, the red-fierce stag
arises from his dwelling.
The cold wind blows through the mountain chain,
And yet the stag is belling.
The stag of the mountain where we used to meet
arises on his hooves.
The stag at the head of cold Aughty
hears the song of the wolves.
I, Caílte, and brown-haired Diarmait, my friend,
and Oscar keen and light.
We, too, once heard the music of wolves
at the end of a very cold night.
It is well that this old brown stag falls asleep,
pressing his side to the ground.
As though he already slept under the wave,
Where the waters of Tun can be found.
My friends are all gone, no one knows me at all,
For now I am aged and old.
Yet I used to brandish a pointed spear,
on a day that was icy cold.
I thank the Lord for the life I had,
and the friends in the days of old.
I was one of heroes of the land,
But tonight I am very cold.
(My version isn't literal, or literate, for that matter, but I think it is
what the poem is really about. The Fianna ore literally the stags, and Finn
is connected with the Salmon. The winter represents the coming of
Christianity and the end of the old ways- I think it is as appropriate for
Christmas as it is for Samhain) Máiréad Perron