New Song: Emer’s Sick-Bed

(Chorus)
So I’ll take up my knife in my right hand
better than tears on my face
I’ll call all my sisters1 to fight for my man
No matter the time or the place

I’ll chase you across the wide ocean’s way
to any isle that you may be2
I’ll make you remember your promises made
to all Ulstermen and to me3

(Verse)
Salmon-leap lover, my killer of men4
did you forget now those words you said then?
I’ve borne all the whispers, a thousand-pecked hen
but this time you go too far.

I nursed you in sickness, I begged for your life5
and now you have taken a fairy to wife
this feeling inside me, it twists like a knife
and now I know who you are

(Chorus)

(Verse)
Is it that I haven’t birthed you a son?
Or is it a goddess’s war to be won?
I do not shine so much as when I was young
Though my wits will never fade6

I see now the island where you and she lie
though I am not ready to make someone die
instead I will steal back your leash and we’ll fly7
away from that temptress’s glade

(Chorus)

(Verse)
I see you now holding her heart in your palm
likewise I see how she makes you stand tall8
the fire that made my father’s house fall
burns for another now9

She too has a husband of horses and seas
a god says he’s sorry for what we have seen
his draught is the ocean, his cloak is the breeze
somehow we are homeward bound10

(Final chorus)
But I still have my knife in my right hand
Bitter salt tears on my face
My sisters and I sail back with my man
To our own warm fireplace

I loved you and lost you to Fand’s bright eyes
Although I cannot recall how
Your geas noose tightens, the sun will still rise
But you are still mine for now.11

=== a few notes on this piece ===

I always really like stories and songs that are written from the point of view of a woman who is absolutely fed up with the bullshit she’s been fed. I called this “Emer’s Sick-Bed” because the original story “Cuchulainn’s Sick-Bed” is about how he gets sick and then gets to bang a goddess while the most beautiful woman in Ireland wonders where the hell he’s gone. The sick-bed in this case is Emer being entirely sick of Cuchulainn’s brand of nonsense.

Okay, hyperbole is a thing here, but read on for some notes that support my argument here:

  1. Emer literally summons her ladies-in-waiting to roll up on Fand’s island after she finds out where Cuchulainn is. I imagined this to be a call to them to support her, and I love the idea of a bunch of ladies with knives going to a place for the sole reason of fucking shit up.
  2. Irish mythology has a metric ton of otherworlds that are often depicted as islands. Places like the Land of Joy or the Land of Youth are places you can sail to if you’re lucky and you have a boat! Emer knows this.
  3. Of course, Cuchulainn is the defender of Ulster after their men collectively pissed off Macha. Cuchulainn is also married to Emer after a whoooole lot of shenanigans (which are covered later in this song).
  4. I think it’s important to mention that this is Cuchulainn, because I made it a point to not actually name him in the song. Emer is singing to him, but it’s her story this time.
  5. Emer and Cuchulainn have had a lot of adventures together! Many of his stories feature her getting him out of trouble or supporting him in one way or another.
  6. Emer is considered to be ‘the perfect woman’ in that she has all of the ideal virtues: beauty, voice, sweet speech, needlework, wisdom, and chastity. Several of these things are evergreen but a few fade with time, so I referenced that here.
  7. It’s a pun – Cuchulainn is the Hound of Cullan.
  8. The story goes that Emer was ready to ruin Cuchulainn’s life, but when she saw how much he loved Fand and vice versa, she was prepared to let him live with Fand instead of herself. Fand sees this as well and is ashamed of having stolen a man from ‘this fine mortal woman’ and thus the dumbest argument of all time briefly ensues.
  9. In the wooing of Emer, her father Forgall was against it entirely. In the face of this, Cuchulain went off, learned how to murder, got another lady pregnant, and then came back to murder Emer’s father’s men until he acquiesed. Forgall was terrified of Cuchulainn’s fury and the salmon-leap he did to get Emer from her tower and himself died trying to leap over a rampart to escape.
  10. This was a really tough verse to write because I wanted to end the song without dragging it on! Fand is married too, to the god of the sea Mannanan. He has a cloak that if shaken between two people guarantees they will never meet again. He does this because of all of the sorrow this whole story has given every person in it. Translations disagree on where the draught of forgetfulness comes from, but I gave it to Mannanan here for song’s sake. (Although as a funny note, some translations say the Druids give the draught to Cuchulainn – the Irish myth equivalent of ‘a wizard did it’?)
  11. Last note – of course things are different after everything that happens in the story! The last chorus reflects this. In some of the stories in the mythological cycles, you sometimes see different folks get premonitions or visions of the future. I put a touch of that in here at the end. As far as I’ve been able to tell, this story happens after Cuchulainn has done some buckwild shit, including killing his only son – Emer knows that this isn’t going to be forever. She would know about his different curses, but is willing to enjoy the time she has left with him.

This is an addition to the post that I forgot to mention: I forgot to speak on the rhyme scheme! I mentioned a while ago Barbara Hughes Fowler’s translations in Medieval Irish Lyrics – in her introduction to the poems, she briefly discusses early Irish meters. The actual system of internal and external rhymes, alliteration, consonance, and assonance were a bit difficult for me to understand, but she referenced Ruth Lehmann’s translations and how she attempted to imitate the rules in her work. The example that Fowler provides is a two-part verse. The first and second halves have four lines, the first three of which rhyme internally. The last line of each half rhymes with each other. That’s the rhyme scheme I used in this song for my verses as well. /end edit

Originally I called this “Etain’s Sick-Bed” because that name ended up in my head instead of Emer, but future recordings will reflect her name for real. I was just excited to finish it!

As I mentioned earlier, you can find a recording on the Knowne World Bardcast – here’s a link to the episode, curated by Ollam Lanea (who is a lovely and enabling person!).

There is so much text here, but thank you for reading through it. See you soon! (Much sooner than last time, I promise!)

-Lasair

Is it dusty in here, or is it just me?

Hello again my friends. I’ve managed to remember my WordPress login and I can keep writing!

Right now is a terrible, confusing, and terrifying time, but we still have each other. We’re taking it day by day over here, and I sincerely hope that you all are able to do this too.

I’ve managed to write a new song while I was away, which will be a separate post with a link to a recording. So far, the Knowne World Bardcast has been the only place where you can find it, and I’m okay keeping it that way for a minute. 🙂

As always, my life in Virginia is wild – since I’ve seen you all last I have started grad school and upped my Union involvement, which leaves me with very little free time. Of course this means I want to write music. Of course it does.

Thanks again for sticking with me through this – hopefully we’ll be able to inspire each other until I can see you in person again.

Song Idears/A Little More Research

Hello everyone!

April was a very busy month for me, but I’m coming back with a lot of inspiration to keep going and pushing my art to a new level. I’m hoping to write some new period/peri-oid stuff with some of the research I’ve done!

One of the things I’ve found to be true is that poetry research is inexorably tied into cultural research in Ireland. I’m learning a lot about the role of the poet in different centuries and it’s impacting the way I want to write as well. In particular, I’ve been reading some excellent translations from the 8-12th centuries of monastic poetry from Barbara Hughes Fowler. Her book Medieval Irish Lyrics is a petite treasure trove of information! Her author’s note at the beginning has illuminated more books that I have a sudden need for as well as providing insight into her translation choices and methods. It’s great.

One of the things I’ve learned from this that carries over from previous sources is that there’s a huge connection to the natural world as a constant theme in all of the poems. The majority of them stem from monasteries as marginalia (which is great in and of itself), so it’s an insight into a bored monk’s thought process as he’s painstakingly copying text. Naturally it follows that a lot of the themes found in these focus on religion and religious stories, but a lot of them contain valuable observations about the world in which they live. A few of my favorites make connections between their exile in the wilderness and their perceived closeness to God (perhaps hoping that the Irish countryside will provide hermetical enlightenment). They’re quite a lot of fun to read.

Although Fowler notes that these poems tend to be more of an anglicized dialect, the specific wording used in the poems is still very important. It’s already informed quite a bit of my writing to know that medieval Irishmen were paying close attention to the specific shade of yellow of a blossoming tree in spring while contemplating original sin. Currently, I’m planning to use this depth of observation in some new works I’m writing – I’ll post about them as they get closer to finish.

Thanks for sticking with me! I’ll hope to see some of you at some upcoming events. You can find me helping out with the mini-Bardic Madness at Highland River Melees in June as well as Ruby Joust at the end of this month. Until then, happy writing and researching y’all!

Valkyrie’s Lullaby

The battle is done
one of the two armies has won
the crows take flight at day’s last light (1)
and yet, they still try to run

Do not try to run from me
the light of your soul I can see
the torch of your deeds, your honor and greed,
determine the fate you receive (2)

(Chorus)
Enter my arms to carry you home
away from your harm you will be one of Odin’s own

You stand in the ring of your foes
all fallen from your axe blows
your sword drank their blood that rained in a flood
your honor and fame quickly grow (3)

Shield maid defending your land
your life was victory’s demand
your shield split in twain, blood waters your grain
your death brings you to Freyja’s hand (4)

(Chorus)

Frightened jarl hates the spear-din
you lost the battle within
when you fought your fate, surrendered your gate
your weak battle-dew shamed your kin (5)

Hidden under your dead friends
Today is not your journey’s end
Remember your war, your brush with death’s door
Keep honor till we meet again (6)

(Chorus)

My sisters and I heed the call
to choose after last fighter falls
for Freyja’s green fields or Eihenjar shields
or sent to Hel’s darkness to crawl (7)

Open your ears to my cry
and for the last time, close your eyes
Reaver’s work is done, the last mercy comes (8)
I sing valkyrie’s lullaby!

A few notes on this song:

Continue reading “Valkyrie’s Lullaby”

Something else

Hello hello, friends. I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to get back! I’ve been doing some research that seems pretty cool, but it’s taking me a little while to get my thoughts down. In the meantime, I’ll be posting some of my song lyrics to this forum as well. I’m really bad about making them publicly available, so please feel free to peruse them here. When I can, I’ll include YouTube links or some such as well so you can hear it.

Thanks again for sticking with me!

OOPS, HAHA.

May or may not have dropped off the face of the planet there for a while!

Life has been happening pretty consistently since I moved to where I am – since my last write, I’ve also gotten a full-time job with the DC Public Library system! There’s a lot of cool stuff on my plate, but I’d like to get back to this as well.

Irish poetry is something I’m interested in researching and writing, but I’m also occasionally working on stories and such too, so keep an eye out for those. For now, as I’m afraid I have some other things to do (and not a whole lot of new research), I’ll say cheers for the moment.

Thanks for sticking with me, and see you soon!

Hello! + 1st poem

Hello, and welcome to my Irish poetry blog! A little introduction, and then onto the meaty stuff…

Hello, and welcome to my Irish poetry blog! A little introduction, and then onto the meaty stuff –

My name is Allie. I’m a member of something called the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), a medieval study nonprofit organization with chapters around the world. My specific chapter is called the Barony of Ponte Alto in the Kingdom of Atlantia, which roughly translates to northern Virginia. In the SCA, I’m know as Lady Lasair inghen ui h’Airt, a bard from 16th century Ireland. My hobbies in real life and the SCA tend to cross over somewhat, as I love music, poetry, fiber arts, and drawing.

This past summer, I was able to go to an event called Pennsic War. For the uninitiated, Pennsic War is a large SCA event that takes place in western Pennsylvania for two weeks mid-summer. I always love attending because there’s always a multitude of things to do! This past Pennsic, I got inspired to try bending my art in a different direction and so I created this blog! My hope is to write a new poem in a late period Irish form once a month while doing research into it. I wanted someplace to record it, so here you have it!

Now, onto the good stuff: today, I’ll talk about my resources so far.

I could tell from the get-go that researching Irish poetry in general is going to be a challenge, let alone my specific time period. I’m starting with some resources in general to see if I can start writing and narrow it down from there! I’m starting with a few resources I’ve gathered with the help of SCA Bardic Arts, a Facebook group. (If you haven’t joined, I’d recommend it! It’s very supportive and helpful.) In addition, I have a free membership to JSTOR and am beginning to learn Standard Irish Gaelic with the Duolingo app. If you can, I’d highly recommend both of these things – Duolingo in particular because when used online it explains grammar structures and both site and app let you hear native speakers to help with pronunciation. This in turn is going to help with understanding rhyme schemes and syllabic structures in poetry!

The article I’ve gotten started with is found on JSTOR, called “An Introduction to the Context of Early and Medieval Irish Poetry” by Richard J. Kelly for The Harp in 1995. It’s only ten pages, but already it’s a wealth of knowledge that I didn’t have before. It’s free to read online, so that makes it even better. In it, Kelly writes on the imagery found in early Irish poetic texts and draws comparisons to haiku in terms of referencing scenic images that listeners would know without going into detail. The source further details particular poetry forms with differences in the number of syllables and location of rhyming stresses.

Another highly interesting element that Kelly talks about in his article is the history of the poetry – in it, he discusses the oral nature of poetry prior to being recorded. In his article, he says that the Gaelic we see was already standardized thanks to oral history! Obviously over the next thousand years or so the language has changed, but knowing that what we see from that era has a history and that many people around Ireland would have understood is reassuring.

While there’s more reading and thinking to be done, finding this article on JSTOR was an exciting start. So, here is a poem in the style of the deibhide, a pair of seven syllable couplets that rhyme the last syllables of each line. This poetic style can also feature internal rhymes, but I’ll save that for future poems.

Even in bright gold sunshine
And soft green meadows so fine
My poor beating heart still sees
Your smiling face in memory.

Thanks for reading. I’ll see you again soon!

Yours in service and song,

Lasair