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A Celtic Psaltery   By: (1846-1931)

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Being Mainly Renderings in English Verse from Irish & Welsh Poetry



The F. A. Stokes Company 443 449 Fourth Avenue New York

Published in England by The Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge 68 Haymarket, London






This Psaltery of Celtic Songs To you by bounden right belongs; For ere War's thunder round us broke, To your content its chord I woke, Where Cymru's Prince in fealty pure Knelt for his Sire's Investiture.

Nor less these lays are yours but more, In memory of the Eisteddfod floor You flooded with a choral throng That poured God's praise a whole day long.

But most, O Celtic Seer, to you This Song Wreath of our Race is due, Since high o'er hatred and division, You have scaled the Peak and seen the Vision Of Freedom, breaking into birth From out an agonising Earth.


I have called this volume of verse a Celtic Psaltery because it mainly consists of close and free translations from Irish, Scotch Gaelic, and Welsh Poetry of a religious or serious character. The first half of the book is concerned with Irish poems. The first group of these starts with the dawning of Christianity out of Pagan darkness, and the spiritualising of the Early Irish by the wisdom to be found in the conversations between King Cormac MacArt the Irish ancestor of our Royal Family and his son and successor, King Carbery. Here also will be found those pregnant ninth century utterances known as the "Irish Triads."

Next follow poems attributed or relating to some of the Irish saints Patrick, Columba, Brigit, Moling; Lays of Monk and Hermit, Religious Invocations, Reflections and Charms and Lamentations for the Dead, including a remarkable early Irish poem entitled "The Mothers' Lament at the Slaughter of the Innocents" and a powerful peasant poem, "The Keening of Mary." The Irish section is ended by a set of songs suggested by Irish folk tunes.

Of the early Irish Religious Poetry here translated it may be observed that the originals are not only remarkable for fine metrical form but for their cheerful spirituality, their open air freshness and their occasional touches of kindly humour. "Irish religious poetry," it has been well said, "ranges from single quatrains to lengthy compositions dealing with all the varied aspects of religious life. Many of them give us a fascinating insight into the peculiar character of the early Irish Church, which differed in so many ways from the Christian world. We see the hermit in his lonely cell, the monk at his devotions or at his work of copying in the scriptorium or under the open sky; or we hear the ascetic who, alone or with twelve chosen companions, has left one of the great monasteries in order to live in greater solitude among the woods or mountains, or on a lonely island. The fact that so many of these poems are fathered upon well known saints emphasises the friendly attitude of the native clergy towards vernacular poetry."[A]

I have endeavoured as far as possible to preserve in my translations both the character of these poems and their metrical form. But the latter attempt can be only a mere approximation owing to the strict rules of early Irish verse both as regards alliteration and vowel consonance. Still the use of the "inlaid rhyme" and other assonantal devices have, it is to be hoped, brought my renderings nearer in vocal effect to the originals than the use of more familiar English verse methods would have done.

The same metrical difficulties have met me when translating the Welsh sacred and spiritual poems which form the second division of this volume. But they have been more easy to grapple with in part because I have had more assistance in dealing with the older Cymric poems from my lamented friend Mr... Continue reading book >>

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