As always, here I am at the café doing my Reverie-typing. I keep meaning to do some research on the world poetry ones before they roll around, for the ones that aren’t readily available on the Internet for perusal: the rare Indian forms, the Malagasy forms, etc. (There is some information, but not enough to make a substantive case for trying them out.) So I’m going to really try and get some good info for those next month and the month after. For December (since there will be one last world poetry challenge then), we’ll see what’s left.
This week: “tiocfaidh ár lá”
The necessary preface: I do not condone violence, or wanton destruction, for the sake of nationalism. But, the Irish part of my heritage is closer to my heart than the English part, I believe, and I do have these whimsies of Irish Gaelic surviving and thriving again some day. The title of this post is a common slogan to express support for a united Ireland, which I’d also like to see, but not as the result of illicit IRA action. Instead, we’re going to use it in the context of poetry today. (It means “our day will come”, simply, so you can imagine how it’s used in the context of violence. Let’s think of it in the context of Irish poetry forms, though. The rough pronunciation is “chook-ee awr law”, where “chook” rhymes with “book”.) Naturally, there’s a great deal of Irish poetry written in English that has echoes of the old Irish forms: it’s hard to read Yeats or Heaney without sensing a bit of the rhythm, intentional or otherwise, that infuses Irish literature.
A source on Wikipedia says that European vernacular poetry began in Ireland, although that handily discounts oral poems and the Greek/Latin stuff we covered not so long ago. But doubtless, there is a remarkably strong tradition of poetry in the culture: the iconic representation of bards is a wandering poet-priest type, who enjoyed unmatched prestige compared with his fellows in Europe. (Troubadours came close, maybe.) Epics like the Tain and the Ulster Cycle are punctuated with song spells and challenge poetry, while satire and lyrical curses, in Irish mythology, were the stuff of real power among the local pantheon. And of course, one can’t ignore the beauty and emotion of Irish traditional folk music; I grew up listening to it, and it still carries its ability to tug at the deepest threads of me.
I don’t expect you to learn Irish for this exercise, of course (note: “Irish” refers to Irish Gaelic, “Gaelic” refers to Scottish Gaelic), but we are going to attempt a couple of forms of filíocht (the Irish word for poetry! pronounced “fil-eekht”) for this Reverie. There are more variations than you can shake a stick at, but I’ve culled four from hither and yon that you might consider. Before we get into that, I want to throw a couple of important concepts out there:
dán díreach, meaning “straight/direct verse”: the basic structure of bardic poetry, of which most of the other forms are variations; tends to be seven-syllable lines, quatrains (a quatrain is called a rann), with particular rhymes
dúnadh, meaning “closure” or “cadence”: the conceit of ending a poem with the same word that it begins with, to create a circle (think of Finnegan’s Wake)
sound structures: alliteration and assonance are common features in these poems (though there seems to be some debate about which is more appropriate), and internal rhyme is a necessity; be aware of the cross rhyme, which is when the last syllable of a line reappears as a near-rhyme in the following line, usually between the second and fourth syllables
You’ll notice these keep coming up in the different forms I’m going to mention. Thematically, you have quite a bit of freedom: the standard thought seems to be that love and loss are the best topics for these, whether historical, personal, or legendary. But blessings and curses are quite common as well (think of the popular “May the road rise up to meet you”), satire served an important social function, and invocations/mystical poetry, whether pagan or Christian, are well-represented. In some ways, I think of Irish poetry as the opposite of haiku. You can have some kind of small observations and moments of natural beauty posed against each other, but it’s impossible to do one of these poems without having some blood pumping through it.
So, now for some forms:
ae freslighe (pronounced “ay fresh-lee”, more or less): each verse has four seven-syllable lines, rhymed a-b-a-b, where the “a” rhyme words are trisyllabic, and the “b” rhymes are disyllabic
casbairdne (something like “kahs-bired-nyuh”, where “bired” rhymes with “wired”): seven-syllable quatrains, rhymed a-b-c-b, with a and c trisyllabic, and b disyllabic; each couplet’s rhyme has consonance (so they start with the same letter, but have different rhymes); last word of the quatrain alliterates with the preceding stressed word; and there are cross rhymes in at least lines two (a rhyme) and four (b rhyme)
droighneach (maybe “druy-nyukh”): lines of flexible length (nine to thirteen syllables) in quatrains or octaves, but still trisyllabically rhymed a-b-a-b; same requirements of cross rhyme and alliteration as in the casbairdne
rannaicheacht ghairid (“rahn-uh-khyeakht ghah-ridge”, if you’re lucky): first line of three syllables, second through fourth with seven syllables; rhymed a-a-b-a; cross rhyme from line three to four
Fun additional facts: “droighneach” comes from the word for “blackthorn”, because its uneven line lengths make it look spiky! And also: I get really self-conscious about my Irish pronunciation, since I’ve learned it so unevenly over the years. But actual Irish people rarely seem to care.
I will now attempt one of each type, to demonstrate the similarities and differences between the forms. Let’s do some autumn-themed stuff, yeah?
Without the wild summertime,
we lose things to sing about:
willow, oak, the common-lime,
lives we learn to live without.
All their tales are scattering
on wings that tap out sorrow.
Skeins of rain come battering
the sewed-up time both borrow.
Surprising’s the beauty in the hand-me-downs
where land meets water, and sky touches horizon:
the washed shells and dewed grass with spider-crowns,
chill mornings with a brightness that’s still surprising.
Night slinks in
with the sanctity of sin:
unspoken but suspected,
star-flecked with a Cheshire grin.
I meddled with the forms a little bit, but I think that they hold true, for the most part. (If it’s not clear, the casbairdne is definitely the hardest, at least in my opinion.) I recommend trying one of each, and then when you find a theme, rhythm, and sound inventory that you’re comfortable with, try expanding the poem to at least a few stanzas. Short poems of four lines are not uncommon, but when you have to pay so much attention to the structural elements, it’s tough to get across what you want to say in so little time. Do as you will though, and let some of that Emerald Isle glory sing in you a bit. Then, of course, you ought to come back so we can have a little ceilidh of poems. Slán!