Right now the Santa Ana winds are really howling, it’s a full moon (or nearly), and an owl is making sounds overhead so it seems appropriate to translate a poem about a river with a dark nature.
I discovered the Sulán river when I went to Féile na Laoch http://feilenalaoch.com/ (The Festival of Heroes) in Cúil Aodha in West Cork this summer. It was an amazing gathering of the best of Irish cultural talent in poetry, storytelling, music, singing, dancing, acting and other forms of performance of the arts, all for free, all night long in a field in the middle of nowhere which in fact turned out to be quite a magical somewhere by the Sulán river.
All I knew about it when I arrived was that it was the only river in Ireland that was masculine and that it wanted a sacrifice every seven years. Things have gender in the Irish language and all the rivers were feminine except this one. Up until that point I had looked on wells and ponds and lakes as blessed with the exception of Lake Derravaragh which scared me. So off I went wandering to see what the fuss was about.
The events stayed away from the river and that was perhaps a good thing. Even though it looked more like a stream, it had a strong current. As lovely as it was, I would not have dared go in. On the eve of Lúnasa (August) as my body tried to cope with the effects of a very long hike over the mountains that day and the cold of an Irish night, I listened to poetry in my own language, heard music in the old style, watched dancers and got lost in it so much I forgot that my body was shaking from exhaustion.
It was a different place and a wondrous time for one night and it is the second time that I have felt I was in a more honest world where we were all truly connected. That could have been delirium setting in but I like to think it was more than that and it had to do with the land. There are sacred places on this earth and Cúil Aodha was surely one that night.
For every positive force there must be a balance perhaps and if so the river Sulán is given the role of the villain. Today I found the poem about the Sulán river in Irish and translated it here.
An Sulán le Seán Ó Céilleachair
Mise an Sulán, fuar, fada, fireann, I am the Sulawn, cold, long, manly strong
Anois an t-am cá bhfuil an duine? Now is the time, where’s the person I’m owed?
Sin é a deirim is mé ag rith le fuinneamh, That’s what I say as I’m driven along
Ar mo bhealach chun farraige síos thar an Muileann. On my way to the sea by the mill below.
Is fada ‘s is casta é mo chúrsa, ‘Tis long and crooked the journey I make
Ó’n tobairín taobh le Barr a’ Chúma. From the little well by mountain’s peak.
Is mall é mo thuras ‘s is uaigneach, ‘Tis slow my trip, ‘tis a lonely way
Trí páirceanna, portacha ‘s díoganna cúnga. As I pass through fields and ditches and peat.
Is minic a ghluaisim thar mo bhruacha, ‘Tis often I spill o’er my banks to the land
Ar mo thuras dom soir trí Baile Mhúirne. As through Ballyvourney on eastward I flow.
Is árd ‘s is freagrach mo ghuth ar uairibh, At times it grows strong, my voice’s demand
Le linn dom síneadh go deireadh mo chúrsa. As I stretch on towards the end of the road.
Is iomaí gearán is cnáimhseáil a chuala, I’ve heard many complaints and many a whine
Ó’n iascaire searúsach is é go buartha. Coming from bitter fishermen’s ranks.
Ba mhinic dó áfach bradán a sciobadh, Even still ’tis from me the salmon they swipe,
Istigh im lár nó gar dom bhruacha. From out of my belly or from close to my banks.
Na h-oícheanta geimhridh is ea bhím-sé brónach, On winter nights I’m sad, without hope
An talamh máguaird is mo bhruacha reoite. All the land nearby ‘n my banks frozen dead.
Creathán im ghuth is an sioc im scórnach, A waver in my voice and frost in my throat
Brat ós mo chionn is é fuar ceomhar. A foggy cold is a cloak o’er my head.
Le teacht an earraigh is ea’ thagann an mhúscailt, As Spring arrives, the awakening begins
Is caithim-se díom an fhéachaint ghruama. And I throw off my look of dreary black.
Éiríonn lem neart is braithim an fústar, I rise with strength and again feel the whims
‘S tagann arís an fonn is an fuadar. And the hustle and bustle, it all comes back.
An samhradh sámh taithníonn go mór liom, Tranquil summer really pleases me,
Is deas é an gáire is an comhluadar, ‘Tis nice the laughter and the company.
Daoine ag siúl ar mo bhruacha, On my banks the people are walking you see,
Cuid acu aerach is cuid acu buartha. Some happy, others feeling less so free.
Orthu go léir bím-se ag faire, I watch them as I move along,
An buchaillín óg is an gearrchaile, Young lads and young lassies all.
An fear meán aosta is an gaiscíoch láidir, Middle aged men and heroes so strong
‘S bím-se á mealladh chun mo línnte a shnámhadh. ‘Swim in my waters,’ to people I call.
Go hobann ansan is ea thárlaíonn sé, It happens then suddenly all out of nowhere,
Is tosnaíonn an t-olagán is an caoineadh. The weeping starts, the keening is loud.
An fear mór groí is é fuar sínte, A big strong man now stretched out cold there,
Amuigh ar mo bhruach i measc slua mór daoine. Out on my bank, in the midst of the crowd.
Gluaisim liom ansan ar mire Then in a frenzy I move along
Is fágaim im ‘dhiaidh an gol is an caoineadh. And leave behind me the weeping and woe.
Mar mise an Sulán fuar fada fireann, For I am the Sulawn cold, long, manly strong
Tháinig an t-am is sciobas an duine. The time came and I snatched the one I was owed.