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The Rosg or Blank Verse

The use of blank verse in Irish poetry goes back to Amergin, poet and druid, who was with the very first Milesians to make landfall in Ireland. That location of that landfall has been the source of disputation for many, many years. At the risk of igniting another fiery Contention of the Bards, when those from the northern half of the country engaged in a right royal barney with their southern counterparts, read Amergin's "First Triumph Song" as translated by George Sigerson in his ground-breaking "Bards of the Gael and Gall", published by the Talbot Press, Dublin, 1925.

I, the Wind at Sea,
I, the rolling Billow,
I, the roar of Ocean,
I, the seven Cohorts,
I, the ox upholding,
I, the rock-borne Osprey,
I, the flash of Sunlight,
I, the Ray in Mazes.
I, the rushing Wild Boar,
I, the river Salmon,
I, the strength of Song.
I, the Spear for smiting Foemen,
I, the God for forming Fortunes!
Whither wend by glen or mountain?
Whither tend beneath the Sunset?
Whither wander seeking safety?
Who can lead to falling waters?
Who can tell the white Moon's ages?
Who can draw the deep ses fishes?
Who can show the fire-top headlands?
I, the poet, prophet, pray'rful,
Weapons wield for warriors' slaying:
Tell of triumph, laud forthcoming;
Future fame in soaring story !

Consider the following lines:

"I, the rock-borne Osprey",
"I, the river-Salmon,"
"I, the Lake oe'r plains,"

and these four consecutive lines:

"Who can lead to falling waters?
Who can tell the white Moon's ages?
Who can draw the deep sea fishes?
Who can show the fire-top headlands?"

Is Amergin's osprey the Hawk of the Erne, his river-salmon the salmon of the Erne, his lake the early lake-sized estuary of the Erne, first-named Rury's Lake after the drowning death of Partholan's son Rury, his falling waters Assaroe, and his white moon that which fills the Erne estuary with incoming tides and deep sea fishes? Does this postulation raise the ire of today's southern poets? Add to it the recent archaeological work of Dr. Elizabeth O'Brien on a stone cairn built in the Bronze Age between 3,500 and 4,000 years ago, behind sand dunes on the north shore of the Erne estuary, which was used for burials over the millennia, and a strong case can be made for a northern landfall. Poetry and archaeology combine to produce sufficient reason to warrant further study.

As an aside, a description of "the primitives" who inhabited the region of the Erne estuary long before the coming of the Celts, which appears in "The Tale of the Primitives" in the first chapter of The Hawk of the Erne", tells of their prohibition on the eating of salmon and their custom to eat only shellfish. It may have seemed fanciful, but an item in a Canadian newspaper "The Globe and Mail" on September 1, 1999, lends credence to the theory. One paragraph long, it reported that Stephen Cunnane, a professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Toronto, and his research team, "found that a specific fatty acid, DHA, necessary for human brain and eye development, is easily available in food from shorelines....humans evolved where they didn't have to hunt. You don't need a big brain to collect mussels and clams. But living on them gives you the excess energy and nutrients that can then be directed towards brain growth."

Who will buy the theory? Wanted: someone to test the average IQ of the residents of, say, Creevy, Co. Donegal, with that of the residents of Mullingar, Co. Westmeath. Who's the smarter, the fish mussel eater or the beef muscle eater? As a Donegal man I suspect the answer, and await the proof!

To return to the use of blank verse by the Bards, a few examples at the end of this homage follow, however unmeritoriously, the path originally taken by Amergin, first recognizable bard and druid of Ireland. They were penned by members of my own family and myself, and may represent the first offerings by the Mac an Bháird clan in the opening years of the second millennium.


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