THE YELLOW BITTERN
By Seamus Heaney
(Translated from An Bonnán
Buí in the Irish
of Cathal Buí Mac Giolla Ghunna)
Yellow bittern, there you are now,
Skin and bone on the frozen shore.
It wasnt hunger but thirst for a mouthful
That left you foundered and me heartsore.
What odds is it now about Troys destruction
With you on the flagstones upside down,
Who never injured or hurt a creature
And preferred bog water to any wine?
Bittern, bittern, your end was awful,
Your perished skull there on the road,
You that would call me every morning
With your garglers song as you guzzled mud.
And thats whats ahead of your brother Cathal
(You know what they say about me and the stuff)
But theyve got it wrong and the truth is simple:
A drop would have saved that croakers life.
I am saddened, bittern, and broken hearted
To find you in scrags in the rushy tufts,
And the big rats scampering down the rat paths
To wake your carcass and have their fun.
If you could have got word to me in time, bird,
That you were in trouble and craved a sup,
Id have struck the fetters of those lough waters
And wet your thrapple with the blow I struck.
Your common birds do not concern me,
The blackbird, say, or the thrush or crane,
But the yellow bittern, my heartsome namesake
With my looks and locks, hes the one I mourn.
Constantly he was drinking, drinking,
And by all accounts Ive a name for it too,
But every drop I get Ill sink it
For fear I might get my end from drouth.
The woman I love says to give it up now
Or else Ill go to an early grave,
But I say no and keep resisting
For taking drinks what prolongs your days.
You saw for yourself a while ago
What happened to the bird when its throat went dry;
So my friends and neighbours, let it flow:
Youll be stood no rounds in eternity.