The Celtic Literature Collective

The Lament of the Old Woman of Beare
TCD MS 1337, p. 42 (olim H. 3. 18)

The Old Woman of Beare said this when senility had aged her:

Ebb-tide has come to me as to the sea; 
old age makes me yellow; 
though I may grieve thereat, 
it approaches its food joyfully.

I am Buí, the Old Woman of Beare; 
I used to wear a smock that was ever-renewed; 
today it has befallen me, by reason of my mean estate, 
that I could not have even a cast-off smock to wear.

It is riches 
you love, and not people; 
as for us, when we lived, 
it was people we loved.

Beloved were the people 
whose plains we ride over; 
well did we fare among them, 
and they boasted little thereafter.

Today indeed you are good at claiming,
and you are not lavish in granting the claim; 
though it is little you bestow, 
greatly do you boast.

Swift chariots 
and steeds that carried off the prize, 
there has been, for a time, a flood of them: 
a blessing on the King who has granted them!

My body, full of bitterness, 
seeks to go to a dwelling where it is known (?): 
when the Son of God deems it time, 
let Him come to carry off His deposit.

When my arms are seen, 
all bony and thin!
-the craft they used to practise was pleasant: 
they used to be about glorious kings.

When my arms are seen, 
all bony and thin, 
they are not, I declare,
worth raising around comely youths.

The maidens are joyful 
when they reach May-day; 
grief is more fitting for me: 
I am not only miserable, but an old woman.

I speak no honied words; 
no wethers are killed for my wedding; 
my hair is scant and grey; 
to have a mean veil over it causes no regret.

To have a white veil 
on my head causes me no grief; 
many coverings of every hue 
were on my head as we drank good ale.

I envy no one old, 
excepting only Feimen:
as for me, I have worn an old person’s garb; 
Feimen’s crop is still yellow.

The Stone of the Kings in Feimen,
Rónán’s Dwelling in Bregun, 
it is long since storms (first) reached their cheeks; 
but they are not old and withered.

I know what they are doing: 
they row and row off (?); 
the reeds of Ath Alma,
cold is the dwelling in which they sleep.

Alack-a-day (?) 
that I sail not over youth’s sea! 
Many years of my beauty are departed, 
for my wantonness has been used up.

Alack the day (?)! 
Now, whatever haze (?) there be, 
I must take my garment even when the sun shines: 
age is upon me; I myself recognize it.

Summer of youth in which we have been 
I spent with its autumn; 
winter of age which overwhelms everyone, 
its first months have come to me.

I have spent my youth in the beginning; 
I am satisfied with my decision: 
though my leap beyond the wall had been small, 
the cloak would not have been still new.

Delightful is the cloak of green 
which my King has spread over Drumain. 
Noble is He who fulls it:
He has bestowed wool on it after rough cloth.

I am cold indeed; 
every acorn is doomed to decay. 
After feasting by bright candles 
to be in the darkness of an oratory!

I have had my day with kings, 
drinking mead and wine; 
now I drink whey-and-water 
among shrivelled old hags.

May a little cup of whey be my ale;
may whatever may vex (?) me be God’s will; 
praying to thee, O living God, 
may I give . . . against anger.

I see on my cloak the stains of age; 
my reason has begun to deceive me; 
grey is the hair which grows through my skin;
the decay of an ancient tree is like this.

My right eye has been taken from me 
to be sold for a land that will be for ever mine; 
the left eye has been taken also, 
to make my claim to that land more secure.

There are three floods 
which approach the fort of Ard Ruide: 
a flood of warriors, a flood of steeds, 
a flood of the greyhounds owned by Lugaid’s sons.

The flood-wave 
and that of swift ebb: 
what the flood-wave brings you 
the ebb-wave carries out of your hand.

The flood-wave 
and that second wave which is ebb:
all have come to me 
so that I know how to recognize them.

The flood-wave, 
may the silence of my cellar not come to it (?)! 
Though my retinue in the dark be great, 
a hand was laid on them all (?).

Had the Son of Mary 
the knowledge that He would be beneath the house-pole of my cellar! 
Though I have practised liberality in no other way, 
I have never said ‘No’ to anyone.

It is wholly sad 
(man is the basest of creatures) 
that ebb was not seen 
as the flood had been.

My flood 
has guarded well that which was deposited with me. 
Jesus, Son of Mary, has saved it 
till ebb (?) so that I am not sad.

It is well for an island of the great sea:
flood comes to it after its ebb; 
as for me, I expect 
no flood after ebb to come to me.

Today there is scarcely 
a dwelling-place I could recognize; 
what was in flood 
is all ebbing.

Murphy, Gerard. Early Irish Lyrics: Eight to Twelfth Century. Oxford: OUP 1956