The Celtic Literature Collective

The Hermit and the King

Marbhan, O hermit, 
why dost thou not sleep in a bed?
More often thou sleepest in the air 
thy head stretched along a pine-root.

I have a little hut in the wood 
unknown to all save my Lord:
on this side an ash, on the other a hazel, 
an old tree hangs over it.

It has two doorposts of heather to support it, 
and a threshold of honeysuckle:
the wood about its narrow space 
sheds mast for the fat swine.

The size of my hut is—small, but not too small,
many are its familiar paths:
a sweet strain falls from its gable— 
she sings in her cloak of raven’s colour.

The stags of Druim Rolach leap 
into its stream, bordered by pure fields, 
visible from there is red Roigne, 
noble Mucraimi, and Maonmag.

The hiding foliage of a green yew tree 
supports the sky:
fair spot! the wide greenery of an oak 
stands against the bad weather.

A tree of apples, great its crop,
sheltering, widespread:
a pretty bush fistful with little hazelnuts
branching, green.

An excellent well, a fall of water, 
noble to drink:
watercresses and yewberries grow there, 
and flourishing ivy.

Tame swine hide around it, 
goats and hogs, 
wild pigs, grazing deer, 
and a badger-warren.

A peaceful host, a whole flock of land-dwellers 
visit my dwelling:
foxes come to ambush them— 
is not that delightful?

Princely excellence comes to my house 
in ready offering:
pure water, ever-flourishing bushes, 
salmon, trout.

Rowanberry, black sloes, 
dun blackthorns, 
plenty of food, acorns, lean berries, 
smooth flags.

A clutch of eggs, honey, sweet mast, 
God has bestowed it all:
sweet apples, red cranberries, 
heather berries.

Ale of herbs, a vessel of strawberries, 
tasting well, coloured well, 
haws, yewberries, 
sloes, nuts.

A cup of hazelnut mead, bluebells, 
quick rushes, 
little dun oaks, thorny brier, 
and good sweet-tangle.

If summer be gentle and its mantle coloured, 
what delicious dainties— 
pignuts, wild marjoram, green leeks,
green and pure.

The strains of the bright redbreasted little fellows 
most dear to me:
the deep song of the thrush, the ever-fair cuckoos,
above my hut.

Swarms of bees, chafers, the little musicians of the world, 
make gentle humming:
wild geese, woodcocks, near by Samhain, 
announcing the dark torrent.

The able bird, the battling wren, 
from the hazel branch, 
beautiful hooded woodpeckers 
in a great flock.

There come white birds, cranes, seagulls, 
the cuckoo sings, 
nor is his music sad; dun henbirds rise 
out of the red heather.

The clamour of the heifers in the summer, 
brightest season of all;
it is not bitter or hard going over the fertile plain, 
delightful and smooth.

The wind cries against the woven wood; 
A grey cloud passes;
river waterfalls; the cry of the swan; 
delightful music.

The fairest of herds makes music for me, 
and that without a foray, 
I am thankful for what has been given me 
by my fair Christ.

Without once in strife, without the din of fighting, 
in my house, 
grateful to the King who gives me every good thing
in my bothy.

I would give my glorious kingdom
with my share of Colman’s heritage:
I would forfeit it to the hour of my death
to be in thy company, Marbhan.

Translated and edited by Kuno Meyer. David Nutt, London, 1901. From Sean O’Faoláin's The Silver Branch.