scíth mo chrob ón scríbainn
Gan ainm [11th or 12th century]
Early Irish Lyrics, Eighth to Twelfth Century
edited by Gerard Murphy
Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1950
|Colum Cille cecinit / attributed to Colum Cille||
My Hand Is Weary With Writing - translation by Gerard Murphy (amended by Gerard Cunningham)
Is scÍth mo chrob ón scríbainn;
ní dígainn mo glés géroll;
sceithid mo phenn gulban cáelda
dig n-dáelda do dub glégorm.
Bruinnid srúaim n-ecna n-dedairn
as mo láim degduinn desmais;
doirtid a dig for duilinn
do dub in chuilinn chnesglais.
Sínim mo phenn m-bec m-bráenach
tar áenach lebar lígoll
gan scor, fri selba ségann,
dían scíth mo chrob ón scríbonn.
My hand is weary with writing;
my great sharp point is not thick;
my slender-nibbed pen juts forth
a beetle-hued draught of bright blue ink.
A steady stream of wisdom springs
from my well-coloured neat fair hand;
on the page it pours its draught
of ink of the green-skinned holly.
I stretch out my little dripping pen
over an Assembly of beautiful books
without stop, to enrich the possessions of men of art
- no wonder my hand is weary with writing.
The colours in this poem are fascinating. The pity of it is that the translation cannot do them justice. Start with the word "dub" ("dubh" in modern Irish) which originally meant "black", but also acquired the meaning of "ink". Can you even conceive of a 'beetle-hued...bright blue [black]'? Never mind that "blue" isn't necessarily the meaning of "gorm", ciar is another colour-word meaning black, & a "ciarog" is a beetle. Layers inside layers of Black-blue-black..
& like I said, "gorm" isn't necessarily "blue". "Gorm" & "glas" are usually translated as "blue" & "green" respectively, but it ain't necessarily so. The difference in Irish isn't between parts of the spectrum, but between light & dark. Light green & light blue are one colour [glas], dark green & dark blue another [gorm]. But again, 'glas' & 'gorm' can be modified by adjectives. So in the second verse, dark-glas [holly-glas] is gorm & the dark-gorm is dubh as it pours onto the page.
Then there's the writer's hand. Poorly translated as "well-coloured",
"degduinn" literally means "good-brown". Well-tanned is
the nearest in modern English, although "weathered" is closer to the
meaning. A well-tanned weathered brown hand, not just the hand of a writer, but
a hand that worked for a living.
"Desmais" reinforces this: "deas-maith" - nice-good.
By the time you get the the third verse then, even before the poet tells you how he 'stretches out my pen' [Sínim mo phenn], you're already seeing the colours in his illuminated script he's preparing.
It's doubtful that Colum Cille actually wrote this poem, but whoever did captured the legacy of that hardworking poet-druid.