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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Líadan Laments Cuirithir

(an image from the Book of Kells, created
by Irish monks circa 800 A.D.)

“The course of true love never did run smooth,” wrote Shakespeare in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Among the many star-crossed lovers in life and in art are Abélard and Héloïse, Romeo and Juliet, John Keats and Fanny Brawne, Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara, Charles and Diana, and Al and Tipper Gore.

One of the earliest tragic romances recorded in verse was written by an unknown Irish poet in the ninth century. It tells the story of the sixth-century poet Líadan, who was forbidden from joining her lover, the poet Cuirithir, because she had made a vow of chastity. When she pursued him, he crossed the sea into exile and left her alone to mourn their love.


what I have done!
to torment my darling one.

But for fear
of the Lord of Heaven
he would lie with me here.

Not vain,
it seemed, our choice,
to seek Paradise through pain.

I am Líadan,
I loved Cuirithir
as truly as they say.

The short time
I passed with him
how sweet his company!

The forest trees
sighed music for us;
and the flaring blue of seas.

What folly
to turn him against me
whom I had treated most gently!

No whim
or scruple of mine
should have come between

Us, for above
all others, without shame
I declare him my heart’s love.

A roaring flame
has consumed my heart:
I will not live without him.

~ Translation by John Montague, born 1929, Irish poet