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The wind carves shapes into the beach sand

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#2111 - Tuesday, April 12, 2005 - Editor: Jerry Katz

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Issue #2106 -- -- featured poetry by Gabriel Rosenstock. Gabriel was cited as the translator, however it was not noted that he was also the author. He wrote the poems in Irish and then translated them into English. Here is a blurb I came across about Gabriel:


What is it that makes Gabriel Rosenstock the greatest living Irish lyric poet? He is the best tailor in town, a perfect craftsman, who looks terrific in any poetic garb – from haiku to Canto – and yet exposes raw nerves, suffering words like a wounded bird ‘picking at a wino’s vomit’.

--Peter van de Kamp, editor Irish Literature


I asked Gabriel about the Irish language. He wrote:


Dear Jerry,

What it means to write in Irish is this: one is writing in one of the oldest literary languages of Europe, the oldest after Greek and Latin.

Anybody wishing to listen to some poetry in Irish and enjoy its very sophisticated versecraft may purchase the bilingual anthology and accompanying audio-cassette A TREASY OF IRISH LOVE which I edited for Hippocrene Books, New York.

For me it means that reality is filtered through a medium which does not have the massive exposure - and consequent contamination??? - of English.

I do not  wish to set languages up against each other. This would be wrong. Indeed, I write in both languages. I am interested in the way the Chicano poet Francisco X. Alarcón tries to reappropriate Nahuatl, a language his grandmother knew. Such linguistic repossession of part of the soul and ritual of pre-Columbian America sounds like a salutary exercise to me.

Isaac Bashevis Singer said he was nourished on dead languages, Hebrew, Yiddidh and Aramaic. Will Irish die? Probably ... but won't all languages die at some stage?

Irish captivated me from an early age:

* sagairtín: a little priest; also, an inedible periwinkle...
* gealach: the moon; also a thin slice of raw turnip...
* iomas gréine: sun inspiration; a sun-bubble caused on herbs which if eaten gives the gift of poetry...
* turcaí: a turkey; also a slang word for a beast kept by a herd in mountain pasture for his own benefit with or without the knowledge
of his master ...
* brionglán: a beam, a shaft, a branch; also, one side of a tongs
* aiteall: joy; also, a bright spell after rain
* múta: one who can do nothing properly
* donn: a prince, a chief, a judge; also, the name of a fairy inhabiting sandbanks off the coast of Clare ....

One could go on, but I think you get the picture!

The website you mentioned is fine ...


This is the website: And this is from the website:


Irish is a Celtic language spoken in a number of small communities, mostly in the west of Ireland, and by larger numbers of people scattered across the country. It has been the spoken language of Ireland for over two thousand years, and has an extensive literature stretching back to the seventh century. While Irish speakers are very much a minority in the Ireland of today, they have an importance to the cultural life of the nation far out of proportion to their numbers. Irish is by constitutional law the first official language of the Irish Republic, and was recently awarded official status in the Six Counties of Northern Ireland as a central part of the Good Friday Agreement.





Here is more from Gabriel Rosenstock. I have made some selections from his recent work described below:


He writes,


Dear Jerry,

My selected poems translated from the Irish will be coming out later this year in bilingual format. The translatons are by one Paddy Bushe. He arranged the titles in alphabetical order rather than in chronological order so we have duality and nonduality back and forth a bit, as one might expect over a thirty year period!
In 1992 the poet F. X. Alarcón gave me an Aztec name, Xolotl and this is the title of one of the visionary poems in the collection...

Rogha Dánta

                                       Selected Poems


                                    Gabriel Rosenstock

            Translated from the Irish by Paddy Bushe






The translator has arranged the English-language versions in alphabetical order.

© Gabriel Rosenstock, Irish originals

© Paddy Bushe, English translations

© 2005 Cló Iar-Chonnachta, this edition


Is mé an solas


Cé thú?

Is mé Khepéirí ar maidin

Rá um nóin

Is mé Atúm um thráthnóna.

Tríonóid an tsolais mé.

Níl sa doircheacht ach díth solais.

Is mé Khepéirí-Rá-Atúm

An ga a thollann Sí an Bhrú

An chéad drithle sa chéad fhuaim

An siolla lonrach deireanach.




I’m sorry to have to say

That I didn’t really get your poem.

Maybe the fault was my own.

I understood every word of it.

Nothing at all in the syntax

Threw me, I must admit.

Rhythm and expression, needless to say,

Were spot on for the times we’re in.

What’s wrong with free verse?

Formality, after all, has bowed out.


But what I didn’t quite get was this:

Why did you write it in the first place?

It carries no trace at all of midnight

Sweat, or terror, or exuberance

Nor of your being unable to touch base again

Until your poem was safely on paper

And you had hoarsely called back

Your soul, that, like a Daddy Long Legs,

Had gone cavorting high up in the firmament.




as soon as it’s named

            the lungwort scatters itself

                        all over the place


luaitear a ainm

            agus siúd an crotal coille

                        ar fud na bhfud


those faces

            in the roaring fire

                        are also fated to change



            sa bhéilteach thine

                        is dual dóibh siúd athrú, leis



a single magpie

            swallows a beakful

                        of its reflected self


snag breac

            ólann lán a ghoib

                        dá íomhá féin



Triúr fear sa leabharlann.

An teas a thug isteach iad.

Duine acu ag míogarnach

an leabhar tite ar a ghlúine.

Boladh múin ón dtriúr acu.

Scuaine ag fanacht ar an Idirlíon a úsáid,

mic léinn Shíneacha den chuid is mó.

Dírbheathaisnéis Hakuin, manach Zen, atá uaim.

Aimsím sa deireadh í

i measc na leabhar garraíodóireachta –

tá an áit seo trína chéile.


Nach geall le manaigh iad ina slí féin iad an triúr?

Bocht. Díomhaoin.

Léim fé Hakuin ar thuirling saithe muiscítí air

is é i mbun rinnfheithimh.

Níor chorraigh sé.

Tar éis dó idir cholainn agus aigne a tharchéimniú

chuimil sé na muiscítí de féin

gur thiteadar go léir ina bpiotail mhíne ar an talamh fé.


Leabhair ag imeacht.

Leabhair ag filleadh go maolchluasach.


Ní dúil sa léinn, sa ghaois, ná sa mhachnamh

a ghríosaigh mo thriúr

ach bheith istigh ón bhfuacht.

Ní ciclipéidí, úrscéalta, nuachtáin ná filíocht atá uathu

ach bearradh gruaige, bearradh féasóige

athrú éadaí cnis

focal sóláis

an beannú féin

babhla súip.


Cé hiad?

Ní maith liom stánadh orthu.

An bhfeicfear fós i bpáirc phoiblí iad

ag léamh na haimsire

ar theacht na dea-uaine?


Níl faic na ngrást le rá agam leo.

Tá Hakuin, leis, ina staic. Balbh.



Three men in the library,

coaxed in by the heat.

One of them yawns

as wide as the book on his knees.

All three stinking of piss.

A queue for the Internet,

mostly Chinese students.

I’m looking for Hakuin’s autobiography, the Zen monk.

I find it at eventually

among the gardening books –

this place is in a fierce rírá.


Aren’t the three a class of monks themselves?

Mendicant. Idle.

A swarm of mosquitoes, I read, settled on Hakuin

while he was meditating.

He never stirred.

Having transcended mind and body

he stroked the mosquitoes off

and they fell from him as softly as petals.


Books going out.

Books coming back, dog-eared.


It was no grá for learning, or wisdom, or philosophy

that brought in the three buckos,

only to be inside from the cold.

They don’t want encyclopaedias, fiction, newspapers or poetry,

only a haircut, a shave

a change of underwear

a kind word

a blessing even

a bowl of soup.


Who are they?

I don’t like to stare.

Will they be noticed yet in a public park

divining the weather

at an auspicious time?


I haven’t a blessed thing to say to them.

Hakuin, too, is stumped. Struck dumb.


Sometimes I’m a scarecrow


Sometimes I’m a scarecrow,

Scared of my self –

My own lies torment me.


Strip me of my clothes

Tear them to pieces

Burn my entrails

That I may hear the agonised

Cry of my birth.

I would move then as a flame through life

I would speak in tongues of fire

I would dance at fairs

I would frighten children

What would I not do!

Traverse the sky as northern lights

As shooting stars from the Milky Way.

Sometimes …



Let the raven come

Let it pluck out my eyes

I would make a black comedy of a wedding

I would jump out of my skin at a christening

I would eat grass!

I would drink hare’s piss!

I am a scarecrow

Between heaven and earth

Blind to my fate

My provenance unknown

From my soul’s furnace

Sparks break free

Through my eyes.

Sometimes I’m a scarecrow …



My head doesn’t matter

Any more –

But leave me my hat.

At Confirmation

I would steal the bishop’s ring

I would buy loaves

And two salt fish

And wait for a miracle

Until I was famished.

Sometimes I’m a scarecrow

Scared of myself –



Who tarred my tongue

And feathered it?

Who cares!

The wind will speak through me


From all points

Icy stories


Stories of refugees, of the homeless.

Sometimes I’m a scarecrow,

Scared of myself –

My own lies torment me.



Bear me to the river

The Boyne

The Nile

Immerse me in the Ganges

Or in the Jordan:

I have travelled through fire

Through desert

And across ice

Headless and faithful.

By Heaven!

I claim a final haven!


The Buddha


How far did you travel, Buddha,

Or how far can you be followed?

You immolated yourself in Nirvana, far on the other side,

The other side of yourself, Gautama,

And with the height of compassion

You left your gentle image after you

A smile that comprehends yuga after yuga

An image that says you were not there

To burn in the first place –

There are the blackberries

The pooka shat on

The world’s loneliness


You went beyond yourself

That all might be threshed in the haggard of their karma

You should not be adored

Because you are not a god

You banished all the gods

Fleeing, they dropped in a faint

As flowers at your feet, your unmoving feet

Burn the words, Buddha, gently



An Búda

Cén fhaid a ghabhais, a Bhúda,

Nó cén fhaid is féidir tú a leanúint?

Loiscis thú féin in Nírvána, lastall ar fad,

Lastall díot féin, Gautáma,

Is le teann comhbhá

D’fhágais d’íomhá chaoin id dhiaidh

Aoibh a chuimsíonn yúga i ndiaidh yúga

Íomhá a deir nach rabhais ann

Le loisceadh an chéad lá -

            Siúd thall na sméara dubha

                        Ar chac an púca orthu

                                    Uaigneas na cruinne

                                                Níl aon ní buan

Ghabhais tharat féin

Chun go gcáithfí cách in iothlainn a gceárma

Ní le hadhradh ataoi

Mar nach dia thú

Chuiris an ruaig ar na déithe go léir

Theitheadar thiteadar ina bpleist

Ina mbláthanna ag do chosa, do chosa nach gcorrraíonn

Dóigh na focail seo, a Bhúda, go séimh


Thank God it’s raining


rain pitches into roofs

scours television aerials,

gives a new lease of life

to grass poking through tarmacadam.

not even the tiniest germ, you’d think,

could survive this intense purity:

drainpipes and channels

sing celestial cantatas.


Wind song


He would take off with the clouds before they froze in the sky: the world’s last dreamer. Before the birds shrivelled, before the worms abandoned their dumb rootings. Searching for his own reflection in a nib of frost.


Amhrán i mbéal na gaoithe





I was born

once again

last night.


This time

in the shape of

Xolotl –

twin brother

of the Morning Star.


The other died

a sudden death

neither peaceful

nor unpeaceful

as an ending.


It was sudden

without sorrow

or pain


or separation.


In the blink of an eye

we can


in truth

there is no way

but this

to our salvation.


[This is the beginning, a fragment of a long poem, which will appear in the next of the Highlights which I edit. --Jerry]


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