“Consolations” is a 15th C. Irish poem that I translated a few years ago: I was binding a few copies today, and decided to re-read it….I’m glad I did!

I think it was the rich simplicity of the poet’s life that struck me. Here is the Introduction to the poem that I wrote –you can read that for yourself. And I plan to post the whole poem here, probably tomorrow….


In this fascinating poem, written in Ireland –in Irish– about 1500 A.D., we get a unique glimpse into the interior life of a civilized man. We sense that he lives in or near a city or a town. He is anonymous: we know nothing about him. But in a far more profound sense –thanks to his poem– we know a great deal.

Having lost some dear friends, the man turns to his possessions for consolation. These, note, are not the acquisitions of modern consumerism, but are related to his interior life. He calls for a book. The printing press is still quite new: it seems more likely that the book is a handmade calligraphed book, perhaps his own version of the old Irish family books. He appreciates the binding, “Clean smooth pages, firmly stitched together.” He calls for his pencase: pens are exciting. He is a poet. He is a calligrapher: his writing is “well-lettered, jet-black, ordered.”

He wants his book of poems, “in noble classic Gaelic.” He is interested in history, genealogy. His arithmetic book will help him enumerate the stars, and the days since the deluge.” (A contemporary preoccupation, seemingly: Bishop Ussher of Dublin was famous for enumerating the precise date of Creation (4004 B.C. –on, if memory serves, October 6th, at 2 p.m.)”

[Comment: Was God busy in the morning? Perhaps a round of Golf? Solo –of course!]

” On his “beautifully crafted” harp, his “gladsome lyre,” he plays “sparkling tunes…my heart swells.” He probably sings his poems. He admires his sword and dagger. He “thrice sharpens” them: we wonder how necessary they were. His chessboard delights him. He likes to win. And he has seen many “new dawns” playing dice.

Though he is sad, there is in the poem an air of activity and enthusiasm, and a warm humanism. He makes us feel, for all our globalized advances and invention and comforts, that our civilization has somehow become diminished. After all, his was the century of Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Erasmus, Gutenberg, the Aldine Press, Galileo, Columbus, Copernicus, Rabelais! We seem to have a built-in conceit: with us it is ever “onward and upward.” Regardless of what we actually do, tomorrow will be better than yesterday.

Would our poet agree with us? How confident are we?”

[End of Introduction: Tomorrow I will post some or all of the poem. You may if you wish purchase it (it costs ten dollars) on this website, but –recessions being what they are, at least you have the CONSOLATION of being able to read it here free of charge.

Incidentally, I think that “Consolations” was the last book that I published before Nine.Eleven –I found it remarkable how much our “sense of things” has changed since that particular “End of the World” .

I am of course interested in your comments. And let me throw out a question to you: ” Our 15th C. friend gathers his beloved objects –his consolations– to him: Books of poetry, arithmetic, genealogy; his pens, his harp, his sword & dagger, his chessboard, his dice. In 2010, what equivalent objects, what “consolations” would we gather to us?”]

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4 Responses to ““Consolations” is a 15th C. Irish poem that I translated a few years ago: I was binding a few copies today, and decided to re-read it….I’m glad I did!”

  1. Kevin T. McEneaney

    My 21st Century Consolations

    The smooth red stone I took from the ocean at Odysseus’ birthplace
    The flower I put in my second wedding champagne bottle
    An old penny I’ve kept since the age of four
    A memory of nearly drowning in the Colorado River when young
    Snipping the blue umbilical chord of my first son
    Examining the crude watermarks on Hungarian stamps at age seven
    Teaching my grandson Joshua to talk at the age of fifty-nine
    Stealing a bar stool from the old West End Bar at 4am closing
    Discovering the stub of O’Donovan Rossa’s insurance policy
    Hitchhiking in Alaska at sunset without a dime or care
    Driving my father to the hospital for the final leg of his life
    Smuggling hashish through Italy and Germany by train
    Languishing in Cook Country Jail and waiting to be beaten by cops
    Cradling my tiny newborn grandson Zeke in Maine on New Years Day
    Reading Gulliver’s Travels and The Count of Monte Christo at eleven
    Eating horsemeat in Zagreb with a poet from Scotland
    Canoeing rapids on the Yukon River in a sudden thunderstorm
    Sleeping in the Limerick City Park and being woken by Garda
    Playing my best game of chess in a Paris garret
    Drinking a bottle of Chianti while admiring Giotto’s frescoes in Assisi
    Walking naked in the wind on Sult Island in Denmark
    Reading that cricket Pushkin at four in the morning
    Taking my children ice skating for the first time
    Burying my tabby cat Pascal in clay up the hill behind my house
    Teaching Hamlet for the tenth time and loving it
    Driving down the road with my four-year-old clamping his hands over my eyes
    And on and on through sunset and sunrise in a world so beautiful
    That we should not let it end for others

  2. Malachi

    This is a great poem, Kevin. What an incidental resume! Each line took me to a different place –internal as well as external. Thanks from Malachi.

  3. Malachi

    Addendum —I wasn’t paying attention to your title –“Consolations”. It’s a good word. Also, Kevin, an apology from me; I tried to reply to your recent Truistan Tzara comment BUT couldn’t get the Comment Function to work. Now it seems to have healed itself.

  4. Kevin T. McEneaney

    Well, you and the old poet inspired the poem. I was not completely sober and just let it rip as quick as I could type. Thanks for the compliment. If it ever appears in book form, I’ll dedicate the poem to you, old friend.