It is neither watercress
which I chew fiercely
this fitting taste of my days
‘hup! Ya bitch, hup!
if it was the right gap
you wanted to avoid
on you go then my dear, onwards,
a day of long grass stretches kindly for you
I chew keenly of my bitter cud
until I empty
I chew until the lustrous saliva fills
and the spittle
I cast out fiercely.
A ripe bulk
of berries sweetens
along the path.
Notes on this poem
Some time ago, I was invited to give a lecture on Irish language poetry at the Irish Writers’ Centre. As I read, one poem in particular took me by surprise – ‘Aimhréidh’ by Caitlín Maude. It’s a poem that I’ve loved for years, but I had always read it silently, alone. I looked out to the audience and noticed that some people were weeping. Maude’s poetry assumes a greater poignancy due to what we know of the poet’s life – that she died of cancer at the age of just 41, leaving bereft a husband, a young son, family and friends, and many admirers of her work.
Caitlín Maude was a writer who loved Dublin, and felt creatively nourished by all the rush and noise of the city. That night, as I walked past pubs, taxis and chippers, I felt her walk with me. I had been awarded a residency at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre and just before I left, I was told by a friend of Maude’s that she, too, had visited in the last year of her life. I spent many mornings reading and translating Caitlín’s poems to English, and thought of her often as I sat at my desk and gazed out at Annamaghkerrig Lake. She, too, must have looked at that glassy surface during her stay.
A versatile artist, aside from her work in literature, theatre, and politics, Caitlín Maude is perhaps best known for her music. She was a gifted singer in the traditional sean-nós style, and in recordings, her voice lilts high as a lark. We are fortunate to be left with the legacy of Caitlín’s poems, this beautiful echo of her life. Across the decades, her words sing to us, still.
My gratitude to Caomhán Ó Luain, Caitlín’s son, who gave permission last year for these translations to be published.