I first came across this poem in a book of traditional poetry when I was fourteen. Though I was going through a stage where I despised romanticism, I was touched by this ancient Irish (I believe eighth century) lament from a girl abadoned by her lover. It is difficult to find the English transation of the full version these days. The nine verse one by Lady Gregory is better known. Still, perhaps because this is the version that I came across first, this is the one I prefer.
The contrast between the vernacular speech with the references to rural village life and the fanciful promises that the young man made to the girl when he courted her, followed by her coming upon him when he is in the act of callously abandoning her and riding off into an unknown future by himself, acting as though there is nothing between them, is evocative.
The stark image of the liar riding off, ‘making nothing of’ the girl to whom he made those impossible promises, made a deep impression on me even at fourteen.
The Grief of a Girl’s Heart
O Donall Og, if you go across the sea, bring myself with you and do not forget it; and you will have a sweetheart for fair days and market days, and the daughter of the King of Greece beside you at night.
It is late last night the dog was speaking of you; the snipe was speaking of you in her deep marsh. It is you are the lonely bird through the woods; and that you may be without a mate until you find me.
You promised me, and you said a lie to me, that you would be before me where the sheep are flocked; I gave a whistle and three hundred cries to you, and I found nothing there but a bleating lamb.
You promised me a thing that is not possible, that you would give me gloves of the skin of a fish; that you would give me shoes of the skin of a bird, and a suit of the dearest silk in Ireland.
O Donall Og, it is I would be better to you than a high, proud, spendthrift lady: I would milk the cow; I would bring help to you; and if you were hard pressed, I would strike a blow for you.
O, ochone, and it’s not with hunger or with wanting food, or drink, or sleep, that I am growing thin, and my life is shortened; but it is the love of a young man has withered me away.
It is early in the morning that I saw him coming, going along the road on the back of a horse; he did not come to me; he made nothing of me; and it is on my way home that I cried my fill.
It was on that Sunday I gave my love to you; the Sunday that is last before Easter Sunday. And myself on my knees reading the Passion; and my two eyes giving love to you for ever.
O, aya! my mother, give myself to him; and give him all that you have in the world; get out yourself to ask for alms, and do not come back and forward looking for me.
My mother said to me not to be talking with you to-day, or to-morrow, or on the Sunday; it was a bad time she took for telling me that; it was shutting the door after the house was robbed.
My heart is as black as the blackness of the sloe, or as the black coal that is on the smith’s forge; or as the sole of a shoe left in white halls; it was you put that darkness over my life.
You have taken the east from me; you have taken the west from me; you have taken what is before me and what is behind me; you have taken the moon, you have taken the sun from me; and my fear is great that you have taken God from me!