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General Bardic Studies for Liturgists 1: Requirement 3

Compare and contrast examples from the work of two poets of the same historical era from two different cultural traditions. (minimum 300 words of the student's original essay material beyond the verses provided at least two poems per poet)

This essay will compare the Irish poet Amergin and the Old High German Merseberg Spells. While the Merseberg spells are anonymous, they were written by the same hand on the same book, and though they are obviously not original to the monk who wrote them down in the book, it is generally agreed that they were re-worked by that hand. If the original spells were not written by the same author, they have at least passed through a single author's hand at one point, and submitted to his standardization.

1. Irish Poet: Amergin

Toghairm na hÉireann

Amergin's Invocation of Ireland

Áiliu íath nÉireann
éarmach muir mothach
mothach sliabh screatach
screatach coill citheach
citheach ab eascach
eascach loch linnmhar
linnmhar tor tiopra
tiopra túath óenach
óemach ríg Teamhrach
Teamhair tor túathach
túathach mac Mhíleadh
Míleadh long libearn
libearn ar nÉirinn
Éireann ard díglas
dícheatal ro gáeth
ro gáeth bán Bhreise
Breise bán buaigne
Bé adhbhul Ériu
Érimon ar dtús
Ir, Éber, áileas
áiliu íath nÉireann
I request the land of Ireland (to come forth)
coursed is the wild sea
wild the crying mountains
crying the generous woods
generous in showers (rain/waterfalls)
showers lakes and vast pools
vast pools hosts of well-springs
well-springs of tribes in assembly
assembly of kings of Tara
Tara host of tribes
tribes of the sons of Mil
Mil of boats and ships
ships come to Ireland
Ireland high terribly blue
an incantation on the (same) wind
(which was the) wind empty of Bres
Bres of an empty cup
Ireland be mighty
Ermon at the beginning
Ir, Eber, requested
(now it is) I (who) request the land of Ireland!

2. Irish Poet: Amergin

Duan Amhairghine

Amergin's Challenge

Am gáeth tar na bhfarraige
Am tuile os chinn maighe
Am dord na daíthbhe
Am damh seacht mbeann
Am drúchtín rotuí ó ngréin
Am an fráich torc
Am seabhac a néad i n-aill
Am ard filidheachta
Am álaine bhláithibh
Am an t-eo fis
Cía an crann agus an theine ag tuitim faire
Cía an dhíamhairina cloch neamh shnaidhite
Am an ríáin gach uile choirceoige
Am an theine far gach uile chnoic
Am an scíath far gach uile chinn
Am an sleagh catha
Am nómá tonnag sírthintaghaív
Am úagh gach uile dhóich dhíamaíní
Cía fios aige conara na gréine agus linn na éisce
Cía tionól na rinn aige, ceangladh na farraige,
cor i n-eagar na harda, na haibhne, na túatha.
I am a wind across the sea
I am a flood across the plain
I am the roar of the tides
I am a stag of seven (pair) tines
I am a dewdrop let fall by the sun
I am the fierceness of boars
I am a hawk, my nest on a cliff
I am a height of poetry (magical skill)
I am the most beautiful among flowers
I am the salmon of wisdom
Who (but I) is both the tree and the lightning strikes it
Who is the dark secret of the dolmen not yet hewn
I am the queen of every hive
I am the fire on every hill
I am the shield over every head
I am the spear of battle
I am the ninth wave of eternal return
I am the grave of every vain hope
Who knows the path of the sun, the periods of the moon
Who gathers the divisions, enthralls the sea,
sets in order the mountains. the rivers, the peoples

3. OHG Poet: Anonymous

Mersberg Spell 1: Lösesegen: Liberation from Bonds

Eiris sazun idisi
sazun hera duoder.
suma hapt heptidun,
suma heri lezidun,
suma clubodun
umbi cuoniouuidi:
insprinc haptbandun,
inuar uigandun.
Once the Idisi set forth,
to this place and that.
Some fastened fetters,
Some hindered the horde,
Some loosed the bonds
from the brave:
Leap forth from the fetters,
escape from the foes.

 4. OHG Poet: Anonymous

Mersberg Spell 2: Horse Cure

Phol ende uuodan
uuorun zi holza.
du uuart demo balderes uolon
sin uuoz birenkit.
thu biguol en sinthgunt,
sunna era suister;
thu biguol en friia,
uolla era suister;
thu biguol en uuodan,
so he uuola conda:

sose benrenki,
sose bluotrenki,
sose lidirenki:
ben zi bena,
bluot zi bluoda,
lid zi geliden,
sose gelimida sin.
Phol and Odin
rode into the woods,
There Balder's foal
sprained its foot.
It was charmed by Sinthgunt,
her sister Sunna.
It was charmed by Frija,
her sister Volla.
It was charmed by Wodan,
as he well knew how:

like blood-sprain,
Like limb-sprain:
Bone to bone,
blood to blood,
Limb to limb,
As though they were glued.

Both of these poems have passed through the hands of scribes who were not of the same religion as the original composer. Amergin's words, of course, were written by an Irish monk in the Book of Invasions, and the Merseberg spells were found in a Latin liturgical book. Each of these poems is also a magical spell of some sort: Amergin's first poem draws Ireland from the mists; his second invokes the Awen, the inspiration that Druids are famous for. The Merseberg spells each cause something to manifest in the material world: the first can free a warrior from bonds; the second cures a horse from a sprained foot.

The first and most obvious difference is Amergin's mastery of (or perhaps dependency on) repetition. In the first example, each line begins with the word the previous line ends with. In the second poem, the lines tend to begin with the phrase, "I am". Both poems display a very rhythmic sort of repetition that might lead one to feel as if they were experiencing a trance-like state during the recitation.

The Merseberg Spells contain some repetition like this as well. The second one, "Horse Cure", repeats the word "sprain" (or, OHG renki) over and over again, while the first does the same with "some" (OHG suma). Despite this, it is certainly not as prominent as the repetition in Amergin's spells.

In the Merseberg spells, there is a greater dependency on internal rhymes, such as alliteration and a glimmer of end-rhyme. The Amergin poems are generally absent of this sort of structure, depending more on the repetition to aid the poet in remembering the lines.

Both sets of spells, though, seek to create change in the world. Amergin wishes to draw Ireland from the Druidic mists, while the OHG poet seeks to mend his horses' foot or escape from bonds. It is interesting that in both cultures, poetry is a primary force in causing these things to happen.


Translations of Amergin's poems Copyright © 1993 John Kellnhauser: Ó Tuathail, Seán. "The Excellence of Ancient Word: Druid Rhetorics from Ancient Irish Tales"


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