Monday 26 September 2016

Poetry: German who recreated rhythm of Gaelic verse

Ulick O'Connor

Published 27/12/2015 | 02:30

Kuno Meyer
Kuno Meyer

Kuno Meyer, a German, was thought by many scholars to be the finest translator of Gaelic poetry into the English language. Snooty George Moore, the novelist, could bring himself to say of Meyer's translations that they were so good that "You could see them as in a mirror".

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Meyer had acquired a brilliant reputation for Celtic Studies at University of Leipzig before he came to Dublin in 1903 where he founded the School of Irish Learning. The Great War blighted his achievements. Incredibly, despite his contribution to Irish culture, Kuno Meyer was removed from the Roll of Honour in Dublin City Hall in 1915 because England had gone to war against his native country. Sadly, he died in 1919 before the Irish people had chance to make up to him in his lifetime.

What is remarkable about Kuno Meyer's translation is that he has managed to recreate in English the sound and rhythm of Gaelic verse. In the translation here for instance, he can achieve an exquisite intimacy when he talks to the figure on the cross: "They began to crucify Thee, O cheek like a swan".

That Kuno Meyer could have provided a window to Irish poetry of over a thousand years old, tells us of the debt we owe to this magnificent Hamburg scholar.

The Crucifixion

At the cry of the first bird

They began to crucify Thee, O cheek like a swan

It were not right ever to cease lamenting -

It was like the parting of day from night.

Ah! Though sore the suffering

Put upon the body of Mary's Son -

Sorer to Him was the grief

That was upon her for His sake.

Kuno Meyer 1858-1919

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