Tuesday 12 December 2017

Poetry: King of the short story was also a deft translator

Fine short-story writer: Frank O'Connor
Fine short-story writer: Frank O'Connor

Ulick O'Connor

This year is the 50th anniversary of the death of Frank O'Connor, who is thought by many to be the finest short-story writer in English of his time.

I first met him sauntering past Jammet's Restaurant on Nassau Street with his head in the air. I said I wanted to ask him about Oliver St John Gogarty, who I was writing a life of. He replied that he never knew Gogarty, which was a porky. I knew it to be untrue but didn't choose to contradict him.

Seven years later, when my biography of Gogarty was published, O'Connor gave it a splendid review in The London Spectator. I went to see him to thank him, and we became friends.

O'Connor is greatly underestimated. His output as a short-story writer alone puts him in the class of Chekhov, Maupassant and Turgenev. As well, his translations of Gaelic poetry are invaluable for the majority of our generation cut off from that treasure house of wonderful verse.

Here is how he rendered his translation of Ní Bhfuighe Mise Bás Duit (I Shall Not Die for Thee). It is a fine example of word music; internal rhymes ringing out as they come up and repetition with slightly different meanings.


I shall not die because of you,

O woman, though you shame the swan;

They were foolish men you killed;

Do not think me a foolish man.

Why should I leave the world behind

For the soft hand, the dreaming eye,

The scarlet mouth, the breasts of snow,

Is it for these you'd have me die ?

The joyous air, the fancy free,

The slender palm, the eye of blue,

The side like foam, the virgin neck ?

I shall not die because of you.

O woman, though you shame the swan,

A wise man taught me all he knew,

I know the subtleties of love,

I shall not die because of you.

Frank O'Connor 1903-1966

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