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James Walck

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"Shortening the Road"

Himself and his son were walking the road together one day, and the Goban said to the son, “Shorten the road for me.” So the son began to walk fast, thinking that would do it, but the Goban sent him back home when he didn’t understand what to do.

The next day they were walking, and the Goban said again to shorten the road for him, and this time he began to run, and the Goban sent him home again. When he went in and told the wife he was sent home the second time, she began to think, and she said, “When he bids you shorten the road, it is that he wants you to be telling him stories.” For that is what the Goban meant, but it took the daughter-in-law to understand it.

And it is what I was saying to the other woman, that if one of ourselves was making a journey, if we had another along with us, it would not seem to be one half as long as if we wouldn’t be alone. And if this is so with us, it is much more with a stranger, and so I went up the hill with you to shorten the road, telling you that story.


- A Story from the 15th Century -


Who Will Buy a Poem?

I ask, who will buy a poem? Its meaning is the true learning of sages. Would anyone take, does anyone want, a noble poem which would make him immortal?

Though tis is a poem of close-knit lore, I have walked all Munster with it, every market-place from Cross to Cross - and it has brought me no profit from last year to the present.

Though a groat would be small payment, no man nor any woman offered it; not a man spoke of the reason, but neither Irish nor English heeded me.

An art like this is no profit to me, though it is hard that it should die out ;
it would be more dignified to go and make combs - why should anyone else take up poetry?

Corc of Cashel lives no more, nor Cian, who did not hoard up cattle nor the price of them, men who were generous in rewarding - poets - alas, it is good-bye to the race of Eibhear.

The prize for generosity was never taken from them, until Cobhtach died, and I spare to mention the many kindreds for whom I might have continued to make poetry.

I am like a trading ship that has lost its freight, after the FitzGeralds who deserved renown. I hear no offers - how that torments me!

It is a vain quest about which I ask.


Irish Mahon O’ Hefferman - 17th Century


- An Irish Monk's poem from the 9th Century -

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