Poems That Make Grown Women Cry
Donal Og ANONYMOUS
‘Donal Og’ is recited in John Huston’s last film The Dead. After watching that movie as a teenager I then found the same poem in an anthology, The Rattle Bag, edited by Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney. This was all pre-Google searches, of course, so it seemed like a spectacular coincidence to hear and read this poem twice in the same year, without knowing who wrote it or where it came from.
It has since become quite popular; I saw it in the literary supplement of a newspaper and then heard it read beautifully on Roger McGough’s Radio 4 programme Poetry Please.
I still find it just as affecting now as I did at sixteen. More so, in fact.
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 was hard for you,
a ship of gold under a silver mast;
twelve towns with a market in all of them,
and a fine white court by the side of the sea.
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.
When I go by myself to the Well of Loneliness,
I sit down and I go through my trouble;
when I see the world and do not see my boy,
he that has an amber shade in his hair.
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.
My mother has said to me not to be talking with you today,
or tomorrow, 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!
TRANSLATION BY LADY AUGUSTA GREGORY
The actress Natascha McElhone is known for her roles in such films as The Devil’s Own (1997), Ronin (1998), The Truman Show (1998) and Solaris (2002), as well as the US television series Californification (2007–14). She is also the author of After You (2010).