Friday, March 17, 2017

Let me riff a little on Kuno Meyer

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Let me riff a little on Kuno Meyer. His name surfaced on my horizon way back. The book was Selections of Ancient Irish Poetry (1911). I bought a replicated version of the book - which was something you did back in the day on out-of-print books whose copyrights had expired. A nifty version of Selections of Ancient Irish Poetry is now on the Web via the Way Back machine.

Memorable name and it belonged to a guy who was very deep into early Irish poetry. His translations were amazing. You know there are some people (Angel Flores is another) who get it, when it comes to translating poetry.

I didn’t really know anything about Kuno himself. And was disappointed when I looked him up (cursorily) that there wasn’t much about his talent .. but there was a whole lot about his controversy.

I just learned today he was a German scholar, and he went to Great Britain as a student, and he developed a love for Irish poetry. But what he became famous for was something completely other. During WW I, before U.S. joined, he was at Harvard, and vocally favored Germany (Kaiser-era Germany, this was) ,and so he got blackballed by the English and the Irish (who were then dominated by English) and by the Americans even though it was a time when we were still neutral. Later on, after independence, the Irish reinstated some of his honorariums.

Well, here is some flavor of the scholar Meyer. An intro to Ancient Irish Poetry.  Let him speak:

" Slowly, ..., the fact is becoming recognised in ever wider circles that the vernacular literature of ancient Ireland is the most primitive and original among the literatures of Western Europe, and that in its origins and development it affords a most fascinating study. Whatever may be its intrinsic merit, its importance as the earliest voice from the dawn of West European civilisation cannot be denied."

"Religious poetry ranges from single quatrains to lengthy compositions dealing with all the varied aspects of religious life. Many of them give us a fascinating insight into the peculiar character of the early Irish Church, which differed in so many ways from the rest of the Christian world."

"In Nature poetry the Gaelic muse may vie with that of any other nation. Indeed, these poems occupy a unique position in the literature of the world. To seek out and watch and love Nature, in its tiniest phenomena as in its grandest, was given to no people so early and so fully as to the Celt. Many hundreds of Gaelic and Welsh poems testify to this fact."

Let's take a look at Meyer's thoughts on the Irish and Japanese poetry - as they dovetail with those of the recent Irish poetry champ, the late Seamus Heaney. [All this cadged from author Irene DeAngelis.] In an introduction to Ancient Irish Poetry Kuno noted that the Celts, like the Japanese, avoided the obvious in composition. "The half said thing to them is dearest." he writes. Heaney in an interview too sees a poetic kinship - a deep one:

"A devotion to succinctness, to formal concision, to delight in the natural world" as well as monkishness, asceticism, hermitage and "a response to a detail of the world that was a response to its whole mystery." 

If you follow this link… it leads to more .. and more .. of these St Patrick's Day Irish Poetry posts.

I am not much of a nature poet. In a way, I am a city boy. But I do appreciate the view on Nature of Ireland obtained in this PBS Nature documentary, while warning that this link probably wont be live forever.

And finally (see below) let's go to SoundCloud for a reading of Meyer (translation) with Cold, Cold Tonight , Heaney with Molyullah. - Jack Vaughan

The fish of Ireland are a-roaming,
There is no strand which the wave does not pound,
Not a town there is in the land,
Nor a bell is heard, no crane talks.
-From Cold Tonight

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