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The Song of Amergin

This section contains variant translations of the Song of Amergin.You will find the earliest version in Gaelic (and its translation) along with some commentary by Mary Jones. We offer our sincere thanks to her for helping us to find the closest translation. I have also reproduced some fo the more popular as I have found them around the web.

The Song of Amergin from the Book of Leinster

Earliest manuscript:
Lebar na Núachongbála (The Book of Leinster)
p. 49 in the diplomatic edition; from the CELT site

Ic tabairt a choisse dessi i nHerind asbert Amairgen Glúngel mac Miled in laídseo sís.

1. Am gáeth i mmuir. ar domni.
2. Am tond trethan i tír. 1550] {MS folio 12b 40}
3. Am fúaim mara.
4. Am dam secht ndírend.
5. Am séig i n-aill.
6. Am dér gréne.g
7. Am caín. 1555]
8. Am torc ar gail.
9. Am hé i llind.
10. Am loch i mmaig
11. Am briandai.
12. Am bri danae. 1560]
13. Am gai i fodb. feras feochtu.
14. Am dé delbas do chind codnu.
15. Coiche nod gleith clochur slébe. {MS folio 12b 45}
16. Cia on cotagair aesa éscai
17. Cia dú i llaig funiud grene. 1565]
18. Cia beir búar o thig Temrach.
19. Cia buar Tethrach. tibi.
20. Cia dain.
21. Cia dé delbas faebru. a ndind ailsiu.
22. Cáinté im gaí cainte gaithe. Am. 1570]

I can give two translations that are closest to the version in the Book of Leinster; the first is John Carey's (which is the more accurate), and the second R.A.S. MacAllister's (which isn't as accurate, but was good for its time)

John Carey's Translation

James Carey's translation: from The Celtic Heroic Age (2003) (pg. 265)

108. As he set his right foot upon Ireland, Amairgen Glúngel son of Míl recited this poem:

I am a wind in the sea (for depth)
I am a sea-wave upon the land (for heaviness)
I am the sound of the sea (for fearsomeness)
I am a stag of seven combats (for strength)
I am a hawk upon a cliff (for agility)
I am a tear-drop of the sun (for purity)
I am fair (i.e. there is no plant fairer than I)
I am a boar for valour (for harshness)
I am a salmon in a pool (for swiftness)
I am a lake in a plain (for size)
I am the excellence of arts (for beauty)
I am a spear that wages battle with plunder.
I am a god who froms subjects for a ruler
Who explains the stones of the mountains?
Who invokes the ages of the moon?
Where lies the setting fo the sun?
Who bears cattle from the house of Tethra?
Who are the cattle of Tethra who laugh?
What man, what god forms weapons?
Indeed, then;
I invoked a satirist...
a satirist of wind.

This is the version we used for the show, although we dropped the medieval glosses and made a couple of small changes to make it easier to a listener to follow.

R.A.S. MacAllister's Translation

R.A.S. MacAllister's translation from Lebor Gabala Erenn (Irish Texts Society, 1941)

I am Wind on Sea,
I am Ocean-wave,
I am Roar of Sea,
I am Bull of Seven Fights,
I am Vulture on Cliff,
I am Dewdrop,
I am Fairest of Flowers,
I am Boar for Boldness,
I am Salmon in Pool,
I am Lake on Plain,
I am a Mountain in a Man,
I am a Word of Skill,
I am the Point of a Weapon (that poureth forth combat),
I am God who fashioneth Fire for a Head.
Who smootheth the ruggedness of a mountain?
Who is He who announceth the ages of the Moon?
And who, the place where falleth the sunset?
Who calleth the cattle from the House of Tethys?
On whom do the cattle of Tethys smile?
Who is the troop, who the god who fashioneth edges
in a fortress of gangrene?
Enchantments about a spear? Enchantments of Wind

Mary says: Personally, I like Carey's better--MacAllister's translation of séig as vulture, while possible, isn't as likely as Carey's eagle; same for dam, which MacAllister translates as ox, but Carey as deer. One reason I think Carey's is better (other than being more accurate) is that the four animals are given as a deer, an eagle, a salmon, and a boar--which are the four animals that Tuan mac Cairill transforms into when he survives the flood and invasions to be the oldest man in Ireland ("The Story of Tuan mac Cairill"); the deer, eagle, and salmon are also three of the oldest animals in "Culhwch and Olwen"--in other words, I think they have some cosmological significance in Celtic mythology (eagle=sky, deer=land, salmon=sea, boar=otherworld). Eleanor Hull wrote an article in the 1940s about this.

The Oldest Animals in the World in the Song of Amergin

by Mary Jones, Celtic Literature Collective, 2008

With regards to the Oldest Animals and the animals mentioned in the Song of Amergin, it's worth noting that the animals are among those used for reckoning the age of the world in a (now unreadable, but I think it's being restored) mosaic at Westminster Abbey (Hull talks about this in the article). There are some other examples where these animals--or at least the deer, bird, and fish--are presented together. Ann Ross, in 'Pagan Celtic Britain', notes the story of "Finn and the Man in the Tree", where he searches for and finds a man named Dercc Corra in a tree, a blackbird on his right shoulder, a trout in a cup he holds, and a deer on the ground below; Dercc Corra is feeding the animals, sharing nuts and apples with the three. Finn doesn't recognize him until he uses the imbas fornosai.

So, taken all together, Amergin's claiming to be these animals would point to a sort of "I am the cosmos". To some extent, Amergin's establishment of the Sons of Mil in Ireland follows the Twin Sacrifice myth: it's possible to read the story as Amergin allowing Donn to be sacrificed to the sea since he insulted Eriu; by sacrificing Donn, the island of the dead is created (Tech Duinn), and the Sons of Mil are able to finally take Ireland. It's more clear in the Dindsenchas:

¶1] Tech Duinn, whence the name? Not hard to say. When the sons of Mil
came from the west to Erin, their druid said to them, ‘If one of you
climbs the mast’, said he, ‘and chants incantations against the Tuatha
De, before they can do so, the battle will be broken against them, and
their land will be ours; and he that casts the spell will die.’ They
cast lots among themselves, and the lot falls on Donn to climb the mast.
So was it done: Donn climbed the mast, and chanted incantations against
the Tuatha De, and then came down. And he said: ‘I swear by the gods’,
quoth he, ‘that now ye will not be granted right nor justice.’ The
Tuatha De also chanted incantations against the sons of Mil in answer
from the land. Then after they had cursed Donn, there came forthwith an
ague into the ship. Said Amairgen: ‘Donn will die’, said he, ‘and it
were not lucky for us to keep his body, lest we catch the disease. For
if Donn be brought ashore, the disease will remain in Erin for ever.’
Said Donn: ‘Let my body be carried to one of the islands’, said he, ‘and
my people will lay a blessing on me for ever.’ Then through the
incantations of the druids a storm came upon them, and the ship wherein
Donn was foundered. ‘Let his body be carried to yonder high rock’, says
Amairgen: ‘his folk shall come to this spot.’ So hence it is called Tech
Duinn: and for this cause, according to the heathen, the souls of
sinners visit Tech Duinn before they go to hell, and give their
blessing, ere they go, to the soul of Donn. But as for the righteous
soul of a penitent, it beholds the place from afar, and is not borne
astray. Such, at least, is the belief of the heathen. Hence Tech Duinn
is so called.

 

One other note; in "The Wooing of Emer", it's explained that the cattle of Tethra refers to the fish in the sea.

Alternate Translations

Lebor Gabála Érenn: The Book of Invasions, §74.

I am Wind on Sea,
I am Ocean-wave,
I am Roar of Sea,
I am Bull of Seven Fights,
I am Vulture on Cliff,
I am Dewdrop,
I am Fairest of Flowers,
I am Boar for Boldness,
I am Salmon in Pool,
I am Lake on Plain,
I am a Mountain in a Man,
I am a Word of Skill,
I am the Point of a Weapon (that poureth forth combat),
I am God who fashioneth Fire for a Head.
Who smootheth the ruggedness of a mountain?
Who is He who announceth the ages of the Moon?
And who, the place where falleth the sunset?
Who calleth the cattle from the House of Tethys?
On whom do the cattle of Tethys smile?
Who is the troop, who the god who fashioneth edges
in a fortress of gangrene?
Enchantments about a spear? Enchantments of Wind?

 

Gods & Fighting Men, Lady Gregory, Part 1 Book 3

I am the wind on the sea;
I am the wave of the sea;
I am the bull of seven battles;
I am the eagle on the rock
I am a flash from the sun;
I am the most beautiful of plants;
I am a strong wild boar;
I am a salmon in the water;
I am a lake in the plain;
I am the word of knowledge;
Iam the head of the spear in battle;
I am the god that puts fire in the head;
Who spreads light in the gathering on the hills?
Who can tell the ages of the moon?
Who can tell the place where the sun rests?


Celtic Myth & Legend, Charles Squire, p.124

De Jubainville: Cycle Mythologique.
See also the Transactions of the Ossianic Society, Vol. V.

"I am the wind that blows upon the sea,"
sang Amergin;
"I am the ocean wave;
I am the murmur of the surges;
I am seven battalions;
I am a strong bull;
I am an eagle on a rock;
I am a ray of the sun;
I am the most beautiful of herbs;
I am a courageous wild boar;
I am a Salmon in the water;
I am a lake upon a plain;
I am a cunning artist;
I am a gigantic, sword-wielding champion;
I can shift my shape like a god.
In what direction shall we go?
Shall we hold our council in the valley or on the mountain-top?
Where shall we make our home?
What land is better than this island of the setting sun?
Where shall we walk to and fro in peace and safety?
Who can find you clear springs of water as I can?
Who can tell you the age of the moon but I?
Who can call the fish from the depths of the sea as I can?
Who can cause them to come near the shore as I can?
Who can change the shapes of the hills and headlands as I can?
I am a bard who is called upon by seafarers to prophesy. J
avelins shall be wielded to avenge our wrongs.
I prophesy victory.
I end my song by prophesying all other good things.

 

Celtic Myths & Legends, Chapter 3: Irish Invasion Myths

I am the Wind that blows over the sea,
I am the Wave of the Ocean;
I am the Murmur of the billows;
lam the Ox ofthe Seven Combats;
lam the Vulture upon the rock;
I am a Ray of the Sun;
I am the fairest of Plants;
I am a Wild Boar in valour;
I am a Salmon in the Water;
I am a Lake in the plain;
lam the Craft of the artificer;
I am a Word of Science;
I am the Spear-point that gives battle;
I am the god that creates in the head of man the fire of thought.
Who is it that enlightens the assembly upon the mountain, if not I?
Who telleth the ages of the moon, if not I?
Who showeth the place where the sun goes to rest, if not I?"

De Jubainville, whose translation I have in the main followed, observes upon this strange utterance:
"There is a lack of order in this composition, the ideas, fundamental and subordinate, are jumbled together without method; but there is no doubt as to the meaning: the filé [poet] is the Word of Science, he is the god who gives to man the fire of thought; and as science is not distinct from its object, as God and Nature are but one, the being of the filé is mingled with the winds and the waves, with the wild animals and the warrior's arms."

["Irish Mythological Cycle," p. 138]

 

The White Goddess, Robert Graves, Faber, p.13

I am a stag: of seven tines,
I am a flood: across a plain,
I am a wind: on a deep lake,
I am a tear: the Sun lets fall,
I am a hawk: above the cliff,
I am a thorn: beneath the nail,
I am a wonder: among flowers,
I am a wizard: who but I
Sets the cool head aflame with smoke?

I am a spear: that roars for blood,
I am a salmon: in a pool,
I am a lure: from paradise,
I am a hill: where poets walk,
I am a boar: ruthless and red,
I am a breaker: threatening doom,
I am a tide: that drags to death,
I am an infant: who but I
Peeps from the unhewn dolmen, arch?

I am the womb: of every holt,
I am the blaze: on every hill,
I am the queen: of every hive,
I am the shield: for every head,
I am the tomb: of every hope.

There are another two versions on p. 204 of the White Goddess, but I have not found these on the web (Gary).

Shadow of the Witch, MSN Group

I am a stag of seven tines, I am a wide flood on a plain, I am a wind on the deep waters, I am a shining tear of the sun, I am a hawk on a cliff, I am fair among the flowers, I am a god who sets the head afire with smoke, I am a battle-waging spear, I am a salmon in the pool, I am a hill of poetry, I am a ruthless boar, I am a threatening noise of the sea, I am a wave of the sea, Who but I knows the secrets of the unhewn dolmen?I am a stag of seven tines, I am a flood across a plain, I am a wind on a deep lake, I am a tear the Sun lets fall, I am a hawk above the cliff, I am a thorn beneath the nail, I am a wizard who but I Sets the cool head aflame with smoke? I am a spear that roars for blood, I am a salmon in a pool, I am a lure from paradise, I am a hill where poets walk, I am a boar ruthless and red, I am a breaker threatening doom, I am a tide that drags to death, I am an infant who but I Peeps from the unhewn dolman arch?

 

Enya's La Soñadora

I am the wind that blows across the sea;
I am the wave of the deep;
I am the roar of the ocean;
I am the stag of seven battles;
I am the hawk on the cliff;
I am a ray of sunlight;
I am the greenest of plants;
I am a wild boar;
I am a salmon in the river;
I am a lake on the plain;
I am the word of knowledge;
I am the point of a spear;
I am the lure beyond the ends of the earth;
I can shift my shape like a god.

Alternative Religions at About.com

I am a stag of seven tines,
I am a wide flood on a plain,
I am a wind on the deep waters,
I am a shining tear of the sun,
I am a hawk on a cliff,
I am fair among flowers,
I am a god who sets the head afire with smoke.
I am a battle waging spear,
I am a salmon in the pool,
I am a hill of poetry,
I am a ruthless boar,
I am a threatening noise of the sea,
I am a wave of the sea,
Who but I knows the secrets of the unhewn dolmen?

-- end --

 

 

 

 

    
   
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