The Brindled Cat and the Nightingale’s Tongue
The poetry of Louis De Paor is devoid of artifice, of any semantic trickery, which means that it is both pleasant to speak and to read. Take the first stanza of one of the longest poems in this voluminous bilingual collection, Foreign Affairs.
In the departure lounge
At Shannon Airport.
De Paor begins like a seanachai recalling a story that has been handed down. The rhythm is instantly urgent, comparable to ‘to begin at the beginning’, or ‘once under a time,’ both from Dylan Thomas, or Lorca’s ‘At five in the afternoon.’
Time acts like a primer for the story to follow, and in this instance the alliteration adds a sense of urgency.
His poems set scenes like fairy tales: On the holy streets/of the City of the Tribes (from O’Donoghue’s Welcome), A January afternoon/ as the northern hemisphere /turned on its heel (from The first day ever) or, from Gaol Cross, It was threatening rain all morning/the day my father left his father’s house.
Props aligned, all that is left is for the poet to chose his rhythm, and let fly. Listen to the sonority of the alliteration in the first, tightly parsed opening to The next time: every summer since then/the scented candles/of sorrow/light/the loneliness/of his house. The poet hasn’t exhausted his style, and continues: since the priest/placed his share/of the weight/of the world/ on his narrow shoulders/small words/seven times as heavy/as the County Hall.
As you may have by now surmised, De Paor is an Irish poet, rooted in the Irish language, the Irish landscape, the Irish tradition masticating speech and verbal gestures to, in essence, tell a story. De Paor is both bard and fili, and to know the difference between the two it helps to be Irish: the latter is etymologically connected to voyeur.
The poems in this collection, and I have heard De Paor perform his work, enter the stratosphere when spoken aloud, as if this is the best way to hand them on, like the indigenous oral Irish tradition.
She is full of love
As a milkjug, filled
To the lip and above
On parched sand (from Daughter)
My understanding of the Irish sources of these poems is insufficient to comment on De Paor’s achievement of dexterity in translation, but the English versions more than stand on their own two feet.