‘The Bond’, by Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill

The Bond/Geasa
 
If I use my forbidden hand
To raise a bridge across the river,
All the work of the builders
Has been blown up by sunrise.
 
A boat comes up the river by night
With a woman standing in it,
Twin candles lit in her eyes
And  two oars in her hands.
 
She unsheathes a pack of cards,
‘Will you play forfeits?’She says.
We play and she beats me hands down,
And she puts three banns upon me :
 
Not to have two meals in one house,
Not to pass two nights under one roof,
Not to sleep twice with the same man
Until I find her. When I ask her address,
 
‘If it were north I’d tell you south,
If it were east, west.’ She hooks
Off in a flash of lightning, leaving me
Stranded on the bank,
 
My eyes full of candles,
And the two dead oars. 
 
This is a translation of  Geasa , by Nuala Ni  DhomhnaillThe poem is from Pharaoh’s Daughter by Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, 1990, Gallery Press (Editor Peter Fallon).  With thanks to Gallery Press for permission to reproduce here.

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3 comments

  1. This comment is from Glenda Cimino (from an email)

    “reading in translation only, I like this poem, its vivid images and mythical, otherworldly theme. the narrator is not forced to replace the ‘woman’ in the boat, as in some such stories, but is stranded, trapped in some way. But since she started on this shore, it is not clear why she needs to ‘raise a bridge across the river.’
    The first stanza seems strangely placed, unless the boat comes up the river every night, the card game replayed, etc.which seems an unlikely interpretation as the ‘woman’ in the boat must be found again to end the geis. The verbs in the first stanza don’t match: ‘if I use’ should be followed by will be or will have been blown up. this might be fixed more simply by changing the first word from If to When.
    - Has she been changed by this encounter, eyes full of candles with two dead oars, or has she just had this image seared on her awareness? are the oars ‘dead’ because there is no boat? Nonetheless,it has the haunting quality of a dream or another reality.”

    Thanks Glenda !

  2. If I use my forbidden hand
    To raise a bridge across the river,
    All the work of the builders
    Has been blown up by sunrise.

    Excellent opening lines, because what if she does? .. Captivating poem .

    Thank you very much for posting the translation of this poem. .. Ciao, Francina

  3. Pingback: ‘Geasa’, le Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill. « poethead


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