Click the link above and source a simple, serious sensible poetic from the Irish equivalent of Homer, written circa 7C and appearing in the Auraicept na n-Éces, which appears in the grammatical trieste section of the 15C Book of Ballymote. The book of Ballymote is a compilation work of various manuscripts knocking about Ireland that came into the possession of Manus O'Duignan, who was the oollamh scribe of Tonnaltagh McDonagh. Within this book there are many triestes on various matters and the Auraicept na n-Éces was supposedly used in the bardic schools to instruct the training poets. Conservative decorum was the watchword of these places and by 12C the bardic poetic language had reached a level of technical perfection that stayed the same for the next 400 years. The written language changed very little and took no heed of how the spoken vernacular evolved, thus imposing an artificail standard, so much so that a poem written in the 16C could pass for one written 400 years earlier. The bardic schools have their pre-literate roots in druid practice and the original form of Ireland's poetic.
Its centre is Seigas, an underwater well in Tir nOg, a land of eternal youth below the sea, which later merged into the sidhe or faery realm after the Milesian displaced the Tuatha De Dannan tribe. These are the final two of six peoples documented in highly detailed "invasion" myths.
Ringed by nine hazel trees which rain down their fruit swifter than a ram’s fleece moving at the speed of crazed salmon gorging on this harvest upon their dying return; Seigas is also the source of the river Boyne, whose banks at Newgrange support a stone age structure of celestial engineering with corbel roof, leak less from 3000 BC to now.
Each nut on these imaginary trees contain total knowledge, wisdom and enlightenment; so the salmon and nuts, along with numerous tributary plots and casts in the cannon, combined in the mind with a physical reality surrounding the myths, route it to a very potent poetic through a wealth of valid symbols few are aware exist, but which is the guiding spirit in this art, equivalent to a poetic religion.
The Celtic equivalent of Aristotle's "Poetics" is a Plato’s egg and omelette of hazelnuts, fish and Seigas and the written prayers scribbling their way to piece puzzles from that society’s obscured reality reflect the pattern of finds my quest lights up, and I offer them as tribute at the Greco-Roman altar of knowledge.
Where the mother of all nine Helicon muses, Mnemosyne is Ogma, a word god gifting language to seers, the priestesses at Delphi’s oracle divining auguries, are Tuatha De Dannan weather shamans performing vast draughts of speech to the sky, and Amergin is Homer, Eros Aonghus, Zeus Lugh, Apollo Cúchulainn and Helen of Troy Maeve of Connaght.
--------WHAT AM I ON ABOUT? - THE ROOTS OF ENGLISH LANGUAGE POETRY-----
Most contemporary English language poets musing upon the exact nature of their calling or career have scant knowledge of this 1000 year old system which, in historical terms, has only recently expired and is a lot closer in time to the Greek poetic underpinning the English tradition.
This poetic resides in a 7C text attributed to Amergin and its contemporary relevance to others practicing poetry is a subject I wish to discuss. The text can be accessed by clicking the title link. Few poets are interested in this area of historical literature which, ironically, offers answers for the contemporary poet who seeks a real undertanding of their craft. Much of the material is currently being translated and disseminated online, and this corpus of work documenting 1000 years of religious and secular Irish history is now available to all for the very first time. For those who with a serious interest in poetry it is essential reading and I will now give an overview of how this culture was lost.
Beginning in the late 16C and culminating in anti catholic "penal" laws spanning much of 17C, a succession of English parliaments attempted to eradicate Gaelic modes and thought by, amongst other things, making the language illegal to speak or write. The language goal was eventually achieved by a combination of Daniel O'Connell's advice, Victorian business methods and nature, when failed potato harvests of the 1840’s resulted in an economic famine where 1 of an 8 million population starved to death and 2 million fled the land through hunger.
Roman penal concepts did not reach Ireland and Pre-17C Gaelic law was entirely civil, with a legal infrastructure unique in Europe, as it was not based on Roman law but a poetic practice, taught in what has become known as “bardic schools”; whose roots lay in pre- literate druid times and ran for over 1500 years, producing, by the time of its collapse, the most metrically complex poetry in Europe. The products of these schools were highly trained learned poets steeped in their tribe's history and officials at the court of their petty king and chieftain patrons.
The poets of these bardic schools were effectively lawyers who wrote in both prose and verse; the metrically complex poems being composed mentally before being committed to writing. The full training period was 20 years to become an oollamh or professor and by this stage the poet would be expected to be able to recite from memory hundreds of pieces in numerous genres, including the main cycles of myth and their tributary stories, geneoligies and legal works. An idea which comes to mind is an actor who has the complete works of Shakespeare memorised after having played at the RSC for 20 years.
At the time of its first death blows the English metrical tradition, based on imitating Greek and Roman forms, was first being brought to life through courtiers of Tudor and Elizabethan England, some of whom took a hand in aiding the destruction of this poetic. Edmund Spencer went there in the 1570's to acquire land and wealth as part of the various military campaigns which quelled the Desmond rebellions of the mid and late 16C, believing that for the country to become "pacified", the language and customs must be destroyed by violent scorched earth policies and famine. Whilst there he wrote the document, "A View on the Present State of Ireland" in the early 1590's in which he laid out his ideas, and is now considered a prose polemic genocidal in intent.
Unlike Philip Sidney's able courtier father, Henry, Spencer's lot in Ireland was not successful and he returned to England after the segun Earl of Desmond, whose confiscated lands had been granted to Spencer, burned down Kilcolman Castle in late 1598 where Spencer had been living since 1580, and the poet returned to London dying a few months later.
A founding father of English language poetry, Spencer's "Faerie Queen" is the legacy of a literature written in very violent circumstances, whose full relevance has rarely been brought to the surface when considering his work. And whilst Spencer considered himself a poet, he was dismissive of the homegrown sort
" soe far from instructinge younge men in Morrall discipline, that they themselves doe more deserve to be sharplie decyplined; for they seldome use to chuse unto themselves the doinges of good men, for the ornamentes of theire poems, but whomesoever they finde to bee most lycentious of lief, most bolde and lawles in his doinges, most daungerous and desperate in all partes of disobedience and rebellious disposicon, him they sett up and glorifie in their rymes, him they prayse to the people, and to younge men make an example to followe."
By the middle of 17C the bardic school system of training law poets had collapsed over the previous three or four generations, along with the infrastructure and teaching methods, and although the poetic heart of a nation stopped beating in its usual form after this, a full record of pre17C Gaelic custom is left in both religious and secular deposits. Much of the secular work is in Fenechas or Brehon civil law texts; first distilled uncorrupted from an original oral form and onto the page in the 6C when the first writers of non Romanised Europe devised their written vernacular, until the time these codes constituting the legislative glue of cultural peace combusted in late 16C scorched earth campaigns.