Seamus Heaney#

Ís scíth mo chrob ón scribainn

My hand is cramped from penwork.
My quill has a tapered point.
Its bird-mouth issues a blue-dark
Beetle-sparkle of ink.

An excerpt from Colum Cille Cecinit, translated by Seamus Heaney from an Irish 11th century source. Presented with the kind permission by Seamus Heaney.

Seamus Heaney comments on the poem:

"This is a translation of a poem that has been translated many times also. It is twelve lines long, about a scribe being tired of writing. The images in it are in the original; this is a faithful translation. The poet, for example, has a wonderful image of a beetle, being like ink, sparkling. This poem was printed in the Irish Times in June 1997. It is supposed to be written by St. Colmcille, who died on the seventh of June 597, so it was his 1400th anniversary and I thought, “OK, now we can do another translation.” Anyhow, there was a line in it that I was pleased with, a “beetle-sparkle of ink” – and they printed it “beetle-spark.” That really shows you how much can be lost in one syllable. I think it is proper to read the poem here because it is about writing. It wasn’t actually written in the sixth century, by the way – it was written around the twelfth century, but it pretends to have been written by Colmcille. Certainly it was written by a scribe..." (Quoted from "Heaney in Bloomington, pt. #2, April 22, 2010, see

Seamus Heaney and friends:

From l. to. r.: Iggy McGovern, Noel Duffey, John Scattergood, Seamus Heaney, Denis Weaire, Brendan Kennelly

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