Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Poem of the 16th century


More beautiful than the world is Jesus

Risteárd de Buitléar

Is áille Íosa ná an chruinne

Translated from the Irish by Gabriel Rosenstock


A poem from the early years of the sixteenth century. As his name suggests, the poet was of Norman stock. A note on the manuscript informs us that he composed it on his last day on earth.

More beautiful than the world is Jesus

lovelier than lily or rose;

delightful flower of Mary

among us made abode.


Sweeter than sugar grains

than honey dew on thorn

than the life-full balm of bees

the One to us was born.


Whoever loves Jesus

warmly deep inside,

no other love enters him

until the last tide.


Jesus full of sweetness,

Jesus, Mary’s Son,

you fashioned every water meadow,

each smooth plain, each thorn.


Is áille Íosa ná an chruinne

a’s ná bláth róis nó lile;

is tú, a bhláth chaomh ó Mhuire,

a chuaigh i ngnáthghaol linne.


Is milse ná siúcra

a’s ná drúcht meala muine

a’s ná míl bhríoch bheacha

Íosa mór, Mac Mhuire.


Cibé a ghránn Íosa

ina chroí go cluthar,

ní théann aon ghrá eile

ann go deireadh an domhain.


A Íosa mhóir mhilis,

a Íosa, Mac Mhuire,

dhealbhaigh tú gach inis,

gach mínmhaigh, gach muine.



Athens 9.2.2013

Dear Gabriel,

alone the title of this poem would want me to protest immediately. But
then, others would caution: wait, this is an expression of the sixteenth
century? Yes, I would reply, but what about the paintings of Giotto in
the thirteenth century, or about Hatto about whom Egon Bondy wrote?
Yes, there existed someone with my name a long time before. He lived in
the tenth century. He could have been many things: chancellor of the
state at that time, or abbey at the monastery where he spend most of his
time. However, he was only a semi monk and had no desire to be a
statesman. He had lost his arm in a battle against the Swedes and
despite his religious affiliation he did carry all the time a sword.
Most of all he was obnoxious to his fellow monks. Never greeted really
in a good way, he went his own way. Above all he was driven by the
question 'why does God exist'. That differs from the usual one whether
or not God exists.

I enter a discourse like this one with great caution but I must confess
I understand very little of these religious feelings expressed with
regards to such a figure as Jesus. Over and again he seems to be an
immortal model despite having shown signs of mortality as well. Rather
what interests me is not so much about Jesus himself but what people do
with that or how this evokes a certain attitude towards life which
remains for me to date incomprehensible.

That is why I want to ask you what thoughts came to your mind once you
started to translate this poem?

Thanks for sharing this translation work of yours.




Dear Hatto,

There is a very long tradition of exquisite poetry in Irish which sanctifies the world through the agency of Jesus, his suffering, death and resurrection, humble poetry that speaks of the sanctification of our lives through the intercession and guidance of Mary, Brigid, Patrick and other saints. One saint who retreated from the world in my own County Limerick was Saint Íde and she 'adopted' Jesus in the wilderness, concluding: 'Is bréag uile ach Íosagán' (All is a lie, all illusion, save for little Jesus). This intimacy is touching, human and poetic.

Over the years I have received a daily poem from Poetry Chaikhana and contributed to the site as well: http://www.poetry-chaikhana.com/

The site inspired me to compile three volumes of Sacred Poetry from Around the World in Irish. When I first read the volume Speaking of Shiva, I knew immediately that this was a very rare type of poetry indeed. It shook my world to its foundations. I was still a schoolboy. If poetry such as this exists, thought I, then it would be worth every breath in my body to devote my life to poetry. But it's a long and dusty road before one can taste the unbroken silence of this great poetry in the very depths of one's being.


You should read it. You should allow its fragrance to permeate your surroundings. One poem from that book is worth all of your friend Kennelly's work. How can I say that? I can and I do. It is not a question, I think, that you and I may have different poetic sensibilities. That may play a part. And, of course, on the question of taste, there can be no end to arguments. You live a very active life which is the life of the mind. In Speaking of Shiva the mind vanishes in the burning light of revelation. Debate ends. Nothing exists but the fragrance of revelation. (In the Cha'n and later Zen tradition, originally dhyana in India, argument is seen as a disease of the mind.... 'disease' you can spell as 'dis-ease', if you wish. Your first reaction to the 16th century poem I sent you was to reach for your intellectual sword, ever ready for a fight. You are fighting yourself, my friend.)

I speak above of the fragrance of revelation. Revelation of what, you may ask. That is for you to find out. But you may never go on that quest if you do not suffer the pangs of spiritual thirst and if you do not make your way again and again in the desert towards many a false oasis and many an alluring mirage. The quest ends (there is no end), where it begins (there is no beginning), in the Self and in Self-Realization. The latest poem from the Poetry Chaikhana site is by Shankara:

Nirvana Shatakam

by Shankara
English version by Ivan M. Granger

I am not mind, not intellect, not ego, not thought.
I am not the ears, the tongue, the nose or the eyes, or what they witness,
I am neither earth nor sky, not air nor light.

I am knowledge and bliss.
I am Shiva! I am Shiva!

I am not the breath of prana, nor its five currents.
I am not the seven elements, nor the five organs,
Nor am I the voice or hands or anything that acts.

I am knowledge and bliss.
I am Shiva! I am Shiva!

I have no hatred or preference, neither greed nor desire nor delusion.
Pride, conflict, jealousy -- these have no part of me.
Nothing do I own, nothing do I seek, not even liberation itself.

I am knowledge and bliss.
I am Shiva! I am Shiva!

I know neither virtue nor vice, neither pleasure nor pain.
I know no sacred chants, no holy places, no scriptures, no rituals.
I know neither the taste nor the taster.

I am knowledge and bliss.
I am Shiva! I am Shiva!

I fear not death. I doubt neither my being nor my place.
I have no father or mother; I am unborn.
I have no relatives, no friends. I have no guru and no devotees.

I am knowledge and bliss.
I am Shiva! I am Shiva!

Free from doubt, I am formless.
With knowledge, in knowledge, I am everywhere, beyond perception.
I am always the same. Not free, not trapped -- I am.

I am knowledge and bliss.
I am Shiva! I am Shiva!

Truly, I am Shiva, pure awareness.
Shivo Ham! Shivo Ham!

For many people, this is nothing but a rattle of words. Rhetoric. For others, it is the supreme statement in the light of which all other statements seem to be

trivial, trite, of no consequence whatsoever, lifeless, dead, petty, irrelevant.

And so, you ask me why translate that 16th century poem? Because it represents a strand of the 'hidden Ireland' that should see the light of day and not just a hidden Ireland, but the hidden world of sacred poetry from around the world and it is a very precious strand, in spiritual terms and in artistic terms as well. Had it not been for discovering Speaking of Shiva (in a Penguin Classics edition) I might never have known all the great poets from the world's sacred traditions, or their work might not have taken root in my heart: Kabir, Hafez, Rumi, Mirabai....

Of course, it's a very intoxicating world and I do realize that one could be sucked into it, as into a cult, and ignore all the other strands of poetry that exist. But a myriad of voices clamour for our attention and we must ignore fashion and follow the dictates of our own heart. What is it that is deeply satisfying to us, what is it that haunts our hours, awake and asleep, what is it that defines our longings, our aspirations, our understanding of what it is to be human? What place in our lives, if any, do we give the poem-prayer, the poem of praise, the song of transcendence? What is the poetry that truly sings in our heart?

All this is outside the sphere of sect and religion, in truth. I speak of poetry that speaks of First Things and Last Things, though there never was a beginning and never will be an end.

And what kind of poetry and haiku am I writing myself, in Irish and English? Is it in this vein, described above?

Here's a short poem: is it Christian, Buddhist? Or is it inspired by Marxist thinking? Does it matter? Not really.


The Last Postman

(for Vishnu Khare)

The postman passes by on his bicycle

head stooped, wheezing

as though bearing the weight of the world:

bills, eviction notices, summonses

the desperate incoherent poetry of unrequited love

an emigrant’s litany from distant shores.

Rain-clouds are stealing in from the west as heavy as his load

of sympathy letters, junk mail

final warnings from the bank, the tax man, electricity company

tearful flyers from charities, young boys with flies around their mouths and eyes

a personal note from the local representative: Dear Sir or Madam

scratch cards, all this he must bear

and the knowledge that the age of letters is drawing to a close.


And will he venture out some morning early, his satchel empty?

The last postman.




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