Poet's Pick April 29
Anonymous: "The Viking Terror"
Selected by Dennis O'Driscoll
National Poetry Month 2015

Letter from the Editors

Dear Readers,

Because of a health emergency suffered by one of our contributing poets, today's Poet's Pick is a reprise of one from 2004, selected by Poetry Daily's dear friend, the late Dennis O'Driscoll. Warmest thanks to Julie O'Callaghan for granting permission for today's special feature.

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Thank you so much for your support! Enjoy today's special poem and commentary!

Warmest regards,

Don Selby & Diane Boller

Dennis O'Driscoll's Poetry Month Pick, April 29, 2015

"The Viking Terror"
by Anonymous (9th Century), translated by Kuno Meyer

Bitter is the wind tonight,
It tosses the ocean's white hair:
Tonight I fear not the fierce warriors of Norway
Coursing on the Irish Sea.

* Dennis O'Driscoll Comments:

Terrorist threats are nothing new in the world, lamentably. This 9th century quatrain, found in the vellum margins of an ancient monastic manuscript, was evidently composed on a stormy Irish night by a monk hunched over his work in a scriptorium. He felt safe from the murderous marauding Viking raiders in their longships while the sea was impassable. Frank O'Connor, one of several modern writers to have translated this poem (others include poets Thomas Kinsella and John Montague), remarked that "In London during the Second World War, we waited for a moonlit night to sleep safe in our beds. In Ireland of the ninth century, they waited for a storm."

The original Gaelic is rich in untranslatable alliteration. Even without a word of the language, however, you can hear a storm-force upheaval brewing through the concatenation of consonants in the second line: 'fu-fúasna fairgge findfolt'. James Joyce in his Finnegans Wake phase might have termed this an example of cymbalism! I will end with a spontaneous version of my own, sketched as it were in the margins of this e-mail:

          So frightful are the wild winds tonight,
          The ocean's tousled tresses have turned white.
          Until calm seas return, there is no danger
          We need heed from Norway's raiders.

About Dennis O'Driscoll::

Dennis O’Driscoll was born in Co Tipperary, Ireland, in 1954, his nine books of poetry include New and Selected Poems (Anvil Press, 2004), a Poetry Book Society Special Commendation, Reality Check (2007) and Dear Life (Anvil Press, 2012; Copper Canyon Press, 2013).  Among his other publications are Troubled Thoughts, Majestic Dreams: Selected Prose Writings (Gallery Press, 2001) and Stepping Stones: Interviews with Seamus Heaney (Faber and Faber, 2008). The Outnumbered Poet: Critical and Autobiographical Essays (Gallery Press) was published in 2013.

He was editor of the Bloodaxe Book of Poetry Quotations (2006) and its American counterpart, Quote Poet Unquote (Copper Canyon Press, 2008).  His awards include Lannan Literary Awards, the E.M. Forster Award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the O’Shaughnessy Award for Poetry from the Center for Irish Studies in Minnesota, and the Argosy Irish Non-Fiction Book of the Year Award.  He was awarded an honorary doctorate in literature by University College, Dublin in 2009.

Dennis O’Driscoll died on December 24, 2012.

A posthumous collection of his poems, Update, was published by Anvil Press in 2014, with an American edition forthcoming from Copper Canyon Press.

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