Today on Project Gutenberg #3

Hello! Before we get started, I’d like to say a few words. Since posting the update on my first year statistics, I’ve gotten several new followers and had my best day yet for likes on this blog. I’m surprised and delighted, and I want to thank you all. Seeing people respond positively to this project means a lot to me.

And now, today on Project Gutenberg we have…

A Celtic Psaltery by Alfred Perceval Graves

Published in 1917, this is a book of Irish and Welsh poetry translated for English readers. The translator writes in his preface that calls it a psaltery because it focuses on works “of a religious or serious character. There’s less disparaging of the Irish and Welsh than I would expect from an early 20th-century Englishman, although Graves’s tone indicates favoritism for the latter over the former.

The poems are pretty cool! The Irish section includes a version of “Pangur Ban” as well as prayers, hymns and, of all things, a eulogy for Alexander the Great.

Four Sages stood to chant a stave

Above the proud Earth Conqueror’s grave;

And all their words were words of candour

Above the urn of Alexander.

The first began: “But yesterday,

When all in state the Great King lay,

Myriads around him made their moan,

To-day he lieth all alone!”

“But yesterday,” the second sang,

“O’er Earth his charger’s hoof outrang;

To-day its outraged soil instead

Is riding heavy o’er his head!”

“But yesterday,” the third went on,

“All Earth was swayed by Philip’s son:

To-day, to shroud his calcined bones,

Seven feet thereof is all he owns!”

Page 52

One section I’m particularly fond of here is the Irish Triads, a series of short poems which generally follow the format of “Here are three characteristics of a good or bad thing.” Allow me to demonstrate.

Three clouds, the most obscuring Wisdom’s glance,

Forgetfulness, half-knowledge, ignorance.

Three gladnesses that soon give way to griefs,

A wooer’s, a tale-bearer’s, and a thief’s.

Three keys that most unlock our secret thinking

Are love and trustfulness and overdrinking.

Page 8

The Welsh section of the book is more extensive, incorporating not only medieval poetry but also early modern and Victorian works. These poems tend to run a bit more secular than their Irish counterparts — several are about nature, including an “Ode to the Months” that I quite like — but there are multiple sections dedicated to religious songs and poetry as well. And there’s a strange little trilogy about a child who may or may not be dead. You’ll see what I mean if you read it.

A book like this won’t appeal to everyone, but with my background in history and English, I found it quite fascinating, and I’m glad to have stumbled across it.

And that’s what we found today on Project Gutenberg. See you next time!

— Dana

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