Friday, March 4, 2011

In Keeping with a Sombre Mood

In keeping with last year's tradition, I'm starting the run-up to the Solemn Feast of St. Patrick a couple of weeks in advance. Just as I initiated last year's run-up by linking to the video for the improbable dance hit in Germany Dearg Doom by Horslips, I am kicking this one off with a Horslips' tune. Being in a somewhat sombre mood, I'll post a video for a more morose tune from Horslips' 1973 Táin album. Next week, I hope to do a bit on the Táin Bo Cuailnge, because Kinsella's translation of it is one of my favorite reads.

The song Cú Chulainn's Lament is perhaps the most outré love song in the English language- the semi-divine hero Cú Chulainn sings a lament for his friend Ferdia, whom he has just slain in single combat. In the course of the cattle raid narrated in the Táin, Medbh, Queen of Connacht, promised the hand of her daughter Finnabair (a cognate of Gwenhwyfar, which in turn is the root of the name Jennifer, or is that Jennifer? Who can tell with all these Jennifers gadding about?), and her "friendly thighs" to Ferdia if he could defeat Cú Chulainn in single combat.

The combat, like many of the fights described in the Táin, takes place in a river-ford. Before the combat, Cú Chulainn tries to warn Ferdia off- I love the line "everything I do is ringed about with fantasy" (it would be a good motto for someone). In the course of the battle, neither Cú Chulainn nor Ferdia can gain the upper hand- they strive in combat by day, then share their provisions by night for days. Finally, Cú Chulainn calls for his secret weapon, the Gae Bolga, a wickedly barbed spear, which only he knows how to employ, in a most bizarre fashion:

And Cúchulainn called for the Gae Bulga from Laeg son of
Riangabair. This was its nature: With the stream it was made
ready, and from between the fork of the foot it was cast; the
wound of a single spear it gave when entering the body, and
thirty barbs had it when it opened and it could not be drawn
out of a man's flesh till the flesh had been cut about it.

Ferdia, having (much like Achilles) an impenetrable skin of "horn", is fatally pierced through his bunghole- one possible original meaning of Gae Bolga is "spear with a sack", so make of this episode what you will, you dirty dogs. So, in an abrupt shift from salacious to sombre, here's Cú Chulainn's lament for his fallen friend:

For the sake of completeness, I must also note that the Decemberists released an album inspired by The Táin as well. I'll have to track down some videos to link when I finally get around to doing my bit on The Táin.


ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Ferdia, having (much like Achilles) an impenetrable skin of "horn", is fatally pierced through his bunghole-

This really needs to be reviewed by Beavis and Butthead.

Hamish Mack said...

The sickbed of Cú Chulainn by The Pogues.
Mr Kiwi makes konnection.

Hamish Mack said...


Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

AK gets it! The song refers to the legend "The Sickbed of Cúchulainn and Emer's One Jealousy", which lies outside the scope of the Táin Bo Cuailnge.

It's a favorite of the Bastard. Somewhere, there's an exhaustive annotated Pogues lyrics page, I'll have to use teh Gazoogle and link to it in a future post.

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

This really needs to be reviewed by Beavis and Butthead.

The whole thing has some really crazy sexual and scatalogical elements scattered throughout the narrative. Between these elements, and the unrelenting violence, it's really very "gonzo", which is probably why I've read it so often.