It would be better to manufacture combs. What good to anyone to practise poetry.

Ceist! Cia do cheinneóchadh dán? by Mathghamhain Ó hIfearnáin, text from the Bardic Poetry Database and translation by Declan Kiberd from his Irish Classics:

A question! who will buy a poem, whose content is the proper knowledge of scholars! Will anyone accept or does anyone want a fine poem that will last forever?

Although this is a well-made poem, every fair from crossroads to crossroads have I walked through Munster with it – and no sale last year or this year.

A trade like this is no good to us, even though it may be sad to see it die. It would be better to manufacture combs. What good to anyone to practise poetry.

1 Ceist! cia do cheinneóchadh dán?
a chiall is ceirteólas suadh:
an ngéabhadh, nó an áil le haon,
dán saor do-bhéaradh go buan?

2 Gé dán sin go snadhmadh bhfis,
gach margadh ó chrois go crois
do shiobhail mé an Mhumhain leis –
ní breis é a-nuraidh ná a-nois.

3 D’éirneist gémadh beag an bonn,
níor chuir fear ná éinbhean ann,
níor luaidh aoinfhear créad dá chionn,
níor fhéagh liom Gaoidheal ná Gall.

4 Ceard mar so ni sochar dhún,
gé dochar a dol fa lár:
uaisle dul re déiniomh cíor –
ga bríogh d’éinfhior dul re dán?

5 Ní mhair Corc Chaisil ná Cian,
nár chaigil a gcrodh ná a luagh,
na réidhfhir ag díol na ndámh –
slán lé síol Éibhir mon-uar.

6 Geall bronnta níor beanadh dhíobh,
Cobhthach go teasda agus Tál:
iomdha drong diongbhaim dá luadh,
uaim anonn dá ndiongnainn dán.

7 Mé im luing cheannaigh ar gcaill laist
d’éis Chlann nGearailt do thuill teist:
ni chluinim-is cás rom loisg:
fás an toisg fá gcuirim ceist.

And some context (also Kiberd’s) for this poem of advice addressed to the poet’s own son:

There were many such begging letters, disguised as satiric lyrics, in this period of change before and after 1600. As old retainers of lords who no longer needed their ratification in order to rule, most poets suffered greatly. their position was rather like holders of contemporary academic doctorates who cannot find a market for their expertise and are compelled to take menial employment.


Reminds me of the Archpoet’s Fodere non debeo, quia sum scholaris.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s