Lyrics & Knowledge Personal Pages Record Shop Auction Links Radio & Media Kids Membership Help
The Mudcat Cafemuddy

Post to this Thread - Sort Descending - Printer Friendly - Home

Origins: Isucan, attributed to St Ita

keberoxu 19 Dec 15 - 02:49 PM
keberoxu 19 Dec 15 - 03:31 PM
keberoxu 19 Dec 15 - 03:40 PM
keberoxu 20 Dec 15 - 02:57 PM
keberoxu 23 Dec 15 - 06:04 PM
keberoxu 13 Jan 16 - 02:02 PM
GUEST,keberoxu 12 May 17 - 03:33 PM
Share Thread
Lyrics & Knowledge Search [Advanced]
DT  Forum
Sort (Forum) by:relevance date
DT Lyrics:

Subject: Origins: Isucan, attributed to St Ita
From: keberoxu
Date: 19 Dec 15 - 02:49 PM

Christmastide is a good time to consider the hymn of St Ita, to Jesus in the form of a nursing infant. English translations of this poem have been set to music by Connie Dover and Samuel Barber. Is there music for the original Old Irish? Perhaps the rhymes are music enough.


alar lium im dísiurtán;
cía beith cléirech co lín sét,
is bréc uile acht Ísucán.

Altram alar lium im thig,
ní altram nach dóerathaig --
Ísu co feraib nime,
frim chride cech n-óenadaig.

Ísucán óc mo bithmaith:
ernaid, ocus ní maithmech.
In Rí con-ic na uili
cen a guidi bid aithrech.

Ísu úasal ainglide,
noco cléirech dergnaide,
alar lium im dísiurtán,
Ísu mac na Ebraide.

Maic na ruirech, maic na ríg,
im thír cía do-ísatán,
ní úaidib saílim sochor:
is tochu lium Ísucán.

Canaid cóir, a ingena,
d'fir dliges bar císucán;
atá 'na phurt túasucán
c&icaute;a beith im ucht Ísucán.

Source: the Whitley Stokes edition of Félire Óengusso Céli Dé, or The Martyrology of Oengus, from the Speckled Book. pp. 42 - 45; published in London by the Henry Bradshaw Society in 1905 (thanks to

Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origins: Isucan, attributed to St Ita
From: keberoxu
Date: 19 Dec 15 - 03:31 PM

My apologies, I see that in the last verse my computer code peeks out where there ought to be a fada; I misspelled the code. I did proof preview it, just not thoroughly enough.
Whitley Stokes translates the commentary from the manuscript's margins which provide the context for this poem. Same source bibliography as the preceding post, from the 1905 publication.

"Great was her disease, a stag-beetle as big as a dog a-sucking her destroyed the whole of one of her sides. No one knew of that upon her. Once upon a time she goes forth, and the stag-beetle comes out of its den after her. The nuns see it and then kill it. Thereafter she comes, and since it came not to her, she asks: Where has my fosterling gone? she says, and who has visited it?
"Do not rob us of heaven, say the nuns: 'tis we that have killed it, for we knew that it was hurtful. However that may be, she says, for that deed no nun shall ever take my succession. And I will not take anything from my Lord, says she, until He give me His Son out of heaven in the shape of a babe to be fostered by me.
"Then came towards her the angel who used to attend her. 'Tis time indeed, she said to him. Whereupon he said to her: What thou askest will be given to thee.
"So Christ came to her in the form of a babe, and then she said:

[Infant Jesus / Jesu-kin]
Infant Jesus, nursed by me in my little hermitage, though it be a cleric with worldly treasures, all is a live save infant Jesus.

The nursling that is nursed by me in my house, is not the nursling of a base clown -- Jesus with the angels of heaven before my heart every single night.

Infant Jesus, my eternal good: for heed of Him, He is not slack. The King who controls all things, not to beseech him will cause repentance.

Jesus, noble, angelic, no common faded cleric, nursed by me in my little hermitage, Jesus, son of the woman of the Hebrews.

The sons of princes, the sons of kings, should they come into my country, not from these do I expect treasure: more likely to me is infant Jesus.

Sing a chorus, virgins, to Him that has the right to your modest tribute. He is in his place above, though in my bosom is infant Jesus.

Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origins: Isucan, attributed to St Ita
From: keberoxu
Date: 19 Dec 15 - 03:40 PM

Too hasty again! The first verse ought to say,

"all is a lie save Infant Jesus." Sorry about that.

A translation by Chester Kallman, which does have meter and rhyme, was the basis for Samuel Barber's setting, "Saint Ita's Vision," in the Hermit Songs. If you know that particular English-translation lyric, you will recognize, in the second post on this thread, the lines from the commentary which have become part of Barber's song, the first words of the song lyric. Nothing in that song lyric, however, about St. Ita living in a hermitage and practicing austerities and penances; in commentaries on the commentary, the stag-beetle is described as "penitential."

In the first message on this thread, the final line of the final verse ought to read:

"cía beith im ucht Ísucán."

Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origins: Isucan, attributed to St Ita
From: keberoxu
Date: 20 Dec 15 - 02:57 PM

If I could, I would give a printed source for Chester Kallman's translation. Can't find one anywhere outside of the actual musical score for Samuel Barber's Hermit Songs themselves, though Kallman did indeed publish several volumes of poetry. Will comment further at the bottom of this message.

From memory, here is how I recall Kallman's translation, which I learned as a music student and accompanist, playing the piano parts of Barber's Hermit Songs for those who sang them.


I will take nothing from my Lord, said she,
Unless he gives me his Son from Heaven
In the form of a baby that I may nurse him.
So that Christ came down to her in the form of a baby,
And then she said:

Infant Jesus at my breast
Nothing in this world is true
Save, O tiny nursling, You.

Infant Jesus at my breast
By my heart every night.
You I nurse are not
A churl, but were begot
On Mary the Jewess by Heaven's Light.

Infant Jesus at my breast
What King is there but You who could
Give everlasting good?
Wherefore I give my food.

Sing to him, maidens, sing your best.
There is none who has such right
To your song as Heaven's King
Who every night
Is Infant Jesus at my breast.

I have to say, Barber's music is sublime (recorded by Leontyne Price, yet, for the Library of Congress). Having said that, I have puzzled, since my student days, over that lyric. I got the idea right enough, but the execution made me cringe in places, the working out in English of the rhythm, the rhyme, the metaphors, everything!

It has been a revelation, opening this thread, for me to compare Chester Kallman's English to the prose of Whitley Stokes, the academician who published his translation, at the turn of the twentieth century, along with his transcription of the very old-fashioned [and corrupt in places] Gaelic of the vellum manuscripts.

Samuel Barber, the composer who set the Hermit Songs to music of his own initiative, liked some of Sean O'Faolain's translations (The Silver Branch), and actively disliked some others of same. At one point, Barber actually made the decision to commission new and different translations of certain Old Irish / Gaelic texts.

"Pangur Ban," for example, titled "The Monk and his Cat" in the Hermit Songs cycle, is a translation by W. H. Auden, the eminent English poet relocated to New York City. Auden translated one other as well. Then there was St. Ita. Why her "Isucan" was not translated by Auden, I cannot discover. Chester Kallman was Auden's companion at this point, with the English poet right up until Auden's death, and seemingly resigned to live in Auden's shadow in more respects than one. For some reason, Kallman ended up with St. Ita's "Isucan," and only that one; and it was considered a commission, "printed by special permission."   All rather mysterious and unusual.

Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: RE: Origins: Isucan, attributed to St Ita
From: keberoxu
Date: 23 Dec 15 - 06:04 PM

The first message in this thread references The Speckled Book, which is equally well-known to scholars as the Leabhar Breac, and is preserved in Ireland. This manuscript is the source of more than one poem, hymn, or commentary from the margins, in Old Irish, which found favor with Barber and other composers.

Besides "Jesukin," which is a literal translation of the Old Irish "Ísucán," there is another quatrain which I would like to post to this thread: also from the margins of the Leabhar Breac. This time the scholar in question was not Whitley Stokes, but the German-born Kuno Meyer.

The quatrain was first published in the Irisleabhar na Gaedhilge / The Gaelic Journal, dated September 1, 1894, Volume V, no. 6, on page 94. The Old Irish complicates the spelling of what is actually a heart-breakingly simple text.

Do gabsat ó gaírm in chét eoin
'cot chrochad, a ghrúd mar géis:
nís chóir anad oc cói chaidche --
scarad lái is aidche da éis.

Kuno Meyer published more than one translation of this quatrain. Here is the earlier translation which appears in the Gaelic Journal along with the original text.

At the cry of the first bird they began
To crucify thee, O cheek like the swan:
It were not right to cease lamenting ever --
Parting of day and night after it.

By the time Samuel Barber got hold of this striking bit of poetry, it had turned up credited to Howard Mumford Jones (credit, that is, for the translation) in his 1000 Years of Irish Poetry and The Romanesque Lyric. Jones, in fact, did little to improve upon the translation made in the first place by Kuno Meyer. Here is the version Meyer published later:

At the cry of the first bird
They began to crucify thee, O cheek like a swan!
It were not right ever to cease lamenting --
It was like the parting of day from night.

Ah! though sore the suffering
Put upon the body of Mary's Son,
Sorer to Him was the grief
That was upon her for His sake.

-from Selections from Ancient Irish Poetry, 1911.
These two quatrains have no attributed author. In fact, they appear in two different spots in the Leabhar Breac / Speckled Book, in the margins of the manuscript. At some point Kuno Meyer decided to put the two quatrains together. They have remained together from that day to this. I cannot discover if Meyer, or anyone else, has ever published or printed the original Gaelic / Old Irish version of "Ah! though sore the suffering."

Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: "Saint Ite" by Robin Flower (translation)
From: keberoxu
Date: 13 Jan 16 - 02:02 PM

Now, back to the vision of Saint Ita.

Just now came across the interpretation of this Old Irish hymn by the poet and scholar Robin Flower. Most likely the copyright is still in effect for Flower's version.

Book title: Poems and Translations
Author/Translator: Robin Flower
poem: "Saint Ite," page 3
publication: Constable & Co., 1931, probably under copyright

Said Ite:
"I will take nothing from my Lord save that he give me His Son in fashion of a babe that I may nurse him." Then came the angel that was wont to do service about her.   " 'Tis good time," said she to him. Then said the angel to her,   "That thou askest shall be granted thee,"   and Christ came to her in fashion of a babe.

He came to me
A little before morning through the night
and lay between my breasts till daylight.

How helplessly
Lay the small limbs, that fallen head of gold,
The little hands that clasped and could not hold.

I spoke no word
Lest sleep's light-feathered wing should lift and fly
From this low earth to that steep heavenly sky.

And when he stirred
And opened frightened eyes and called for rest,
I set him wailing to my maiden breast.

And thence he drew
With soft stirred lips and clutching hands that strove
Sweet mortal milk of more than mortal love.

When morning grew
Far in the East and the world woke from rest,
The King of Stars was quiet on my breast.

Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate

Subject: "Crucifixion," from Samuel Barber's Hermit Songs
From: GUEST,keberoxu
Date: 12 May 17 - 03:33 PM

Concluding the submission begun in the post for 23 December 2015.

This is the original Middle Irish for:

Ah, though sore the suffering
Put upon the body of Mary's Son,
Sorer to Him was the grief
That was upon her for His sake.

Ach cer thinn a fulachtadh
Tucad er chnes Meic Mhuire
Tinne leis a dubhachus
Do bhi uirruidh-si uime

Post - Top - Home - Printer Friendly - Translate
  Share Thread:

Reply to Thread
Subject:  Help
Preview   Automatic Linebreaks   Make a link ("blue clicky")

Mudcat time: 19 November 5:05 PM EST

[ Home ]

All original material is copyright © 1998 by the Mudcat Café Music Foundation, Inc. All photos, music, images, etc. are copyright © by their rightful owners. Every effort is taken to attribute appropriate copyright to images, content, music, etc. We are not a copyright resource.