Verse > Padraic Colum > Anthology of Irish Verse
Padraic Colum (1881–1972).  Anthology of Irish Verse.  1922.
51. The Sleep-Song of Grainne Over Dermuid
When fleeing from Fionn Mac Cumhaill
By Eleanor Hull (Translated)
SLEEP a little, a little little, thou needst feel no fear or dread,
Youth to whom my love is given, I am watching near thy head.
Sleep a little, with my blessing, Dermuid of the lightsome eye,
I will guard thee as thou dreamest, none shall harm while I am by.
Sleep, O little lamb, whose homeland, was the country of the lakes,        5
In whose bosom torrents tremble, from whose sides the river breaks.
Sleep, as slept the ancient poet, Dedach, minstrel of the South,
When he snatched from Conall Cernach Eithne of the laughing mouth.
Sleep as slept the comely Finncha ’neath the falls of Assaroe,
Who, when stately Slaine sought him, laid the Hard-head Failbe low.        10
Sleep in joy, as slept fair Aine, Gailan’s daughter of the west,
Where, amid the flaming torches, she and Duvach found their rest.
Sleep as Degha, who in triumph, ere the sun sang o’er the land,
Stole the maiden he had craved for, plucked her from fierce Deacall’s hand.
Fold of Valour, sleep a little, Glory of the Western world;        15
I am wondering at thy beauty, marvelling how thy locks are curled.
Like the parting of two children, bred together in one home,
Like the breaking of two spirits, if I did not see thee come.
Swirl the leaves before the tempest, moans the night-wind o’er the lea,
Down its stony bed the streamlet hurries onward to the sea.        20
In the swaying boughs the linnet twitters in the darkling light,
On the upland wastes of heather wings the grouse its heavy flight.
In the marshland by the river sulks the otter in his den;
While the piping of the peeweet sounds across the distant fen.
On the stormy mere the wild-duck pushes outward from the brake,        25
With her downy brood beside her seeks the centre of the lake.
In the east the restless roe-deer bellows to his frightened hind;
On thy track the wolf-hounds gather, sniffing up against the wind.
Yet, O Dermuid, sleep a little, this one night our fear hath fled,
Youth to whom my love is given, see, I watch beside thy bed.        30
The original of this beautiful poem is given in “Dunaire Finn” (The Poem Book of Finn) in the Irish Texts Society’s publications. Grainne, the affianced wife of Fionn MacCumhal, is flying with Dermuid, one of Fionn’s band. The linnet twitters, the grouse flies, the wild duck pushes out from the stream—everything around signals to Grainne that pursuers are close. The poem is wonderfully dramatic in its blend of affection and alarm, all set to the soothing measure of a lullaby.


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