Thursday, 27 March 2014

The Song Of Amergin

Cerebus #151
(October 1991)
(from The Song Of Amergin blog,  24 September 2012)
For many people, the first introduction to the Song of Amergin came through Robert Graves The White Goddess (1948). Graves states that, "English poetic education should, really, begin not with Canterbury Tales, not with The Odyssey, not even with Genesis, but with the Song of Amergin." However, despite this apparently reverential beginning; Graves does not actually put forward the Song of Amergin as we have it; rather he begins by utterly changing this ancient poem to better fit his own pet theory, connecting the lines from this poem to the Ogham alphabet and the 'months' of the year. This creates a vague pattern, unprecedented in either nature or the Gaelic source culture he purports to respect.

Graves provides neither the original Irish poem, nor anyone else's English translation. Instead he just sets off on his own imaginative journey.

In order to create proof for his notions, he translates the lines of the Song very loosely, which, given the dense and obscure nature of the poem, is completely acceptable. However, he then proceeds to rearrange the lines, with no consideration of what they might mean in their original order, and invents completely new lines to give it the flow and meaning Graves, himself, wants this poem to have. The result is a perfectly lovely poem, but it has no real connection to Celtic tradition, myth, or cosmology, save through the mind of Robert Graves.

Grave's Song does not even begin with "I am Wind of Sea"; so the primordial significance of this line and it's connection to the last line of poem (which was dropped entirely) reveals his unfamiliarity with the tradition he is pretending to illuminate while pursuing his unique vision... It really is lovely, but bears only a vague and passing resemblance to the original, which he pretends to respect so much. 

The Song Of Amergin
(from the album Immortal Memory, 2004)


Tony Dunlop said...

Thanks for this. The White Goddess changed my life years ago when I read it; fascinating to hear that Graves may have been full of shit. I still love the book, though.

A Moment Of Cerebus said...

I was (and still am) totally unfamilier with Robert Graves' "The White Goddess" and, until last week, I had just assumed Dave had written that poem himself. Now I'm wondering why he put it into Cerebus at all. It doesn't seem to relate to anything. Does anyone know why he did it?


David Birdsong said...

Reading through the Wikipedia entry makes me think that Dave saw something similar to Cirinism in Graves' writing. I haven't given it a lot of thought really because I also thought Dave wrote it and I never saw anything but the vaguest connections to the story. A simple word pairing or turn of phrase can inspire individuals in countless ways so who knows.

Eddie said...

I always thought he wrote it too and figured it was some kind of Cirinist lullaby. He briefly touched on it in the second part of TCJ interview with Tom Spurgeon (when discussing Minds):
"The Celtic riddle that led off the 1000-page story I lifted from Graves' The White Goddess which - to me - points in the direction of the largest possible presence, the White Goddess herself."

He also briefly discussed The White Goddess and Graves in a response to a letter in #239 (the Alan Moore and Rick Veitch issue), where the letter writer mentions he saw a lot of references to it in Mothers and Daughters.

Tony Dunlop said...

Wow. That opening to M&D would not have hit me like a splash of cold water in the face, after the Jaka's Story/Melmoth interlude, had I not read (and revered) Graves. I read that and thought, Oh boy are we in for a wild ride now!