Keening

Among us, it is well known:
Thwarting the Great Queen is not wise.
Refusing her, even less so.

My son refused her thrice.
Bold, he was;
Strong, he was.
The wisest man in all Ireland, though:
None could claim that of him.

A woman wants what a woman wants;
When she was taken with love for him,
Her heart wanted only its due;
I do not think when she cursed him,
She recalled that he was my son.
There is no feud laying between us
Due to his death by her will.

Hear now my lament for my son,
O sons and daughters of Eire!
My son was Cuchulainn the Brave.
Cuchulainn the Bold,
Cuchulainn the Most Skilled of Many Warriors!
As a child, he wrestled and slew
The great hound of Culain,
Then vowed to take its place,
Guarding the hall of Culain.
In battle, he stood against many,
Striking down his foes with his great spear,
The spear of many barbs.
He bested the warrior woman Aife,
Then fathered on her the warrior Conlaoch;
She wove the destiny for both,
Demanding three things from her son,
And thereby ensured his death at the hands of his father.
On the field of battle, he slew his childhood friend,
In honor unable to let his friend’s challenge pass untested.

But that night, that night he heard the loud cry from the North,
My son, my son the hound of battle,
He wove his own doom, turning aside the love of the daughter of the King,
Finding no time for a woman’s caresses
When there was battle to be had.
And so he refused her once.
She insisted she would aid him in battle with her skills,
And he told her he had no need of a woman’s aid,
And so he refused her twice.
Her desire turned to anger, and then she warned him:
If he would have neither her love nor her aid,
Then he would have her wrath.
He responded that he did not fear any woman’s hatred,
And so he refused her thrice.
He drew his sword to attack her, and
Then it was that she showed herself for whom she was,
The raven of battle sitting on the skeleton branch of a tree,
And at last, he feared.

His three refusals led to three wounds;
His three wounds led him to wound her thrice,
And those three wounds led to three healings.
At last the day came,
The day of his death,
And three crones there were,
Offering hospitality of food he could not refuse,
Ere he were to break his geas against such,
But the meat they cooked was dog,
The flesh of a hound like Culain’s hound he had slain,
And in eating the food they offered,
He broke that geas,
And so brought his doom upon himself.

Ochone! Ochone, for my son is dead!
Ochone! Ochone, for the man best at battle in all the world
Has fallen to rash words and pride.
Ochone! Ochone! Let the world mourn,
For a man can never be but what he is,
Though it mean his death.
Ochone! Ochone! Hear me, people of all the land of Eire!
Hear me, descendants of all the folk!
I am Lugh, satirist, warrior, harper, and king,
And today I mourn for my son!
Heed my words as I cry, Ochone!
Though his life was short, his legends shall be long,
And remembered throughout the ages of man.
Ochone! Ochone! Ochone!
Cuchulainn, the hound of Culainn,
That once was the boy Setanta,
My son, the mighty, has fallen!
Ochone!

[Poet and novelist Jennifer Lawrence just released her first poetry collection, Listening For Their Voices, as well as two novels, Fire on the Mountain and Black Pinions. All three are available through Lulu.]

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