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Tiny harp

Harp Poems

Irish feast This is a selection of Irish bardic poetry on the subject of harps and harpers. The earliest of these come from a collection of Irish poems which were researched and translated by the great Gaelic scholar Osborn Bergin in the period 1918-1926.

Bergin states:

Osborn Bergin
Irish Bardic Poetry
Dolmen Press, 1970
p. 3

The language of the poems is a somewhat artificial poetic Gaelic which remained almost unchanged over 500 years, although the spoken language continued to evolve in different areas. Hence, by the end of the period people complained that the poets were difficult to understand. It also means that the poetry can not be identified by region or date on stylistic grounds. Most of the words will be recognizable to the student of modern Irish, although the grammar is different enough that translation requires a specialist in the subject.

The structure of the poems follows a precise formal structure based on one of the traditional syllabic metres. These are very polished works produced by skillful professionals in a very dignified style. The subject matter of the poems as a whole is quite wide, but I have chosen only those connected with harps. No other musical instruments are mentioned, except in one place "liric", which Bergin translates as "lyre". This may be just a synonym for harp.

Poetry was a hereditary occupation, although training at a Bardic College for a period of about seven years was also required. The method of composing was to lie in a darkened room for an extended period of time until the poem was complete. Many have commented that this seems like a relic of some type of divination ceremony going back to pagan times.

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The Poems:

To a Harp
A 14th century poem in praise of a beautiful harp.
On a Blind Harper—I
A poem in praise of Nioclás Dall, a noted harper who flourished in the early 1600s.
On a Blind Harper—II
Another poem by a different poet in praise of the same harper.
The consolations of the man who has out-lived all his friends are his books, his sword, his chessboard and his harp.
The Lover's Invitation
Two love poems from the 17th and 18th centuries, mentioning the harp and other musical instruments including the lute.
The Parson's Revels
A excerpt from an 18th century poem in English, describing a Gaelic harper performing for an English-speaking audience at a banquet.

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