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  4. Behemoth by Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill

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A martyr this morning, as ever, to cramps and pains
I organize myself to face the day.
I show a leg, put my shoulder to the wheel,
Daub paint on my eyelids and stick a couple of long
Hairpins in my desperate mane to hold it—
Too much trouble even to brush my hair.
I start on the spot on this heavy, sluggish,
Difficult, heartbreaking work, the reason no doubt
I was first put on the earth.
I take the same little plastic brush that I use
On good days to spread melted butter on pastry.
And gradually lay bare with insect patience,
Sifting away like an ant, with a hunter’s eye, or
The sharp ear of a trespassing pig, alternately huffing
And puffing and effing and blinding: in the wet sand,
The painful lines of our horror, the boundaried frame of fear,
That lays us low so often in the bogs of despond.
You’d take it as first for a boat’s skeleton, a kind
Of Sutton Hoo for our people, but soon its true shape appears:
Biblical Behemoth, the monster of all the old tales.


Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, "Behemoth" (translated by Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin) from The Water-Horse,. Copyright © 1999 by Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill.  Reprinted by permission of The Gallery Press.
Source: The Wake Forest Book of Irish Women's Poetry (Wake Forest University Press, 2011)
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  • Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill is one of the most prominent poets writing in the Irish Gaelic language today. Her poetry has been translated into English by a number of well-known Irish poets, including Seamus Heaney, Medbh McGuckian, and Paul Muldoon. Irish themes, including language, are central to her poetry and range from ancient myths to small details of contemporary life. Her first collection was published in 1981, and the translation Selected Poems: Rogha Danta appeared in 1986. Her works have since been translated into Italian, Japanese, and Turkish.

    Born to Irish parents who were both doctors working in an Irish mining community in Lancashire, England, Ni Dhomhnaill spoke Gaelic at home. At the age of five, she went to live with an aunt in County Kerry, Ireland, where she was further immersed in the language. As a student at University College in Cork, she studied Irish and English and...

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