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Translator's Note: "The Mermaid in the Hospital" by ​Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill

I translate Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill's poems for one very simple reason: I want to read them, and translation is the very closest form of reading of which we may avail ourselves. I studied Irish at school but am now very much out of the way of it, so the act of translation forces me to try to come to terms with one of the most interesting bodies of work in contemporary poetry. "The Mermaid in the Hospital" is just one of a series of poems by Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill which I'm translating under the general title of The Fifty Minute Mermaid. As that title might suggest, these poems feature mer-folk who are at odds with themselves, psychologically as much as physically, in their dry land existences and are trying to make sense of their own translated lives.

One or two textual notes. The Irish phrase "Oiche na Coda Moire," translated here as "New Year's Eve," means "the night of the large portion" and refers to the custom of feasting at New Year's in the hope of staving off fasting in the coming year. But there may be a bilingual pun on the word "cod," in the fish sense, which might make a meal for the mer-folk. The rather indelicate phrase "arse-over-tip" is a lot less indelicate than the original, "cocs-um-bo-head," a macaronic construction including a play on a slang term for the male member.

Originally Published: April 2nd, 2001

Paul Muldoon is one of Ireland's leading contemporary poets. He was born in Portadown, County Armagh and raised near The Moy, in Northern Ireland. Muldoon’s work is full of paradox: playful but serious, elusive but direct, innovative but traditional. He uses traditional verse forms such as the sonnet, ballad, and...

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