by Chet Raymo
“You read it in “Honey From Stone,” and again in “Climbing Brandon.” I believe I may have quoted it here some years ago. It is commonly called “The Song of Amergin,” and it is reputed to be the first poem composed in Ireland, by one of the "Milesian princes" who colonized the island several hundred years before the birth of Christ.
I am the ocean wave.
I am the sound of the billows.
I am the seven-horned stag.
I am the hawk on the cliff.
I am the dewdrop in sunlight.
I am the fairest of flowers.
I am the raging boar.
I am the salmon in the deep pool.
I am the lake on the plain.
I am the meaning of the poem.
I am the point of the spear.
I am the god that makes fire in the head.
Who levels the mountain?
Who speaks the age of the moon?
Who has been where the sun sleeps?
Who, if not I?”
All is conjecture, of course. The origins of the poem are lost in the mists of time. We must assume it is a divinity speaking, announcing himself as immanent in the creation - flower and spear, dewdrop and raging bull. He raises and lowers the mountains, feeds the mighty rivers from a thousand trickling springs, beats the waves upon the shore. I use the pronouns "himself" and "he," but the voice of the poem has no gender. "I am who am." Even "I" and "am" must be taken as metaphorical placeholders for a mystery that has no name.
I look out my window. Montbretia and bramble rose. Willow and rowan. Green fields and hedgerows thick with birdsong and fuchsia. The harbor glistening in the sun and out there in the Atlantic a mist of rain. I am the god that makes fire in the head. The never-ceasing amazement, the longing and uncertainty, the badgering whispers that come in the dark of the night. Terror and beauty. Despair and hope. Loneliness and love.
I am the meaning of the poem. Wave, billow, hawk stag. Dewdrop, flower, salmon, boar. And we, unique among all the creatures of this planet - burning, burning in our wonderment.”