In his inaugural lecture as Oxford Professor of Poetry, Peter Levi famously described it as `the greatest poem written in these islands in the whole eighteenth century’. Now, with Lament for Art O’Leary, a new version of Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill’s lament for her husband, a victim of Penal Laws and personal grudge, Vona Groarke joins a list of diverse writers who have translated all or part of it, from Frank O’Connor and Eilís Dillon to Thomas Kinsella and Paul Muldoon.
This version renews the passionate rage and desire of a pregnant widow for her flamboyant husband, shot down while riding his famed brown mare on 4 May 1773. Revisiting the Irish tradition of the funeral lament or ‘keen’, this poem’s vigour and sincerity speak beautifully both of its time and place, and to our own. The enlightening introduction elaborates the context of `the meeting point of a cultured imagination and a cultural inheritance’. Alison Brackenbury has written of being ‘seduced by the haunting, time-defying poems of Vona Groarke’ – qualities Vona Groarke, one of the outstanding poets of her generation, brings now to bear on this iconic poem.