Lupercal

Lupercal
air latha pòr gaoil
biodh an cridhe sileadh
smuaintean tlàtha
fuaran bhàidhean
biodh an cridhe sireadh
chuantan àighe
air latha pòr gaoil
biodh a' phòg
nas maille na na h-uairean
nas mìlsich na na gaoithean
's ged a thigeadh
faobhar air an oiteag
biodh sinne dìon
an iathadh a chèile
mar dhà choinneal làn
a' lasadh a chièle
Aonghas MacNeacail

from Hymn to a Young Demon (Edinburgh: Polygon, 2007)

Reproduced by permission of the publisher.
Lupercal
on love seed day
let the heart shed
warmest thoughts
fountain of love
let the heart seek
oceans of joy
on love seed day
let the kiss be
slower than the hours
more honeyed than the winds
and if an edge
come on the breeze
we'll be secure
in one embrace
as two whole candles
light each other
translated by Aonghas MacNeacail
Aonghas MacNeacail

Aonghas MacNeacail has been a leading voice in Gaelic poetry for decades, as poet, and as a regular literary commentator in print and on Gaelic radio. He is also a songwriter, screen writer and librettist.  

Read more about this poet
About Lupercal

This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2008. Best Scottish Poems is an online publication, consisting of 20 poems chosen by a different editor each year, with comments by the editor and poets. It provides a personal overview of a year of Scottish poetry. The editors in 2008 were Rosemary Goring and Alan Taylor.

Editors' comment: 
Love poems are the richest gift, but also the foullest bane, of literature. No subject is more plundered and, consequently, ruined. It is the beginner's first port of call, and the expert's last. But when it is judged well, it can be unforgettable. 'Lupercal', which takes its name from the Roman god of fertility, is a quivering flame of a poem, a voluntary of desire and sensual delight that plucks at the emotions as if they were a harp. We can comment only on the English translation, but the economy and clarity of each line and the hymnic heartbeat of the whole combine to create a joyous yet haunting anthem to love.

Author's note: 
As I recall, this poem was written as a Valentine gift. It turns, essentially, on a bilingual pun where the words "latha pòr gaoil" (love seed day) conveniently echoes the three syllables of the Latin word, Lupercal (from lupa; she-wolf) which connects with the legend of the origins of Rome. February 14 was the eve of Lupercalia, Roman festival of fertility. The Church, always concerned to wrap in more decorous cloth older customs it knew could not be entirely suppressed, was able to draw on the account of at least one martyred Valentinus buried by the Via Flamina, north of the city, on February 14th. Celebration of the day as special to lovers is attributed to Geoffrey Chaucer. So, a poet invents a tradition, and the rest is history, including my poem!