The Scribe in the Woods: An Early Irish Poem

Forest glade

Forest glade by Fiona in Eden (source)

This beautiful early Irish poem describes the joy of a scribe working in a forest surrounded by bird song and nature. It is found in the margins of a ninth century Irish treatise on Latin grammar, which now resides in the monastery of St. Gall in Switzerland.

‘Over me green branches hang

A blackbird leads the loud song

Above my pen-lined booklet

I hear a fluting bird-throng


The cuckoo pipes a clear call

Its dun cloak hid in deep dell:

Praise to God for his goodness

That in woodland I write well’

(translated by Maire Mac Neill)


The original poem text

The original poem text (source)


The original Irish text can be read below (source)

Dom-farcai fidbaide fál 
fom-chain loíd luin, lúad nád cél; 
h-úas mo lebrán, ind línech, 
fom-chain trírech inna n-én.

Fomm-chain coí menn, medair mass, 
hi m-brot glass de dingnaib doss. 
Debrath! nom-Choimmdiu-coíma: 
caín-scríbaimm fo roída ross.


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5 Responses to The Scribe in the Woods: An Early Irish Poem

  1. Liam Nolan July 25, 2015 at 9:41 am #

    Thanks for sharing such a beautiful poem and for such a scholarly translation, a work of art in itself! It brings home to us all the amazing depth of learning that was in Ireland at that time and which then went overseas. Its a pity that we know very little about the scribes and their ways of producing wonderful masterpieces, Liam

  2. Kate May 18, 2016 at 6:34 pm #

    Beautiful. Now I wanna go do my stuff out in the woods.

  3. Frances October 9, 2016 at 1:38 pm #

    Thanks for this evocative poem I’ve always felt an affinity for the woodlands the sound of the breeze in the tree top is so soothing and the environment peaceful

  4. John October 9, 2016 at 1:41 pm #

    Great to read this. To Liam in answere to his comment. There is a huge repository of early Christian writings pereserved in the Uni of St Gall Switzerland. Also Mary Mc Aleese’ program on RTE 1 on Colum Banus is excellent.

  5. SJ Aberasturi October 11, 2016 at 11:00 am #

    Thanks for this, Colm.
    I’d love to read a version in modern Irish, and/or a literal translation into English. The Old Irish is beyond me!

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