20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Great Irish classic,
This review is from: Tales of the Elders of Ireland (Oxford World's Classics) (Paperback)
I can't agree with the rather lukewarm assessment of the other reviews. This is a great book. The translation is workmanlike--you can find better translations of the poems in good anthologies of Irish poetry--but perfectly good; as one reviewer noted, medieval Irish is awfully hard to translate. The poems get into incredibly complicated patterns of rhythm, internal rhyme, vowel harmony, alliteration, and so on. Some of the ones here are masterpieces, but you have to learn some Gaelic to get it.
So, what is left is an amazing story. I think everyone interested in the human condition and the human spirit should read and consider it. Someone, early in Irish history, saw the full glory of the old hard pagan times, but saw that Christianity was inevitable and necessary (in his mind, at least) to tame the violent and bloody but beautiful and noble world of Finn and the Fianna. So this book is a novel in which Cailte, the last surviving Fianna member, tells St. Patrick of the old days. It manages a sustained tone of tragic loss but hope for the new age which I have not found elsewhere in literature. Many of the poems and stories of grief for particular individuals' tragic deaths are played as laments for the whole lost past. The new peaceful world supersedes it, but the old glories--as Robinson Jeffers said of one of the stories--"shine terribly against the dark magnificence of things."