Similes, Metaphors & Kennings

Rot·gíuil ind shrathar dodcaid.

Rot·gíuil ind shrathar dodcaid.

(has-stuck-to-you * the * pack-saddle * of ill-luck)

The pack-saddle of misfortune has stuck to you.

This is the fourth and final line of a one-stanza poem recorded in the margin of a manuscript, one of three short poems in Old Irish published in the Thesaurus. Here's the whole poem as it appears there:

Gaib do chuil insin charcair,
ni róis chluim na colcaid.
Truag insin amail bachal;
rot giuil ind shrathar dodcaid.

Rop éo uasind fhid.

Rop éo uasind fhid.

(he was * great tree * above the * wood)

He was a tree that stood above the forest.

This metaphorical image is found in the Middle Irish poem "A maccáin na cí". It is echoed in an 18th century poem by Aodh Buí Mac Cruitín which begins "Crann os gach coill craobh Eamhna", written in honor of Toirbhealbhach Ó Lochlainn.

Is fér bó aenmachaidh ...

Is fér bó aenmachaidh, is geilt aengeóid, is milide oenbeich.

(is * grass * of cow * of one-field * is * grazing * of one goose * is * honey-pasture * of one bee)

It's grass for one cow, grazing for one goose, flowers for one bee.

In other words, this is a poor, small, unproductive place, so don't expect much from it. The run is found in "Erchoitmed Ingine Gulidi", where Guilide's daughter is putting on the poor mouth in an attempt to dissuade unexpected visitors from wanting to spend the night.

Ard bot fiaich ...

Ard bot fiaich ocainn, íseal bot con.

(high * tail * of raven * at-us * low * tail * of hound)

The raven's tail is high for us and the hound's tail is low.

In other words, food is scarce for us. The expression is presumably based on a close observation of the appearance of animals at the beginning of spring, when the winter's stores of food were almost exhausted.

cenn i mbolg

cenn i mbolg

(head * in * bag)

head in a bag

This proverbial metaphor for ignorance is found in "In Tenga Bithnua" a sermon for the vigil of Easter composed around 1000 A.D, where it is paired with the similar expression "bith i tig dorcha" (being in a dark house). The full context is:

"ar ba cenn i mbolg 7 ba bth i tigh dhorcha do sil Adhuimh iarsindi na fes riam cissi dealbh ro bai forsin domun nó cia dhorigne" (for it was "head in a bag" and "being in a dark house" for the seed of Adam, since it had never been known what shape the world had or who made it).

Fiss 7 Fochmarc 7 Eolus a trí ndruid.

Fiss 7 Fochmarc 7 Eolus a trí ndruid.
Dub 7 Dorcha 7 Teimel a trí ndeogbaire.
Saith 7 Leór 7 Línad a trí rannaire.

(information * and * questioning * and * knowledge * their * three * druids
blackness * and * darkness * and * deep shadow * their * three * cupbearers
sufficiency * and * plenty * and * filling * their * three * carvers)

Facts and Questioning and Knowledge were their three druids.
Blackness and Darkness and Obscurity were their three cupbearers.
Fullness and Plenty and Filling were their three meatcarvers.

The Book of Leinster (lines 3902 - 3915; page 30d) contains a paragraph setting forth the triplistic description of the appearance, clothing, weaponry and retinue of Brian, Iuchar, and Iucharba, the "Trí Dee Donand" (Three Gods of Danu). The names of the three cupbears would seem to indicate that utter insensibility was the expected outcome of a good drinking bout.

Nert ní dernaim.

Nert ní dernaim.
Rith ní rordaim.
Léim ní rolngaim.

(strength * not * I can do
running * not * I can run
leap * not * I can leap)

That is a feat I cannot do.
That is a run I cannot run.
That is a leap I cannot leap.

So says the old and decrepit king Cathaír to Buchat in the tale "Esnada Tige Buchat", expressing his impotence in general, and in particular his inability to control the depredations of his sons against Buchat.

Is garit mo lorg latt.

Is garit mo lorg latt.

(is * short * my * club * with you)

My club is short in your opinion.

Fergus is furious at Cú Chulainn for having just killed Etarcomal, a persistent challenger who goaded Cú past his limit, even though Fergus had asked Cú not to harm the arrogant young man. Thomas Kinsella translated this line as "You must think my cudgel is very short." The sense of this proverbial expression is "You must think that you're beyond my authority and can do as you please. We'll just see about that!"

Cid as méithi saill tuircc mesa?

Cid as méithi saill tuircc mesa?
Miscais do·berar íar serc.

(what * that is * fatter * than salt-meat * of boar * of mast /
hatred * that is given * after * love)

What is fatter than the bacon of an acorn-fed boar?
Hatred that comes after love.

This arresting image comes from "Tochmarc Ailbe", where it is one of thirty riddles that Finn poses and Ailbe answers.

Día faetsath snáthat...

Día faetsath snáthat isin tig ro-cechlastai a toitim in tan labras beóus.

(if * were to fall * needle * in the * house * would be heard * its * falling * the * time * that he speaks * still)

If a needle fell in the house while he was speaking, it would be heard.

This may be the earliest instance in western (or world?) literature of the "so quiet you could hear a pin drop" image. It is found in "Togail Bruidne Da Derga" (792-3), where it describes that respectful attention that Taidle Ulad, the "rechtaire" or steward of Conaire Mór, could command whenever he made a pronouncement about the seating and serving arrangements in the royal house. Combining the powers of a chief protocol officer and a maître d', the rechtaire was a "servant" to be reckoned with in the medieval Irish hierarchy!

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