Ashvamedha – By Gabriel Rosenstock

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Introductory note:
Ashvamedha, a poem in Irish and English by Gabriel Rosenstock, awakens a very distant memory of a ritual which is associated not only with an ancient Vedic tradition but with a similar tradition in ancient Ireland. An early chronicler of Irish ways, anti-Irish in many of his views, Geraldus Cambrensis (Gerald of Wales, c.1146 – c.1223), reported:

“There are some things which, if the exigencies of my account did not demand it, shame would discountenance their being described. But the austere discipline of history spares neither truth nor modesty. There is in the northern and farther part of Ulster, namely Kenelcunill [Tyrconnell], a certain people which is accustomed to consecrate its king with a rite altogether outlandish and abominable. When the whole people of that land has been gathered together in one place, a white mare is brought forward into the middle of the assembly. He who is to be inaugurated, not as chief, but as a beast, not as a king, but as an outlaw, embraces the animal before all, professing himself to be a beast also. The mare is then killed immediately, cut up in pieces, and boiled in water. A bath is prepared for the man afterwards in the same water. He sits in the bath surrounded by all his people, and all, he and they, eat of the meat of the mare which is brought to them. He quaffs and drinks of the broth in which he is bathed, not in any cup, or using his hand, but just dipping his mouth into it round about him. When this unrighteous rite has been carried out, his kingship and dominion has been conferred…”

Bhíodh cumha ar mo mháthair
i ndiaidh an tseansaoil
i ndiaidh an tseanchapaill bháin
capall feirme
Is mise in éad léise toisc go raibh cumha uirthi
rud nach raibh ormsa an uair úd
mé ró-óg chun cumha a bheith orm
cuimhní a bheith agam;
ach de réir a chéile ansin
bhraitheas cumha
cumha i ndiaidh an chapaill íobartha
na mílte bliain ó shin
in Éirinn
agus san India araon:
an chamhaoir, a cheann
an ghrian, a shúil
fórsa na beatha ann, an t-aer . . .
My mother pined
for the old world
pined for the white horse
a farm horse
and I was envious of her nostalgia
too young then to know  such longing
to have memories;
however, gradually,
I began to pine
to pine for the sacrificial horse
thousands of years ago
in India
as well as in Ireland:
the dawn his head
the sun his eye
his life force the very air  . . .



About the Author

Gabriel Rosenstock is a bilingual poet (in Irish & English), haikuist, tankaist, playwright, novelist, short story writer, essayist, translator, writer for children and champion of ‘forlorn causes’ – the phrase is Hugh MacDiarmid’s. He is a Lineage Holder of Celtic Buddhism and a member of Aosdána (the Irish academy of arts and letters). Among his awards is the Tamgha-i-Khidmat medal (Pakistan) for services to literature.