The Yellow Bittern

     The yellow bittern that ne’er broke out
      In a drinking bout, might as well have drunk;
      His bones are thrown on a naked stone
      Where he lived alone like a hermit monk.
      O yellow bittern! I pity your lot,
      Though they say that a sot like myself is cursed —
      I was sober a while, but I'll drink and be wise
      For I fear I should die in the end of thirst.

      ‘Tis not for the common birds that I do mourn,
      The blackbird, the corncrake, or the crane,
      But for the bittern that lives shy and apart
      And drinks in the marsh from the lone bog‑drain.
      Oh! had I but known you were near your death,
      While my breath held out I’d have run to you,
      Till a splash from the Lake of the Son of the Bird
      Your soul would have stirred and awaked anew.

      My wife she told me to drink no more
      Or my life would be o’er in a very short while;
      But I told her ‘tis drink gives me health and strength
      And lengthens my road by many’s the mile.
      You see how the bird of the long smooth neck
      Could get his death from the thirst at last —
      Come, son of my soul, come drain your cup,
      For you’ll get no sup when your life is past.
      In a wintering island by Constantine's halls
      A bittern calls from a wineless place,
      And tells me that hither he cannot come
      Till the summer is here and the sunny days.
      When he crosses the stream there and wings o’er the sea
      Then a fear comes to me he may fail in his flight —
      Well, the milk and the ale are drunk every drop
      And a dram won't stop our thirst this night.

A translation by Thomas McDonagh (executed after the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin) of the poem ‘An Bunnán Buí’ (‘The Yellow Bittern’) by the 18th century Ulster poet, Cathal Buí Mac Giolla Gunna.

Note how the virtually extinct corncrake is described by the poet as one of the “common birds”.

The text in Irish
(Includes a link to Seamus Heaney's translation).

A photo of a yellow bittern in flight

All Creatures...