‘Jesukin’, a poem about fostering in early Ireland which brings with it the message of Christmas

It was written in 6th Century Ireland, probably by Íte, who was an important church‑woman, and is to be found in the commentary on Félire Óengusso. The translation is by Gerald Murphy.

It is a wonderful poem and doesn’t really need any comment, but at the end are my thoughts on it anyway, which you can read or discard.

They come with my Blessing to you for a wonderful Christmas:

"It is little Jesus who is nursed by me in my little hermitage.
Though a cleric have great wealth,
it is all deceitful save Jesukin.
The nursing done by me in my house is no nursing of a base churl:
Jesus with Heaven’s inhabitants is against my heart every night.
Little youthful Jesus is my lasting good:
He never fails to give.

Not to have entreated the King who rules all
will be a cause of sorrow.
It is noble angelic Jesus and no common cleric
who is nursed by me in my little hermitage.

Jesus son of the Hebrew woman.
Though princes’ sons and kings’ sons come into my countryside
not from them do I expect profit:
I love little Jesus better.

Sing a choir‑song, maidens,
for Him to whom your tribute is due.
Though little Jesus be in my bosom,
He is in his mansion above."

We can only partly relate to the culture in which the poem is set, in which the sons of the great are fostered out for paid nurture by country women,

but the poet’s tenderness and sense of being privileged can still move us greatly:

"It is little Jesus who is nursed by me in my little hermitage."

This speaks firstly of the love possible for a baby not your own. Somewhere in the back of our minds we know that a foster mother’s breast feeding

is made possible by her own pregnancy and birthing, but we are given no hint as to the fate of this woman’s own child.

We are left to identify with a human foster mother, simply and lovingly doing her job.

Maybe we are being reminded momentarily of those darker things, left in the shadowed corners of the room, as the next line hints;  "It is all deceitful save Jesukin.

But immediately, for contrast, she has used a pet name more sweet and personal than any we are used to. ‘Kin’ is not only a tender diminuitive,

it reminds us of kinship and the way we are all – cleric, churl, prince and king – connected and related. She is also reminding us that this baby

will become the man who teaches us to call God, ‘Abba’; "My Daddy.".

Towards the end her joy begins to spill over, it can’t be expressed only by her. She cries out to the maidens, whoever they are, to

"Sing a choir‑song, maidens, for Him to whom your tribute is due."

This is where we can truly join this woman who, for whatever reason, is nursing babies not born of her body.

This tells us that anyone, male or female, child or adult, fertile or barren, can give nurturing love to the Christ Child by generosity of heart to the poor and helpless,anywhere, anytime.

Even more, it is a due tribute – "You owe it to him!" we might exclaim in today’s idiom.

Finally, she resolves the paradox that the Son of the Living God is both her Lord and her nursling by taking us to another level of being altogether:

"Though little Jesus be in my bosom,
He is in His mansion above."

Her joy is complete, as the heart within her and the heart of the Universe are shown to be One and the same. The emptiness of the O is once more filled. The circle is complete and perfected. God and His creation are reconciled.

Thanks be to God, Amen.

With much thanks to Elinor Kapp of Cardiff who submitted this item on Sunday 18 December 2011.

Elinor is a retired medical practitioner, a storyteller and an expert on weaving and on the influence of that ancient craft on the language we use today.

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