The Colloquoy of the Two Sages

Copyright by Searles O'Dubhain

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This is the famous contention between Ferchertne and NÚde Mac Adne regarding which of them has the right to sit in the Poet's Seat in the Star of the Poets at Tara.   It contains many kennings and much esoteric knowledge from the lore of the Filidh.

NÚde had been in Alba (Scotland) studying herbs and learning about Nature when he received news that his father Adne (Chief Poet of Ireland) had died. He hurried home unaware that Ferchertne had been appointed to the leadership of the Poets to replace his father. On his return journey, he was misled by Bricriu into thinking that the many-colored, feathered Mantle of the Poets was his to wear and thus we have the satge set for the coversation that is provided for two FilÝ, both considering that it is their right to sit in the Poet's Seat at Tara.

At this Ferchertne was angry, and hurried back to enter the hall. There he stood with his hands on the door posts ... and on seeing NÚde, he said:

Who is this poet, wrapped in a splendid robe Who shows himself before he has chanted poetry? According to what I see, he is only a pupil, His beard but an arrangement of grasses. Who is this contentious poet? I never heard any wisdom from Adne's son! I never heard him ready with knowledge! A mistake it is, his sitting in this seat.


NÚde answered Ferchertne honourably:

O ancient one, every sage tries to correct another! Any sage may reproach an ignorant man, But before he does so he should see what evil is present. Welcome is the piercing dart of wisdom, Slight is the blemish to a youth until his art is questioned. Step with care, O chieftain - You belittle me with knowledge, Though I have sucked the teat of a wise man.

Said Ferchertne: A question, wise lad, whence have you come?

NÚde answered: Not hard: from the heel of a sage, From a confluence of wisdom From perfection of goodness, From brightness of the sunrise, From the nine hazels of poetic art, From the splendid circuits in a land Where truth is measured by excellence, Where there is no falsehood, Where there are many colours, Where poets are refreshed. And thou, O my master, whence have you come?

Ferchertne answered: Not hard: down the columns of age, Along the streams of Galion [Leinster], From the elfmound of Nechtan's wife, Down the forearm of Nuada's wife, From the land of the sun, From the dwelling of the moon, Along Mac ind Oc's navel string.

A question. O wise lad, what is thy name?

NÚde answered: Not hard: Very Small, Very Great, Very Bright, Very Hard. Angriness of Fire, Fire of Speech, Noise of Knowledge, Well of Wisdom, Sword of Song, I sing straight from the heart of the fire. And you, O aged one, what is your name?

Ferchertne answered: Not hard: Questioner, Declarer, Champion of Song, Inquiry of Science, Weft of Art, Casket of Poetry Abundance from the Sea of Knowledge. A question, O youthful instructor, what art do you practice?

NÚde answered: Not hard: reddening of countenance, Flesh-piercing satire, Promotion of bashfulness, Disposal of shamelessness, Fostering poetry, Searching for fame, Wooing science, Art for every mouth, Diffusing knowledge, Stripping speech, In a little room, Making poems like a sage's cattle, A stream of science, Abundant teaching, Polished tales, the delight of kings. And you, O my elder, what art do you practice?

Ferchertne answered: Hunting for the treasure of knowledge, Establishing peace, Arranging words in ranks, Celebrating art, Sharing a pallet with a king, Drinking the Boyne, Making briarmon smetrach The shield of Athirne, A tribulation to all men, A share of wisdom from the stream of science, Fury of inspiration, Structure of mind, Art of small poems, Clear arrangement of words, Warrior tales, Walking the great road, Like a pearl in its setting. Giving strength to science through the poetic art.

Ferchertne said A question, O youthful instructor, what are your tasks?

NÚde answered: Not hard: to go to the plain of age, To the mountain of youth, To the hunting of age. To follow a king Into an abode of clay, Between candle and fire Between battle and its horrors Among the people of Fomor, Among streams of knowledge.

And you, O sage, what are your tasks?

Ferchertne answered: To go into the mountain of rank, The communion of sciences, The lands of knowledgeable men, Into the breast of poetic vision, The estuary of bountiful wisdom, To the fair of the Great Boar, To find respect among men. To go into death's hills Where I may find great honour.

A question, O knowledgeable lad, by what path have you come?

NÚde answered: Not hard: on the white plain of knowledge, On a king's beard, On a wood of age, On the back of a ploughing ox, On the light of a summer's moon, On rich mast and food, On the corn and milk of a goddess On thin corn, On a narrow ford, On my own strong thighs.

And you, O sage, by what path have you come?

Ferchertne answered: Not hard: on Lugh's horserod, On the breasts of soft women, On a line of wood, On the head of a spear, On a gown of silver, On a chariot without a wheelrim, On a wheelrim without a chariot, On the threefold ignorance of Mac ind Oc.

And you, O knowledgeable lad, whose son are you?

NÚde answered: Not hard: I am the son of poetry, Poetry son of scrutiny, Scrutiny son of meditation, Meditation son of lore, Lore son of inquiry, Inquiry son of investigation, Investigation son of great knowledge, Great knowledge son of great sense, Great sense son of understanding, Understanding son of wisdom. Wisdom son of the triple gods of poetry.

And you, O sage, whose son are you?

Ferchertne answered: Not hard: I am the son of the man without a father. Who was buried in his mother's womb, Who was blessed after his death. Indeed, death betrothed him, And he was the first utterance of every living one The cry of every dead one: Lofty Ailm is his name.

A question, clever youth: are there tidings?

NÚde answered: There are indeed good tidings: seas fruitful, strands overrun, woods smiling, wooden blades in flight, fruit trees flourishing, cornfields growing tall, bee-swarms many -- a radient world, a happy peace, a kindly summer, soldiers paid, sunblessed kings wondrous wisdom, battle gone, every one to his art: men valiant, women sewing, thorn-trees vigorous treasuries full, valour enough, every art complete, every good man fair. every tiding good -- tidings always good.

And you, O aged one, have you tidings?

Ferchertne answered: I have indeed: terrible tidings, evil times forever, abundant leaders but little honour, fair judgments overturned, the world's cattle barren, men immodest champions departing. Men will be all bad: few kings, many usurpers; crowds of the disgraced, all men blemished. Chariots will smash on the track, Nial's plains will be overrun, truth no longer safeguard wealth. Sentries will guard the sacred places. Art will become buffoonery, only falsehoods heard. Through pride and arrogance no one will keep his proper place, neither rank, age, nor honour, dignity nor art will be served. Even the skilled will be broken. Kings will be paupers, nobles condemned, the baseborn with falter, 'till neither God nor man wins worship. Princes, both lawful and unlawful, will perish when the Men of the Black Spears come. Belief will end, offerings be stolen houses broken open, cells undermined, churches burned. Even poor storerooms be laid waste, fruits and flowers perish, and the King's followers will be houseless. Hounds will turn against their masters, everyone will inflict a triple hurt: by darkness, through grudging and neglect. At the last world's ending, there will be a plea of poverty, grudging and neglect. Artists will quarrel, everyone will pay a satirist to make satires on his behalf, all will be bound by sureties, neighbours betray each other, brother against brother, drinking companions slay each other, neither truth, nor honour nor soul in any. Niggards will reduce everyone to their level, usurpers will satirize each other with storms of dark cursing, ranks will split, clerics be forgotten, sages despised, music will turn men boorish, champions will become monks, wisdom will be turned inside out, the lords will turn on the Church, evil, not blessing, in their crosiers. All relationships will be adulterous.

Peasant sons and churls will find free will and overweening pride; meanness, inhospitality and penury will rule so that art becomes dark; skilled embroidery will be in the hands of sluts and harlots, the garments they make without colour.

Wrong judgments will be all that lords can make, faithlessness and anger will be so much part of everyone, that neither bondslave nor handmaid will serve their masters, neither kings nor lords hear the prayers of their people, neither will bailies hear the cries of their tenants. Tributes will go unpaid, tenants of the church not pay their dues, wives not obey their husbands, sons and daughters disobey their parents, pupils ignore their teachers.

Everyone will turn his art to falseness, and seek to surpass his teacher, so that students will sit above their masters, and there will be no shame when kings eat and drink while their comrades wait, or while farmers scoff after closing the door on artists who will sell their cloaks and their honour for the price of a meal; so that everyone eating dinner turns away from this neighbour; so that greed will fill every human being, so that proud men will sell their honour and their souls for the price of a single scruple. Modesty will be cast away, people condemned, lords destroyed, ranks despised Sunday degraded, letters forgotten, poets cease to appear.

Belief will vanish, false judgments will manifest through usurpers of the last world; fruits will be burned by strangers and rabble. Lands will hold too many people, districts be stretched, forests become plains and plains forests, everyone will be a slave.

Thereafter will come dreadful diseases: sudden, awful tempests, lightning which causes trees to cry out, winters leafy, summers gloomy, autumn without crops, spring without flowers, mortality through famine, diseases in cattle: staggers, murrains, dropsies, agues, and lumps.

Estrays without profit, hoards without treasure, goods without consumers, extinction of champions, failure of crops, prejudice, angry judgments, death for three days and three nights on a third of humanity, a third of all plagues on beasts of forest and sea.

Then will come seven years of lamentation: flowers will perish in every house wailing, outlanders consuming Erin's plains. men will herd men, there will be conflict round Cnamchoill, fair folk slain. Daughters will lie with their fathers, contests will be fought at sacred places, desolation visit the heights and the plains, the seas break their bounds when the Land of Promise falls. Ireland will be left for seven years to mourn the slaughter.

Next will come signs of the Antichrist, to every tribe monsters will be born, pools will flood back into streams, horsedung will look like gold, water taste like wine; mountains will seem like perfect lands bogs give birth to clover, bee-swarms burn in the highlands, flood-tides not withdraw for days.

Thereafter seven more dark years. They will hide lamps of heaven. At the end of the world will be judgment. It will be The Judgment, my son. Great tidings, awful tidings, an evil time!

Said Ferchertne: Know you, O little in age but great in knowledge, who is greater than you?

NÚde answered: Easy to say: God is above me, and the wisest of prophets. I know the hazels of poetry -- And I know that Ferchertne is a great poet and prophet.

The lad then knelt to Ferchertne and flung him the poet's robe, which he put from him. NÚde then rose out of the poet's seat, where he had been sitting, and cast himself under Ferchertne's feet. Thereupon Ferchertne said:

Stay, great poet, wise youth, son of Adne! May you receive glory and fame In the sight of men and gods. May you be a casket of poetry, May you be a king's arm, May you be a rock of ollaves, May you be the glory of Emain Macha, May you be higher than everyone!

Said NÚde: May you be so, under the same titles! Two trees springing from one root without destruction. As casket of poetry, an expression of wisdom. This is the perfect line of intellect: Father from son, son from father. Three fathers I have had: A father in age, A fleshly father, A father of teaching. My fleshly father remains not, My father of teaching is not present, You, Ferchertne, are my father in age! You I acknowledge -- may it be so!

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