verse beg. Cétemain, caín cucht

  • Old Irish
  • verse
  • Early Irish poetry

Old Irish poem on May-day, which offers images of the season of May in all its vivid glory, from the blackbirds and bees to the appearance of the trees. The poem is extant as a composition incorporated in a later text, Macgnímartha Find (‘The boyhood deeds of Finn’), where it is attributed to Finn as a demonstration of his poetic skills after he had learned the three arts of poetry (teinm láeda, im-us forosna and díchetal di chennaib).

Initial words (verse)
  • Cétemain, caín cucht
‘Cétemain, cain cucht

’ (in Murphy, G., “Anonymous: May-day”, in Early Irish lyrics (1956)) » In translation: “May-day, fair aspect”; ‘Cétamon / cáin rée ’ (in Carney, J. P., “Three Old Irish accentual poems”, Ériu 22 (1971)) » In translation: “Lovely season of May”; ‘Céttemain cáin ré

’ (in Meyer, K., Four Old-Irish songs of summer and winter (1903))
Context(s)The (textual) context(s) to which the present text belongs or in which it is cited in part or in whole.
Speaker: Finn mac Cumaill
  • Old Irish
  • Originally composed in the Old Irish period (Meyer, Murphy, Carney).
9th century (Murphy); 7th century (Carney).
Origin: Ireland
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James Carney takes mbreg mbras in st. 10, l. 2, to refer to Brega, concluding from this that “The poet probably comes from the district of Brega, or nearby”. It is not so certain that the placename is intended here and (m)breg may simply represent the gen. pl. of brí ‘hill’, as Murphy has it.
verse (primary)
Gerard Murphy suggested that the poem was originally composed in lethrannaigecht mór (51 + 51 + 51 + 51) and offered a reconstructed text based on this assumption. James Carney, however, criticised his emendations of presumed scribal corruptions as being “over-confident”. Instead, he viewed the poem as an example of accentual verse, associating its metre with that of the Leinster poems: “couplets with monosyllabic end-rhyme. Each line has four phrases, the couplet eight, and hence is taken here as belonging to the ochtfhoclach (‘eight-phrased’?) type. Apart from the final monosyllabic rhyme there is no syllable count, and we find in practice that the number of syllables may vary considerably.”(1)n. 1 James P. Carney, ‘Three Old Irish accentual poems’, Ériu 22 (1971): 34–35.
    Number of stanzas
    Textual relationships


    Early Irish poetry





    James P. Carney, ‘Three Old Irish accentual poems’, Ériu 22 (1971): 34–35.

    Primary sources Text editions and/or modern translations – in whole or in part – along with publications containing additions and corrections, if known. Diplomatic editions, facsimiles and digital image reproductions of the manuscripts are not always listed here but may be found in entries for the relevant manuscripts. For historical purposes, early editions, transcriptions and translations are not excluded, even if their reliability does not meet modern standards.

    [ed.] [tr.] Carney, James P., “Three Old Irish accentual poems”, Ériu 22 (1971): 23–80.
    [ed.] [tr.] Murphy, Gerard [ed. and tr.], “Anonymous: May-day”, in: Murphy, Gerard [ed. and tr.], Early Irish lyrics: eighth to twelfth century, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1956. 156–159, 233–234.
    CELT – edition: <link>
    [ed.] [tr.] Murphy, Gerard [ed. and tr.], “Finn's poem on May-day”, Ériu 17 (1955): 86–99.
    89–91 (critical and diplomatic edition, with translation), 92–99 (notes and index) Compared to his predecessors or to Carney, Gerard Murphy produced an edition which is more radical in attempting to restore the original poem and its metre, which he believed would have been a perfectly regular lethrannaigecht mór.
    [ed.] [tr.] Meyer, Kuno [ed. and tr.], Four Old-Irish songs of summer and winter, London: Nutt, 1903.
    [tr.] Meyer, Kuno [tr.], “The boyish exploits of Finn”, Ériu 1 (1904): 180–190.
    Internet Archive: <link>
    186–187 Translation reprinted from Meyer's Four Old Irish songs of summer and winter (1903), with slight changes. direct link
    [ed.] Meyer, Kuno [ed.], “Macgnímartha Find”, Revue Celtique 5 (1882): 195–204, 508.  
    comments: Corrigenda in Archiv für celtische Lexikographie 1 (1900): 482.
    Internet Archive: <link> CELT – edition: <link> CELT – translation: <link>
    [tr.] Jackson, Kenneth Hurlstone, Studies in early Celtic nature poetry, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1935.
    23ff + 41ff. Translation