Mournful goats

May 7, 2007

I’ve just finished a sad novel set in Ireland (North and South) by the very Irish poet Dermot Healy, entitled A Goat’s Song, from which I have learned a great deal.

Here’s a short extract from the book that explains its strange title:

“I pen songs of the buck. Billy tunes.”
“I’m sorry?”
“Goat songs.”
“Is that so?”
“That’d be the height of it.”
Catherine looked at him. “That’s all very interesting. But I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Tragedies. Tragos — goat. Oide — song. From the Greek.”
“I never knew that.”
“There you go. Every time you weep in the theatre you’re listening to a goat singing.”
“You jest.”
“Not at all. In the early days the Greek goatherds used to put the bucks on one island and the nannies on another. Then when the nannies were on heat their smell would come on the breeze to the bucks who rose a mournful cry.”
“The poor things.”
“That’s what I thought.”
“And why don’t they just jump in the water and swim across, if they were so frustrated?”
“Ah, but that’s the crux of the matter,” said Jack Ferris. “You see, goats can’t swim.”

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