Chris Corrigan has posted a nice selection of Seamus Heaney‘s poetry, from which I take this:


A rowan like a lipsticked girl.
Between the by-road and the main road
Alder trees at a wet and dripping distance
Stand off among the rushes.
There are the mud-flowers of dialect
And the immortelles of perfect pitch
And that moment when the bird sings very close
To the music of what happens.

(Via wood s lot.)


  1. I vaguely remember in one of the [Iris Murdock?] novels a love scene in the autumnal forest that involved yellow and brown leaves, clusters of rowan berries and red lipstick. Highly hot-hued.
    BTW, what’s the difference between rowan and mountain ash?

  2. Apparently a rowan is a variety of mountain ash. But I had to look it up; botany is not my specialty.

  3. Apparently, ‘rowan’ is simply a somewhat dated synonym of ‘mountain ash’. The rowan tree(ryabina in Russian) is native to Europe and is ensconced in ancient European lore deeply enough to have a one-word name instead of a misleading two-word appellation (it is not really an ash). So is the alder, I suppose; and the willow, perhaps the deepest of all.

  4. The old Scottish song, O Rowan Tree, is quoted in full at this site, as are some botanical details about the rowan and its place in folklore.

  5. The last two verses work particularly well, and seal the thought harmoniously, kind of like sonnets are meant to be ended. There are words I didn’t know, like rowan. But like in any good poem, one doesn’t need to know the meaning of every word in order to experience the poem. Of course one should learn the words eventually, then re-read the poem. I enjoyed song immensely.

  6. O Orofarnë, Lassemista, Carnimírië!
    O rowan fair, upon your hair how white the blossom lay!
    O rowan mine, I saw you shine upon a summer’s day,
    Your rind so bright, your leaves so light, your voice so cool and soft:
    Upon your head how golden-red the crown you bore aloft!
    O rowan dead, upon your head your hair is dry and grey;
    Your crown is spilled, your voice is stilled for ever and a day.
    O Orofarnë, Lassemista, Carnimírië! —Bregalad the Ent

  7. David Marjanović says

    is ensconced in ancient European lore deeply enough to have a one-word name instead of a misleading two-word appellation

    Except when it doesn’t: Eberesche (lit. “boar ash”), Vogelbeere (lit. “bird berry”, more or less unfit for human consumption unless fermented and distilled).

  8. David Marjanović says


    The rowans or mountain-ashes are shrubs or trees in the genus Sorbus of the rose family, Rosaceae. They are native throughout the cool temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere, with the highest species diversity in the mountains of western China and the Himalaya, where numerous apomictic microspecies occur.[1] The name rowan was originally applied to the species Sorbus aucuparia and is also used for other species in Sorbus subgenus Sorbus.[2]

    And then it gets interesting! In the end it turns out the German “boar” is actually a Celtic “yew”, just like in York.

  9. Interesting indeed!

  10. marie-lucie says

    En français: ‘ash (tree)’ le frêne (older fresne)
    ‘mountain ash’ le sorbier

    In my experience the mountain ash is a much smaller tree than the ash, and its leaves (compound) are also smaller. But the white blossoms and red (inedible) berries make it more conspicuous.

  11. Schrijver, in a fascinating article, reconstructs Proto-Celtic *eburos ‘rowan’, although its daughter reflexes attest other species: Irish and Scottish ‘yew’, Welsh ‘hogweed, cow parsnip’, Breton ‘buckthorn’. His argument is a fine example of linguistic reconstruction informed by a detailed knowledge of the relevant botany.
    The York boar, incidentally, ends up as mere folk etymology.

  12. David Marjanović says

    Oh, so “yew” is purely Gaelic…

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