na Tromdhíana: The Three ‘Strong’ Díana

In the last two posts, I gave some examples of dían seng so in this post the three ‘strong’ variations of dían follow.

In keeping with the previous posts, though, I should note a further convention of Irish poetry, namely aiccill. Remember that a rann, the basic sense-unit of a poem, is divided into two leathrainn that are themselves divided into two ceathrú-rainn. Aiccill (probably coming from the Old Irish word for preparation or anticipation) is the technique of binding together the ceathrú-rainn of a leathrann by rhyming the end-word of one ceathrú-rann with a word inside of the next.

It’s really not that complicated. Here’s Kuno Meyer’s example from his Primer of Irish Metrics:

Acht ro-fetar racha d’éc
Mór in bét! Ní fetar cuin

Yet I know that death comes
Great the calamity! I know not whence.

If you’re wondering how éc (death) can rhyme with bét (an unhappy occurrence), check out tomorrow’s post where I get into the complexities of Gaelic rhyme. An example in English would be something like:

While hungrily course the hounds
The stag yet bounds in his joy.

I should probably also mention that Meyer (rightly I believe) equates the dían meter with sétnad and dían midsheng with sétnad mhór. This will seem more important in later posts, but I just thought I would mention it now.

Dian airthrom

Donngalach Dálguinech
dorar n-ard n-ídlach.
eslabar dusgalach
Desmuman díglach.

Donngalach Dálguinech
A high, heathen fight
Generous, possessed of a flourishing ardour
An avenger of the Southern Mumu.

This example has the same basic structure as dían iarsheng: alternating lines of six and five syllables with end-rhyme joining the two leathrainn and aicell in the second leathrann. To be honest, I have trouble distinguishing the two, but I don’t feel so bad about it since Rudolf Thurneysen struggled with it as well. (If you don’t know who he was, look him up and check out some of his work.)

One facet of this meter that might throw Sasanach sensibilities askew is that Dálguinech and dusgalach do not actually rhyme … at all … yet dusgalach and Desmuman are in perfect rhyme. I’ll get into it in my next post.

Dian midthrom

This meter uses the most number of syllables possible in formal poetry, i.e. eight in each line. Other than alliteration in each line, the rhyme pattern is standard for dían, namely end-rhyme between the two leathrainn and aiccill in the second.

Fó sén dia ngaib Oengus Albain
Albu thulchach trethan tríathach
Ruc do chathrachaib costud clarach
Cosach lámach lethansciathach.

Happy the portent when Oengus took possession of Scotland,
Scotland the hilly, thundering maritime;
He assembled a palisade as a fortification
With feet, hands and broad shields.

It is also worth pointing out that the wording is very archaic and literary. The phrase ‘fó sén‘ would be rendered in modern colloquial Irish as ‘is maith liom,’ and do chathrachaib‘ would have to be pronounced ‘do chathr’chaibh‘ in order to keep the number of syllables under control. This spelling of ‘to fortifications/cities’ is really a poetic convention for ‘do chathraibh‘ anyway, so it might have just been pronounced that way anyway.

Dían iarthrom

Bennacht uam for Eithne n-ollguirm
Ingen Domnaill dáilus bir
Aire ochtair cheatrair bachlach
Síthchenn srathrach, srúaimm di mid.

A blessing from me on glorious Eithne
daughter of Domnall who casts a spear,
with whom I have drunk a stream of mead that was
load enough for thirty-two wry-necked haltered hauliers.

This translation is a modified version of that found in Greene and O’Connor’s Golden Treasury of Irish Verse (p. 202). The example there is of a slightly altered version of dían iarthrom described as dían midsheng cenntrom corránnach sétradach. I have removed the two lines that made it corránach and the result is most likely satisfactory for dían iarthrom since iarthrom, ‘hind-strong,’ is very close to the sense of cenntrom which means literally ‘head-strong’ but meant something closer to ‘end-strong.’


Ok, so what does all this mean? The meter known as dían is characterized by a pattern of rhyme wherein end-rhyme binds together the two leathrainn, and aiccill occurs in the second one. Dían midsheng has seven syllables across all lines while dían midthrom has eight. The ‘hind’ versions of each then reduce the ‘middle’ structure by one and two syllables in the first and second lines of each leathrann. The ‘fore’ versions do not seem to vary the syllabic length of each line equally since dían iarsheng and dían airthrom have the same syllabic counts (6+5).

Where most of these meters actually differ, though, is in their use of aiccell: the sengdíana with the exception of dían iarsheng, have aicell in every leathrann, while the tromdíana have aiccell uniformly in the second leathrann and never in the first. My suspicion is that this is the true distinction between seng and trom when it comes to metrics.

As a last point, this is just the start as there are a number of other versions of dían. I am using these posts as a way of thinking through these meters myself, so it isn’t like I know exactly what is going on in every instance.  Trinity College Dublin MS 1308 (formerly H.2.12) describes the meter like this:

Is airi atberar diana diib, ar cach diib do cumasc tría n-araili, 7 nach iarmaib fen rocumaiscit; no comad aire atbertais díana dib: ara dene dogniter 7 gabthair 7 ar laigett a n-adbair. Mad iar taithmech foccail immorro, is dian .i. dí 7 an: in ‘dí’ fil and, is coitchenn etir bec 7 mór; in t-‘an’ fil ann, is inann 7 cechtar da fecht.

This is why these are called díana: all of them are mixed with the others and only the ‘hind’ have not been mixed; or the reason that they are called díana is because of the swiftness in which they are composed and understood (or memorized perhaps?) and because of the smallness of their subject matter. If it’s according to the analysis of the word, moreover, ‘dían‘ is from ‘two’ () and ‘time’ (ann): the ‘‘ there is because it is the same whether small or great; the ‘an‘ there, it is the same also in each of the two instances.

This suggests to me that even at the time there wasn’t much differentiation. These are the easy meters taught to the first-year poets, so we won’t get too worked up over them. At least that’s a first start. Next, we’ll talk about rhyme.

David Greene & Frank O’Connor ed. & trans. A Golden Treasury of Irish Verse: AD 600–1200. London, Melbourne & Toronto: MacMillan, 1967.

Kuno Meyer. A Primer of Irish Metrics with a Glossary, and an Appendix Containing an Alphabetical List of the Poets of Ireland. Dublin & London: School of Irish Learning, 1909.


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