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In the Annals of the Four Masters we are told how Suibhne, king of Kildare, has a taste for the things of this world. He is a simple man. His joys and pleasures are simple. He is heavy and coarse, with ugly blonde hair on his head like moss on a stone; and he lacks refinement of mind or spirit. He wages war, eats, laughs, and in every other particular resembles the brown bull of Cooley, which mounts fifty heifers a day. The abbot Fin Barr follows this brute closely and attempts to remind him that Heaven reckons even the weight of a hair. The weight of the soul is far greater. Fin Barr has lived for nine years on the edge of a promontory and for another nine amid the gulls and crows by the lake at Gougane Barra: he is nothing but spirit, with hands as brittle as glass. Curiously, he loves Suibhne, because Suibhne is like a bull or a rock which might have a soul. And Suibhne loves Fin Barr, who makes him feel, on top of the pleasures of this world, the pleasure of having a soul.
The Lightness of Suibhne (pronounced ‘Sweeney’) is taken from Mythologies d’hiver by Pierre Michon, published by Éditions Verdier (1997).
Pierre Michon was born in Central France in 1945. He has published ten works of fiction, which have earned him a reputation as one of the finest writers of his generation. His work is starting to appear in translation in English, chiefly in the United States.
Gregory Norminton is a novelist and short story writer. He teaches creative writing at Manchester Metropolitan University. His translations include Gustave Flaubert’s Dictionary of Received Ideas, published by Oneworld Classics.