Sunday, October 02, 2005

The Watergaw by Hugh MacDiarmid

Ae weet forenicht i the yow-trummle
I saw yon antrin thing,
A watergaw wi its chitterin licht
Ayont the on-ding;
An I thocht o the last wild look ye gied
Afore ye deed!

There was nae reek i the laverock's hoose
That nicht - an nane i mine;
But I hae thocht o that foolish licht
Ever sin syne;
An I think that mebbe at last I ken
What your look meant then.

Something like:

The Unclear Rainbow

A wet early evening
In a cold July after the shearing,
I saw that rare thing,
A faint rainbow in the shivering light
Beyond the downpour;
And I thought of the last wild look on your face
Before you died.

There was no smoke in the lark's house that night -
and none in mine;
But I've thought of that foolish light
Ever since then;
And I think that perhaps at last I know
What your look meant.

The business about the lark is apparently an expression for stormy and cold, and I gave up on the full translation of "yow-trummle", which means "a cold spell in July after the sheep shearing". Not knowing Scots (or Synthetic Scots [of which this poem is the first example] for that matter), I suspect that "yon" in line 2 suggests the speaker is seeing a watergaw as he says the poem. And I'd guess that "foolish" means (or is intended as) "deceptive" or "unimportant". Anyway, the poem is readable in the original after learning a few (wonderful) words (the discovery of which by the poet were a large part of the poem's genesis), so go back and try it.

I came across the above in Seamus Heaney's collection _Finders Keepers_, in the essay "A Torchlight Procession of One". Heaney's prose is not streamlined - I rather suspect that he likes to relax and bloviate after the tight craft of his poetry - but the collection has its moments.

Update, 25/3/06, from the comments: the poem read by the author.

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Blogger sandy said...

Go to and you can hear Hugh MacDiarmid read and explain his poem.

25/3/06 14:48  
Blogger rilkefan said...

Indeed it does, namely here. Thanks!

25/3/06 17:07  
Anonymous Euan said...

It was lovely coming across the Watergaw on an American blog..of MacDiarmid's Lyric poems it's one of my favourites. The longer poems are more variable but "A Drunk Man..."
and "On a Raised Beach..." are both exceptionally interesting.

5/2/07 09:03  
Blogger rilkefan said...

Sadly this is too hard work for me to go hack my way through a longer poem. I already get enough Verfremdung from reading Heaney or some Hughes.

9/2/07 13:52  
Blogger chesya said...

Two of my favourite poets

Rilke and McDiarmid. Lallans is more germanic than English, maybe that's it. Although I love Melodies Passageres.

23/7/07 05:18  

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