meme: literature

On 24 November 1996 Sorley MacLean, the noted Scottish poet, died.


MacLean is widely regarded as the greatest Gaelic poet of the Twentieth Century, and he is to be credited with giving a new literary standing to a language which at times seemed close to extinction. Works include Dain do Eimhir agus Dain Eile (Poems to Eimhir and Other Poems), a selection of mainly love poems written after MacLean returned from service in North Africa in 1943, where he was wounded three times.

It’s quite fitting to post his poignant poem Autumn day, both Gaelic and English translations are below. 

Latha Foghair

’S mi air an t-slios ud
latha foghair,
na sligean a’ sianail mum chluasan
agus sianar marbh ri mo ghualainn,
rag-mharbh – is reòthta mur b’ e ’n teas –
mar gum b’ ann a’ fuireach ri fios.
Nuair thàinig an sgriach
a-mach às a’ ghrèin,
à buille ’s bualadh do-fhaicsinn,
leum an lasair agus streap an ceathach
agus bhàrc e gacha rathad:
dalladh nan sùl, sgoltadh claistinn.
’S ’na dhèidh, an sianar marbh,
fad an latha;
am measg nan sligean san t-srannraich
anns a’ mhadainn,
agus a-rithist aig meadhan-latha
agus san fheasgar.
Ris a’ ghrèin ’s i cho coma,
cho geal cràiteach;
air a’ ghainmhich ’s i cho tìorail
socair bàidheil;
agus fo reultan Afraga,
’s iad leugach àlainn.
Ghabh aon Taghadh iadsan
’s cha d’ ghabh e mise,
gun fhaighneachd dhinn
cò b’ fheàrr no bu mhiosa:
ar leam, cho diabhlaidh coma
ris na sligean.

Sianar marbh rim o ghualainn
latha foghair.

An Autumn Day.

On that slope
on an autumn day,
the shells soughing about my ears
and six dead men at my shoulder,
dead and stiff – and frozen were it not for the heat –
as if they were waiting for a message.
When the screech came
out of the sun,
out of an invisible throbbing,
the flame leaped and the smoke climbed
and surged every way:
blinding of eyes, splitting of hearing.
And after it, the six men dead
the whole day;
among the shells snoring
in the morning,
and again at midday
and in the evening.
In the sun, which was so indifferent,
so white and painful;
on the sand which was so comfortable,
easy and kindly;
and under the stars of Africa,
jewelled and beautiful.
One Election took them
and did not take me,
without asking us
which was better or worse:
it seemed as devilishly indifferent
as the shells.
Six men dead at my shoulder.

On an Autumn Day.
translated by Sorley MacLean