Friday, 15 December 2017

The Innumerable Christ - a poem by Hugh MacDiarmid (1892-1978)

The Innumerable Christ  

Other stars may have their Bethlehem and the Calvary too. Professor JY Simpson

Wha kens on whatna Bethlehems
Earth twinkles like a star the nicht,
An' whatna shepherds lift their heids
In its unearthly licht?

'Yont a' the stars oor een can see
An' farther than their lichts can fly,
I' mony an unco warl' the nicht
The fatefu' bairnies cry.

I' mony an unco warl' the nicht
The lift gaes black as pitch at noon,
An' sideways on their chests the heids
O' endless Christs roll doon.

An' when the earth's as cauld's the mune
An' a' its folk are lang syne deid,
On coontless stars the Babe maun cry
An' the Crucified maun bleed.


Written in a version of Scottish dialect: kens = knows; the nicht = tonight; whatna = whichever; heids = heads; licht = light; 'yont = beyond; een = eyes; unco = strange; bairnies = children; lift = sky; cauld's the mune = cold as the moon; lang syne = long since; maun = must


MacDiarmid is, for me, the best lyrical poet of the 20th century - mainly for his early work in a version of the Scots dialect he created using his own knowledge and experience supplemented by archaic words from Jamieson's etymological dictionary.

This method shouldn't work, as a way of making poetry... but it did.

MacD was a man of stark and unintegrated contradictions; and a hardline, activist Communist and Scottish Nationalist materialist for much of his adult life; and this ultimately overwhelmed and corrupted his work. But in these early years politics was overwhelmed by a profound and mystical, unorthodox Christianity of transcendent beauty.