Tuesday 12 October 2010

A poem - the Eemis stane, by Hugh MacDiarmid


I' the how-dumb-deid o' the cauld hairst nicht
The warl' like an eemis stane
Wags i' the lift;
An' my eerie memories fa'
Like a yowdendrift.

Like a yowdendrift so's I couldna read
The words cut oot i' the stane
Had the fug o' fame
An' history's hazelraw
No' yirdit thaim.

from Sangschaw (1925)


The poem is written in a pastiche of medieval Scottish (‘Inglis’) plus dialect words

The Eemis Stane = the unsteady stone
How-dumb-deid = depth, darkest point
Hairst = harvest
Lift = sky
Yowdendrift = blizzard
Fug = moss
Hazelraw = lichen
Yirdit = buried


I began reading Hugh MacDiarmid (1992-1978) in 1983, when I was at a low ebb due to being continually tired by overtime night shift work, while a junior doctor. 

As an escape I learned by heart a few of MacD’s short lyrics, which I would repeat to myself from time to time, while out and about. The above was one of my particular favourites.

The poetry is in the build-up to the climactic ‘wags i’ the lift’ and in the last line – which is awkward but intrigued me. 

In general, I prefer smooth and euphonious poetry; but MacD's unfamiliar and only partly-understandable, mysteriously-hinting words provided a friction which forced me to slow-down and pay more attention. 

I find that some of the most effective poetry is in transitions from one line to another, the sudden and perpetually-unexpected shift.



dearieme said...

Here's one of my favourite squibs (though I think there were minor variants in the wording when I first met it).

Douglas Young: Last Lauch

The Minister said it wad dee,
the cypress bush I plantit.
But the bush grew til a tree
naething dauntit.

Hit's growin, stark and heich,
derk and straucht and sinister,
kirkyairdie-lke and dreich.
But whaur's the Minister?

Unknown said...

it grew sterk and heich, Derk and dreich, Kirkyairdie like and sinister, but whaur's the minister?????