Saturday 25 September 2021

The man in the moon, a poem by Hugh MacDiarmid (1925)

The moonbeams kelter i the lift, 
An Earth, the bare auld stane, 
Glitters aneath the seas o Space, 
White as a mammoth's bane. 

An, lifted owre the gowden wave, 
Peers a dumfoun'ered Thocht, 
Wi keethin sicht o a' there is, 
An bodily sicht o nocht.

Literal translation - The moonbeams waver in the light/ and earth, the bare old stone/ Glitters beneath the sease of space/ white as a mammoth's bone.// And, lifted above the golden wave/ peers an astonished thought/ with [the ripples made on the surface of water by a salmon beneath] sight of all that is/ and [entire] sight of nothing.

One of MacDiarmid's 'cosmic' and mystically-Christian poems in a type of dialect Scots from early in his publishing career. Like several other short poems form this time (and some sections of the long poem - A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle) from this time; I find this both affecting and memorable - especially the final two lines. 

He starts with a wide perspective, as from 'outer space'- and then an anthropomorphic thought, as if God himself, 'peers' over and sees with astonishment... every-thing, all reality... but not directly. All is guessed from the effects it has, from the ripples it makes. 


Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

Wait, there's a Scots word that specifically means salmon-ripples?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Wm - That's what my source suggested. Fly fishing for salmon is a serious business in Scotland.