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PART OF THE New ISSUE

‘”Time, the deer, is in the wood of Hallaig”’

With the rise and rise of Gaelic learners on Duolingo, there is no shortage of people interested in finding out more about Gaelic language and culture. Luath Press have just released a brilliant anthology of new and classic Gaelic poetry, from writers representing the past, present and future of Gaelic writing. Here, we share a few poems from the anthology – we hope it will spur you to investigate further.

 

100 Favourite Gaelic Poems
Edited by Peter Mackay and Jo Macdonald
Published by Luath Press

 

’s i ghàidhlig
Donnchadh MacGuaire

’S i Ghàidhlig leam cruas na spiorad
’S i Ghàidhlig leam cruas na h-èiginn
’S i Ghàidhlig leam mo thoil inntinn
’S i Ghàidhlig leam mo thoil gàire
’S i Ghàidhlig leam mo theaghlach àlainn
’S i Ghàidhlig leam mo shliabh beatha
’S i Ghàidhlig leam luaidh mo chridhe
’S i Ghàidhlig leam gach nì rim bheò
Mur a b’ e i cha bu mhì

 

gaelic is
Duncan MacQuarrie

Gaelic to me is the hardness of spirit
Gaelic to me is the grit of distress
Gaelic to me is my mind’s satisfaction
Gaelic to me is the pleasure of laughing
Gaelic to me is my beautiful family
Gaelic to me is my life’s mountain
Gaelic to me is the love of my heart
Gaelic to me is everything in my life
If it didn’t exist I wouldn’t be me

 

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faclan, eich mara
Caomhin MacNèill

nam bhruadar bha mi nam ghrunnd na mara
agus thu fhèin nad chuan trom
a’ leigeil do chudruim orm
agus d’ fhaclan gaoil socair nam chluasan
an-dràsta ’s a-rithist
òrach grinn ainneamh
man eich-mhara, man notaichean-maise
sacsafonaichean beaga fleòdradh

 

words, seahorses
Kevin MacNeil

i dreamt i was the seafloor and you were the weight of ocean pressing down on me, your quiet words of love in my ears now and again, golden, elegant and strange, like seahorses, like grace-notes, tiny floating saxophones

Trans. the author

 

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màiri iain mhurch’ chaluim
Anna C. Frater

Mo sheanmhair, a chaill a h-athair air an “Iolaire”,
oidhche na bliadhn’ ùir, 1919
Tha mi nam shuidhe ag èisteachd ribh
agus tha mo chridh’ a’ tuigsinn
barrachd na mo chlaisneachd;
’s mo shùilean a’ toirt a-steach
barrachd na mo chluasan.
Ur guth sèimh, ur cainnt
ag èirigh ’s a’ tuiteam mar thonn
air aghaidh fhuar a’ chuain
’s an dràst’ ’s a-rithist a’ briseadh
air creag bhiorach cuimhne;
’s an sàl a’ tighinn gu bàrr
ann an glas-chuan ur sùilean.
“Bha e air an ròp
an uair a bhris e…”
Agus bhris ur cridhe cuideachd
le call an ròpa chalma
air an robh grèim gràidheil agaibh
fhad ’s a bha sibh a’ sreap suas
nur leanabh.
Agus, aig aois deich bliadhna,cha robh agaibh ach cuimhne air a’ chreig
a bhiodh gur cumail còmhnard;
’s gach dòchas a bha nur sùilean
air a bhàthadh tron oidhch’ ud,
’s tro gach bliadhn’ ùr a lean.

Chàirich iad a’ chreag
agus dh’fhàg sin toll.
Chruadhaich an sàl ur beatha
agus chùm e am pian ùr;
agus dh’fhuirich e nur sùilean
cho goirt ’s a bha e riamh;
agus tha pian na caillich
cho geur ri pian na nighinn agus tha ur cridhe
a’ briseadh às ùr
a’ cuimhneachadh ur h-athar.
“… oir bha athair agam …”

 

màiri iain mhurch’ chaluim
Anne C. Frater

My grandmother who lost her father on the “Iolaire”,
New Year’s Night, 1919
I sit listening to you
and my heart understands
more than my hearing;
and my eyes absorb
more than my ears.
Your soft voice, your speech
rising and falling like waves
on the cold surface of the sea.
and now and again breaking
on the sharp rock of memory;
and the brine rises up
in the grey seas of your eyes.
“He was on the rope
When it broke. . .”
And your heart also broke
with the loss of the sturdy rope
which you had clung to lovingly
while you were growing
as a child.
And, at ten years of age,
you had only a memory of the rock
that used to keep you straight;
and every hope that was in your eyes
was drowned on that night
and through each New Year that followed.

They buried the rock
and that left a hole.
The salt hardened your life
and kept the pain fresh;
and it stayed in your eyes
as stinging as it ever was;
and the old woman’s pain
is as keen as the girl’s,
and your heart breaks anew
remembering your father.
“…because I had a father…”

Trans. the author

 

*

 

bho ‘nuair bha mi òg’
Màiri Mhòr nan Òran

Moch ’s mi ’g èirigh air bheagan èislein,
Air madainn Chèitein ’s mi ann an Òs,
Bha sprèidh a’ geumnaich an ceann a chèile,
’S a’ ghrian ag èirigh air Leac an Stòrr;
Bha gath a’ boillsgeadh air slios nam beanntan,
Cur tuar na h-oidhche na dheann fo sgòd,
Is os mo chionn sheinn an uiseag ghreannmhor,
Toirt na mo chuimhne nuair bha mi òg.
Toirt na mo chuimhne le bròn is aoibhneas,
Nach fhaigh mi cainnt gus a chur air dòigh,
Gach car is tionndadh an corp ’s an inntinn,
Bhon dh’fhàg mi ’n gleann ’n robh sinn gun ghò;
Bha sruth na h-aibhne dol sìos cho tàimhidh,
Is toirm nan allt freagairt cainnt mo bheòil,
’S an smeòrach bhinn suidhe seinn air meanglan,
Toirt na mo chuimhne nuair bha mi òg.
Nuair bha mi gòrach a’ siubhal mòintich,
’S am fraoch a’ sròiceadh mo chòta bàn,
Feadh thoman còinnich gun snàthainn a bhrògan,
’S an eigh na còsan air lochan tàimh;
A’ falbh an aonaich ag iarraidh chaorach,
’S mi cheart cho aotrom ri naosg air lòn –
Gach bot is poll agus talamh toll,
Toirt na mo chuimhne nuair bha mi òg.
Toirt na mo chuimhn’ iomadh nì a rinn mi
Nach faigh mi ’m bann gu ceann thall mo sgeòil –
A’ falbh sa gheamhradh gu luaidh is bainnsean
Gun solas lainnteir ach ceann an fhòid;
Bhiodh òigridh ghreannmhor ri ceòl is dannsa,
Ach dh’fhalbh an t-àm sin ’s tha ’n gleann fo bhròn;
Bha ’n tobht aig Anndra ’s e làn de fheanntaig,
Toirt na mo chuimhne nuair bha mi òg.

 

from ‘when i was young’
Mary MacPherson

Rising early, slightly sorrowful,
on a May morning when I was in Ose,
the cattle were lowing in their herd,
and the sun rising on the rock of Storr;
light beams glittering on the slopes of mountains,
hurrying away the hue of the night,
and above my head the lively skylark singing
make me remember when I was young.
Make me remember with joy and sadness
that I can’t find the words to relate,
each twist and turn of the mind and body,
since I left this glen of faultless heroes;
the river flowing downstream so gently,
the murmuring burn answering my words,
and the sweet-voiced thrush singing on a branch,
make me remember when I was young.
When I was foolish, walking the moorland,
the heather catching my white petticoat,
through mounds of moss, with my feet bare,
and the ice in patches on still lochs;
crossing the uplands, looking for sheep,
and feeling so light as a snipe in a field –
every bog and pool and muddy hole
make me remember when I was young.
Make me remember many things I did
that I can’t close until my story’s told –
going in the winter to waulks and weddings
with no lantern light, just a burning peat;
lively young folk would be singing, dancing,
but those times have gone and the glen is sad;
Andrew’s ruined house, now full of nettles,
makes me remember when I was young.

 

*

 

hallaig
Somhairle MacGill-Eain

‘Tha tìm, am fiadh, an coille Hallaig’

Tha bùird is tàirnean air an uinneig
trom faca mi an Àird an Iar
’s tha mo ghaol aig Allt Hallaig
’na craoibh bheithe, ’s bha i riamh
eadar an t-Inbhir ’s Poll a’ Bhainne,
thall ’s a bhos mu Bhaile Chùirn:
tha i ’na beithe, ’na calltainn,
’na caorann dhìrich sheang ùir.
Ann an Sgreapadal mo chinnidh,
far robh Tarmad ’s Eachann Mòr,
tha ’n nigheanan ’s am mic ’nan coille
a’ gabhail suas ri taobh an lòin.
Uaibhreach a-nochd na coilich ghiuthais
a’ gairm air mullach Cnoc an Rà,
dìreach an druim ris a’ ghealaich –
chan iadsan coille mo ghràidh.
Fuirichidh mi ris a’ bheithe
gus an tig i mach an Càrn,
gus am bi am bearradh uile
o Bheinn na Lice fa sgàil.
Mura tig ’s ann theàrnas mi a Hallaig
a dh’ionnsaigh Sàbaid nam marbh,
far a bheil an sluagh a’ tathaich,
gach aon ghinealach a dh’fhalbh.

 

hallaig
Sorley MacLean

‘Time, the deer, is in the wood of Hallaig’

The window is nailed and boarded
through which I saw the West
and my love is at the Burn of Hallaig,
a birch tree, and she has always been
between Inver and Milk Hollow,
here and there about Baile-chuirn:
she is a birch, a hazel,
a straight, slender young rowan.
In Screapadal of my people
where Norman and Big Hector were,
their daughters and their sons are a wood
going up beside the stream.
Proud tonight the pine cocks
crowing on the top of Cnoc an Ra,
straight their backs in the moonlight –
they are not the wood I love.
I will wait for the birch wood
until it comes up by the cairn,
until the whole ridge from Beinn na Lice
will be under its shade.
If it does not, I will go down to Hallaig,
to the Sabbath of the dead,
where the people are frequenting,
every single generation gone.

 

100 Favourite Gaelic Poems, edited by Peter Mackay and Jo Macdonald is published by Luath Press, priced £12.99

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