“listening to a river in the trees..”

As noted back in May 2006, Seamus Heaney has been working on a modern English account of the work of the 15th-century Scottish makar Robert Henryson [c 1420-1490]. Here’s a link to the Guardian interview at the time. And one of his translations from Henryson – “The Toad and The Mouse”. What was intended as a tale of Four Fables and a Testament has now been published as The Testament of Cresseid and Seven Fables And back at the Guardian website, along with a new [partial] translation from Henryson – from The Preaching of the Swallow, Seamus Heaney relates what little is known about Robert Henryson and what started him “on this retelling”.

The work was enjoyable because Henryson’s language led me back into what might be called “the hidden Scotland” at the back of my own ear. The speech I grew up with in mid-Ulster carried more than a trace of Scottish vocabulary, and as a youngster I was familiar with Ulster Scots idioms and pronunciations across the River Bann in Co Antrim. I was therefore entirely at home with Henryson’s “sound of sense”, so much in tune with his note and his pace and his pitch that I developed a strong inclination to hum along with him. Hence the decision to translate the poems with rhyme and metre, to match as far as possible the rhetoric and the roguery of the originals, and in general “keep the accent”.

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  • It was going with “money off” in Waterstone’s in Hampstead, yesterday. And it’s down to £7.79 on Amazon (but you’ll pay extra postage on a single copy).

    Now, is there any chance that Famous Seamus can do the same thing for (the far more worthwhile) Dunbar?

  • Pete Baker

    “but you’ll pay extra postage on a single copy”

    Not if you’re signed up to Amazon Prime, Malcolm. :o)

  • Glencoppagagh

    Heaney is a bit unsound here, surely.
    How can you translate from what our Irish language zealots insist is just a dialect, even allowing for the antiquity of the material?

  • faolchu

    i have a little poem for you called –

    Translation (use Bellaghy accent)


    I hope that helps!

  • tír eoghain gael

    [i]How can you translate from what our Irish language zealots insist is just a dialect, even allowing for the antiquity of the material? [/i]

    To be fair, proponents of the Irish language commenting on this site largely embrace Ulster-Scots. Gael gan náire, for one, often gives us links to an Ulster-Scots blogpiece.

    It’s my opinion that, on Slugger, Ulster-Scots is attacked with much more regularity and venim by unionists after having first lambasted the Irish language – all just to show that they’re not, in fact, bigots but hate all political correctness and taxpayers money spent on extinct cultural relics.

    Coladh sámh mo chairde

  • Glencoppagagh @ 10:10 PM and tír eoghain gael @ 03:13 AM:

    Ah! Tyrone, like rust, never sleeps.

    I might tentatively suggest there is a world of difference between the living, and characteristic, Scots literature of the 15th & 16th centuries and a modern attempt to synthesise an ersatz culture.

    That is, also, why I’m a wee bit suspicious of “Hugh MacDiarmid” and his poetic spawn. As a politician and critic Christopher Murray Grieve has my full respect. Then, his contempt for the Rabbie Burrrrns sic industry was telling: we should respect a man’s ideas, rather than polishing his furniture for the tourists. As a writer of Lallans, though, MacDiarmid is lang of wheesh and damn tedious.

  • Malcolm, when I go my humble cave will become bloggers’ centre 🙂