A blog by Drew McNaughton on his official COP26-themed event
“Thig crìoch air an t-saoghal ach mairidh gaol is ceòl.”
I was asked to write a blog post about an event which I have organised with the support of the Scottish Poetry Library. It will be included in the Green Zone programme at the COP26 negotiations in Glasgow in less than a month’s time and features three Scottish poets, Roseanne Watt, Donald S. Murray and Pàdraig MacAoidh. Entitled “Weathering the Storm: Scottish Poets Discuss Climate Change Resilience and Adaptation” the poets will read from their work and converse about the impact that climate change has had and is likely to have in the future on their communities. Pàdraig MacAoidh and Donald S. Murray are both from Lewis in the Western Isles and Roseanne Watt is from Sandwick in Shetland. Roseanne will be familiar to many as she has been involved with the Scottish Poetry Library in recent years as the selector of the Best Scottish Poems for 2019. All of the poets have had notable success for recently published work and I was extremely grateful they agreed to be part of this project.
The event is also a part of the Seachdain na Gàidhlig programme for 2021. This is an annual festival which celebrates the Gaelic community past and present in the capital city. However we have welcomed many guests including fellow Gaels from Am Baile Mòr nan Gàidheal, Glasgow, and it is an exceptional honour to be having our event there during such a momentous occasion for Glasgow, Scotland and the UK as a whole. When I received the proof of the Gaelic translation for this event as a learner I was intrigued by the words that had been used to translate the main title. In Gaelic they are “A’ mairsinn tron Stoirm.” Storm and stoirm have the same meaning in English as in Gaelic, probably a borrowing from the Old Norse which was used by Viking settlers in the Western Isles over a millennium ago. However the word used by the translator to convey the first part, “weathering” comes from the Gaelic verb “mair” meaning “endure” and even “survive”. This reminded me of the old Gaelic proverb which I quoted right at the beginning.
This proverb which is very familiar to many Gaelic speakers and learners has been translated most commonly as “The world will end but love and music will endure.” While looking this up I found a very interesting blog article by Dr. Emily McEwan from Nova Scotia on this same proverb. In the comments the Gaelic scholar Michael Newton gave an explanation that there is another translation ascribed to this saying because the word for “world” in Gaelic can also mean “lifetime”.
All languages have homophones that are used to great effect in making puns and in the craft of poetic wordplay and Gaelic is no different. So the saying could also be “The lifespan (of a person) comes to an end but love and music endure.” I was struck by the way the title of our event in Gaelic and this saying are connected through the use of the same verb and how its apocalyptic sounding version mirrors the potential devastation that could be wreaked by climate change. We have already seen some events recently that can be directly attributed to it and so the conference in Glasgow is vital if the world community is going to take coordinated action.
I feel this saying is also deeply poetic. Love is one of the greatest themes in poetry and music is an essential part of poetry in itself. That these two are capable of enduring speaks about the perennial poetic spirit in humanity and even perhaps that life is especially worth living when it is inspired.
I am grateful to the team at the Scottish Poetry Library and for the encouragement of Asif Khan to apply to the COP to make this event happen. I also want to thank the Gaelic Books Council for their support as well. And thanks must also go to the people involved with Possible Dialogues. This is a project I’ve been participating in that is connecting artists and people between Colombia and Scotland. And of course my family and friends have given me a great deal of help and encouragement.
The event will be at 10:30am on the 6th of November in Tower Base South of the Glasgow Science Centre. Tickets are free and will be available via the official COP26 website. We hope to see you there.