A Scots owersett o a Poem bi John Clare
The kintra sleeps in haar frae morn till nicht;
An, gin the sun keeks throwe, ’tis wi a face
Blae, peely-wally roon, as tho meenlicht,
Her traivels feenished o her nichtly race,
Had fand him sleepin, an taen ower his place.
For days the shepherds in the parks micht be,
Fusslin alood, tae flocks they canna see.
Nae spirk o sky – blinfauld their steps they trace,
Ower howes, that seem wioot a buss or tree,
The feartie bawd syne hauf its flegs will tyne,
Cooryin doon aneth its girssy bower,
An barely meeves altho the shepherd gyangs
Nearhaun its hame, as tykes bowf in the stoor;
The wud shelt anely turns aroon tae glower
At fowk gaun by, syne knaps his hide again;
An dowie craws aside the road ower dour
Tae flee, tho’ pelted bi the bygaun cheil;
Sae day seems turn’d tae nicht, an waukens ill.
The hoolet leaves her hidin-hole midday,
An flaps her grey wings in the tribblin licht;
The hoarse jay skreichs tae times aa run agley,
An smaa birds chirp an chitter wi affricht;
Sic ferlies fleg the superstitious vricht,
Fa dreams o ill-luck, cantrips, sair dismay;
Whylst coo-herds think the day a dream o nicht,
An aft grow fearfu on their lanely wye,
Fancyin that ghaisties wauken frae the mools o day.
Betimes the dwaumin weather will shakk aff
Its mochie prison roun – syne wins wauk lood;
Wi sudden steer the stertled widlan sings
Winter’s returnin sang – cloud races cloud,
An hyne awa the warld coosts doon its shroud,
Swypin a streetchin circle frae the ee;
Storm upon storm in quick succession flee,
An o’er the sameness of the purple lift
Heiven’s haun peints skyrie colours far clouds shift
Syne on it cams alang the widlan aiks
Wi sabbin ebbs, an stooshie gaitherin heicht;
The feart, hairse corbie it its cradle craiks,
An cushie doos in grip o fleg takk flicht,
Whyle the blue hawk hings o’er them up abune
The hedger hashes frae the storm begun,
Tae sikk a bield that’s like tae keep him dry;
An foresters boo ower, the win tae shun,
Scarce hear amid the clash the poacher’s gun.
The plooman hears its birrin roose begin,
An sikks an airt awa frae winter’s dird;
Buttonin his jaiket closer tae his chin,
He boos an hashes ower the peltit yird,
Whyle clouds abune him in wud fury byle,
An wins drive heavy on the beatin rain;
He turns his back tae catch his braith awhyle,
Syne gaithers speed an faces it again,
Tae sikk aside the seggs his shepherd’s hame
The loon that fleggith frae the shilpit wheat
The dowie craw – in ootgaun hurry wyves,
Aneth an ivied tree, his shelterin seat,
O seggy flags an sedges bun in sheaves,
Or frae the park a teir o stibble thieves.
There he micht switherin sit, an entertain
His een wi merkin the storm-driven leaves;
Aft spyin nests far he spring eggs had ta’en,
An wishin simmer-time wis back again.
Sae rowes the month in mixter-maxter moods,
Sunsheen an shaddas, doonpish lood, an calms;
Ae oor dees seelent ower the dwaumy wids,
The neist wakks lood wi a begeck o storms;
A trauchelt nyaketness the park deforms –
Yet mony a kintra soun, an kintra sicht,
Bides in the clachan still aboot the ferms,
Far wark’s roch stooshie hums frae morn till nicht
Knells that the lugs o Industry delicht.
At hinnereyn the steer o darg is still,
An Industry her care awhile lats faa;
Fin Winter cams fu forcey tae fulfil
His yearly weird, November’s thrall ower aa
An stops the ploo, an haps the park in sna;
Fin cranreuch cauld steeks rikk in slaw delay,
An mellows on the buss the berries sma,
For teenie birds – syne Wark makks time for play,
Nocht but the threshers’ flails wauk dowie day.
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2010. Best Scottish Poems is an online publication, consisting of 20 poems chosen by a different editor each year, with comments by the editor and poets. It provides a personal overview of a year of Scottish poetry. The editor in 2010 was Jen Hadfield.
There’s already a lot of weather crammed into John Clare’s poem ‘November’, but Sheena Blackhall’s Scots amplifies each sensation: fog is meatier and more disorientating, the downpour heavier, the mud stickier: ‘The plooman hears its birrin roose begin […] He boos an hashes ower the peltit yird’ (‘The ploughman hears its humming rage begin […] He bends and scampers o’er the elting soil.’) A happy meeting of voices.
Anyone who loves and knows the countryside must thrill to John Clare’s poetry. In his poem ‘November’, mist turns shepherds into blind men, tricks the owls into thinking dusk has descended, and frightens the herd boy into imagining ghosts are rising from the earth. His descriptions of the effects of storm on the land and its creatures are as true as a mirror held up to Nature itself. He worked as a farm labourer in Northamptonshire and was condescendingly seen by many as ‘a noble savage’.
The poet had spells in the asylum, where he continued to write. On his gravestone at St Botolph’s churchyard in Hepston is carved A Poet is Born not Made. He himself said that he ‘found the poems in the fields and only wrote them down’. (‘Sighing for Retirement’, Later Poems, I. pp19-20.) Thankfully, John Clare is now appreciated as one of England’s great lyrical poets. I find his poems well suited to setting into Scots, with its own strong tradition of lyric poetry.