Dè tha tachairt anns a’ chealla?
Tha danns’ a’ dol a h-uile latha
mìrean beaga a’ falbh ’s a’ tighinn
pròtainean gan snìomh ’s gam fighe
ann an dannsa clis nan atam
a bheir dhuinn fèithean, feòil is cnàmhan;
moileciuilean nan obair dhìomhair,
le leum is dannsa thar bhriathar,
na trilleanan ag obair còmhla
ann an siansadh a tha sònraichte.
Dè th’ ann ach obair sheunta,
nuair nì ceallan ceallan ceudna,
lot ga leigheas ann an tiota,
an fhuil a’ tiughachadh gun fhiosta.
Tha obair cealla na chùis-iongnaidh,
gràsan Dhè gun stad a’ taomadh;
bheir sinn ùmhlachd dhan a’ chealla,
tha làn de mhìorbhailean matha.
Translations of this Poem
Song of the Cell
Translator: Maoilios Caimbeul
What’s happening in the cell?
Every day a dance to tell
elements hurrying to and fro,
proteins forming row on row
in the swift atomic dance,
muscles, flesh and bones enhance;
mysterious molecular cords,
skill and feats beyond words,
trillions working as one
in a rich symphonic song;
each cell a sister or brother,
making copies of each other;
in a flash a wound is healed,
the blood is clotted and congealed.
The cell’s work is a conundrum,
God’s grace, a work of wonder;
we give homage to the cell,
its intricacies made so well
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2019. 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 Gaelic editor in 2019 was Niall O’Gallagher.
The couplets in this poem seem to embody the poet’s attempt to unite the apparently opposing claims of faith and science. The search for a language with which to discuss microbiology pushes the poet to echo classical Gaelic verse, which recognises no divide between natural and divine philosophy. This is a poem in praise of the created world with a microscopic focus, whose crisp lines integrate elements, proteins, atoms and molecules into the vivid tradition of Gaelic nature poetry and into the poet’s devoloping vision of the place of poetry in a God-made universe. What appeals most, though, is the lightness, the almost ironic playfulness with which he approaches his subject here, the ‘swift dance’ of the words across the page, the bathos of the final couplet an implicit acknowledgement of the limits of the poet’s creative power in the face of Creation itself.
I called the poem a ‘song’ because it is a bit like a song with its rhyming couplets and rather jaunty metre. Most of my poetry is free verse, but occasionally I use rhyme and song metres. I make no apology for this. The song tradition is hugely important in Gaelic poetry, and poets, such as Donald Meek, draw on this rich tradition as well as writing free verse. The first great modernist poet, Sorley MacLean, was also steeped in the song tradition. The poem celebrates the grace of the natural world. I am continually amazed at the findings of modern science and particularly the workings of the living cell which has been compared in its complexity to a city. I’m inspired by people like James Tour, one of the world’s top chemists, a professor at Rice University and who is also a committed Christian.