le taing do Niall
‘S tric a chunnaic mi iad a’ tighinn ri chèile,
dithis seann eòlach, dithis chroitearan,
is às dèidh dhaibh an latha a bheannachadh
seasaidh iad còmhla gun fhacal tuilleadh,
taobh ri taobh, chan ann aghaidh ri aghaidh,
is iad a’ coimhead a-mach air an talamh
a chumas na fhilltean an uile chuimhne,
a’ tarraing anail is cùbhraidheachd
tombaca, fuaradh is spùt nan uan,
‘s an t-eòlas ac’gun cuireadh cainnt
bacadh air a’ chomanachadh òrbhuidh ud,
gum briseadh i a-staigh air am mothachadh
air na th’ann de dhualchas eatarra
Translations of this Poem
Translator: Meg Bateman
with thanks to Neil
Often have I seen them come together,
two old friends, two crofters,
who after a brief murmured greeting
will stand wordlessly together,
side by side, not facing each other,
and look out on the land whose
ways and memories unite them,
breathe in the air, and the scent of
tobacco and damp and lamb scour,
in the certain knowledge that talk
would hamper that expansive communion,
break in on their golden awareness
of all there is between them.
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2007. 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 2007 was Alan Spence.
I have no way of judging the Gaelic, but having heard Meg Bateman read aloud, I know the music of it is true. And the English version also sings, is alive with warmth and compassion, a genuine empathy with the two old friends, the old crofters depicted in the poem who stand wordlessly together yet share so much that is unspoken, that is in fact beyond words. It's a deceptively simple poem, a finger pointing at the moon. It's profound in its humanity, its seeing into the life of folk, and profound also in its awareness of silence, that realm in which talk / would hamper that expansive communion… Beautiful.
My partner and I have long rambling 'pillow talks' on Sunday mornings. One morning we were discussing wordless communication, and how satisfying it is. We know it with animals and sometimes even with other people. Neil described a scene he remembers from his boyhood, still seen to this day, when crofters, who have grown up together and know each other so well they have little more to say to each other, nevertheless derive great pleasure from meeting, maybe at the sales or out on the common grazing. It isn't witticisms or information or ideas that they are communicating but something deeper, something to do with their identity, and with the world as they see it - place, livelihood and community all bound up together. They are not remotely embarrassed by silence - indeed they might be embarrassed by too much chatter. It would be a needless distraction.
It was about this time that I had been given the title 'Happiness' by Radio Scotland for a poem for National Poetry Day 2002. I suddenly realised I had a subject, and wrote the poem more or less as Neil had described the scene. Again I acknowledge his contribution and his perception. It's a little ironic that I need words to praise wordlessness. Poetry has an interesting relationship with silence.