Thursday, 14 May 2009

From Wood to Ridge Sorley Maclean

Or Somhairle Macgilleain as he would have written it in Gaelic. The book I've been reading is the Penguin collection of poems with a simultaneous translation From Wood to Ridge. It is beautiful and powerful, and completely gives the lie to people who see Gaelic as an archaic language only fit for conveying pastoral nostalgia, dealing as it does with love, war, and the politics of an uncompromisingly modern conflict between the personal and political.
I confess it leaves me almost speechless. It's always hard to evaluate a poetry that is not in its original language - you can't be sure how much of what you are getting was in the original intention and how much has been filtered out, or imported in, by the process of translation.
It's possible that you can get an enriching, two poems for the price of one, by translating - as I put it in a poem called Translating Swallows " I warm my thought at another mind's fire." You can see this in Seamus Heaney's Midnight Verdict, for instance, where you get Heaney as well as Ovid and Brian Merriman - and in fact you get three, there because the juxtaposition of extract from The Metamorphoses and The Midnight Court also allows the two poems to comment on each other and create a third vision.
But the problem with Sorley Maclean's poetry is that it is such a powerful synthesis of poetic form, language, land and culture, that I can't get much out of it without feeling overwhelmed by how much I'm missing. I can't help feeling that all poetry should aspire to this.
Here is a link to the official Sorley Maclean website.

2 comments:

Johnny said...

Elizabeth that was a beautiful comment on reading From Wood to Ridge. I think however the English versions by Sorley are magnificent and we must be thankful that he did the translation.

Johnny Pitcorthie

Elizabeth Rimmer said...

Yes, absolutely - not least because I wouldn't have been able to read it all if he hadn't!
Thank you for the comment, Johnny.