Sweet pea
(Photo: Scott Murray)

Why Gaelic?

It’s 6 months since I blogged last. Since then my book of poems Tro Chloich na Sùla has been published in Gaelic-only by CLÀR publishers. I like the idea of the book being Gaelic only, not because I wish to exclude readers of English but for other reasons entirely. A language is like a living body, it needs oxygen to keep it alive, and the oxygen of language is usage. Use it or lose it as they say. And just as spoken Gaelic needs speakers and a community of speakers, so written Gaelic needs a community of readers. For a lesser-used language it’s suicide to have parallel texts because the eye tends to go to the more easily read text, which for most people, in the bilingual situation Gaels find themselves in, would be English. And the Gaelic text is neglected.

Why English?
Nevertheless, here I am translating the poems into English. The reason? I think a blog offers a way of sharing one’s work with people who don’t have Gaelic without infringing on the Gaelic-only work. Those who want the Gaelic-only text can read the book. Those who want a flavour of the original can read the blog.

The poems
The sub-title of the book is How Famous Artists Saw the World, and half the poems in the book are responses to paintings by well-known artists. I’m interested in how the ‘spiritual’ is reflected in the work of the artists. (I’m using the word ‘spiritual’ in a rather loose sense). Also, for me, the work of artists mirrors the world they live in and are valuable for showing how people’s perceptions change. The first painting by da Vinci represents the classical tradition.

Virgin of the Rocks

The Madonna of the Rocks (c. 1483)
by Leonardo da Vinci

You were heading south,
To Egypt according to tradition;
Escaping from Herod’s
Murder threat.

Mary so gentle and mild,
With a hand around the child John;
And in green and red-brown clothes
There is the angel praising

The holy child by his side
Who has a hand on the ground,
And the other hand blessing John,
Innocent as a flower.

Jesus, John, you are so young,
You won’t understand the day of struggle;
Dark rocks above you,
Symbolising hardship and anguish.

If dear Mary knew,
Your mother so gentle,
The death awaiting her son,
The pain her obedience entailed

How would her face appear?
How would she look?
Good that Time is a screen
Hiding pain and bitter weeping.

John tenderly honouring
To God, in the form of a child;
And Gabriel pointing to John
Who will be a prophet

Despite danger, peril and pitfall
To attend his grievous road;
The angel’s cloak red as blood,
And green – the greatest love.

Copyright 2014
Maoilios Caimbeul