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Glamourask Gloss

8th December 2009

Allan Harkness has kindly provided us with his translation of Yves Bonnefoy’s ‘Lieu de la Salamandre’. We reproduce it here along with his glossary and commentary.

            Glamourask* Gloss
         (leish translation o Yves Bonnefoy’s ‘Lieu de la Salamandre’)

        Aa feingit  -‘deid’ - glocken-stookie
        stane-boun glamourask’s
        fire-rinnin : hiz hech-how o wizzen.
        Thocht skiffs saclik.

        Twaloors glamourask, hauf-ways
        up this wa o blinin licht,
        hiz glower’s granite
        tho hiz hairt thuds for aye.

        Wizzen-thocht : feegur
        fur a that’s pure.
        This greenin, fainness o aesomeness,
        aiver fur vieve seelence,

        aiver fur starnlicht in blin
        bosie’d seil - haudin hiz waught -
        aiver thi owerhan o hete
        ei gliffs thi sin.

* fur ilka thoosan heather ask, ye fin yin wi glamour’s gloss

Allan Harkness

glamourask =  salamander (fire spirit)     gloss = flame, light    leish = active
feingit = feigned    glocken = start with fright    stookie =  playing at standing still
hech-how =  old routine        wizzen = life, being     skiffs = moves lightly, quickly
twaloors = twelve noon        greenin = longing    fainness = joy
aesomeness = solitude        aiver = eager, ardent    vieve = vivid, lively
bosie’d seil = bosom’d bliss    waught = deep breath    owerhan = conquest
gliffs = gives a startled glance    glamour = magic     ask = lizard, newt

Glamourask Gloss  - Commentary

Among poets, translation is recommended as necessary, enlivening exercise, practice sessions almost. Yet surely it is much more: what if everything in our communicating involves translation? What if there is, beyond that primary gap between object or event and word, ghostings and traces across other words, not to mention awkwardness and tremors between voiced words and each listener? No direct route to meaning. No transparency. Veils of opaque colours with scratched surfaces, object turned miracle-mirage. Those gaps! Fractures, gulfs, whole continents of imperfect meanings, unrealisable absolutes.

Bringing poems across into home territory, disassembling their completeness, assembling them afresh in a new configuration, demands wild journeying into one’s own and other cultures, other patterns, other music. And it all rests in opacity, not literal exactitude. This, despite the feel for what fits best when ‘composing’.

Yves Bonnefoy’s Douve poems are from the world of 20th century existential literature. They question essential reality (ontology), probe our sense of mortality (the pressing of time, the touch of oblivion) and they allow chance its strange part in our lives. They keenly question how to act. To what end? All this, figured in plays of light and dark, ‘thing’ and existence wrestling in consciousness. Wonder in the face of Death, Bonnefoy the poet of presence. Elemental forces, earth, air, fire and water, are as strong in his work as they are in Daoist poems of ancient China. For him, it appeared that language itself is of elemental Being. Not to be ahistorical on this point, I suspect such poets share a spiritual intelligence, each shaping image-music-text (the poem) within the living contradictions of their time, place and language.

So, I was overcome with a desire to bring ‘Lieu de la salamandre’, from Du mouvement et de l’immobilité de Douve (1953), across into my home language, that which most matched the elements of this landscape, the rivers and mountains around me in Selkirk: Scots. Political and military power governs the fate of language. Scots, stripped of its own metropolitan political menagerie for centuries, seemed to fly in modern times to the hills or to the libraries. Occasionally, a poet would fly it like a hawk. My Scots is the tongue of a dead, displaced and silent father/Father. It is also a synthetic brand of dictionary work, from plundering the Concise Scots Dictionary  especially ( Mairi Robinson’s follow-up to David Murison’s rescue of the language with the Scottish National Dictionary). Not least, my Scots is that of the soulful, thoughtful, slightly reticent, kindly and quiet speech of my elders – and I am a much travelled child of the mid-20th century. Most importantly, it is Scots as a playful, creative language of philosophical reflection, of expansive thinking. At least, in reaching for sublimity, it will never be measured as moribund or impoverished.

To borrow from Alastair Reid, poet, translator and wandering Scot, ‘What gets lost…is not what gets lost in translation but more what gets lost in language itself’. Keeping the shape, rhythmic echoes, the crucial light and movement of Bonnefoy’s great poem, I set out to choreograph it in puissant Scots, noble Scots, a Scots language pensefu and vast. The key to how it works lies somewhere in its seeming note of defiance, the edge of hubris: in actuality, it is drawn from a convergence of what I’d call non-anthropocentric worldviews.
                            Allan Harkness