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The Daftness by W.N. Herbert

2nd June 2013

The Daftness by W. N. Herbert

It is very unusual for a publisher based in England and serving the whole of the UK to publish poems in Scots. Bloodaxe Books therefore deserve much credit for including a sizeable section of Scottish poems in each of Bill Herbert's twin new poetry books Omnesia (Remix) ISBN 9781 85224 969 4 and Omnesia (Alternative Text) 9781 85224 962 5.

Using confident Dundee Scots, this poem is in “habbies” the metre used by Burns, named from a ballad called 'The Life and Death of Habbie Simpson, Piper in Kilbarchan' written in the seventeenth century by Robert Sempill (c.1595-c.1665).
It's one of Herbert's favourite metres for Scots, though he by no means uses Scots or even “habbies” only for humour. It 's titled The Daftness I think to unobtrusively translate the Scots phrase Thi Daftness that opens every stanza.
The Daftness
is also the heading of the section of twelve Scots poems, some of them fairly lengthy, that take up 21 pages of Omnesia (Remix).

There are twelve more Scots poems in the other section of the book, not least one on the Silver Bridie, and if Bill Herbert didn't invent that term, he would have been a very suitable candidate for doing so.

It is from high profile writers in Scots that solutions will come to the much-debated orthography question, so it is well worth keeping an eye on how Bill Herbert writes his poems down.

This book carries glossaries to the Scots words, which I'm not going to add, but to be fair to the publishers, the glossaries are in very small print.

Anyway, here's
The Daftness, or if you're speaking in Dundonian Scots, Thi Daftness. You can follow this up at

The Daftness

Thi Daftness maks thi truth suppose

it comes in whaur thi fable goes,

gets poetry ti luke at prose

          as tho they're sib,

thi scriever tae luke doon'iz nose,

          That's Mister Nibs.'

Thi Daftness sits up in thi dark
and hears thi siller birkies bark,

in aa thi dullness it's thi spark

          reveals thi scene;

it swaps thi houlet fur thi lark

          since aa's a dream.

Thi Daftness turns us heelstergowdie,

swaps thi baukie fur thi mowdie,

maks thi presbyter a rowdy,

          it burls us roond
till Chanticleer becomes Howtowdie –

          nae dawn? Nae soond.

Thi Daftness flips oor love-life owre

and causes cocky cunts tae cower

while losers in thir wee sma hours

          unlock thi knees

o thae wha itherwise wad lour

          on keys lyk these.

Thi Daftness turns oor history

back upstream fae thi thankless sea
tae bens o possibility

          and glens o smoke:

Flodden unlost, the Union a lee,

          John Knox a joke.

(Thi Daftness disna actually
dae ony o the things Eh say –

thon wid be daft – it's Scotland's play

          at Saturnalia:

luked at lyk this there is no way

          we're aa jist failures.)

W. N. Herbert