Thursday, August 20, 2009

Ulster-Scots and Seamus Heaney

The original article is available here on the Telegraph website.

For all of the nonsense spouted about Ulster-Scots, it's refreshing when a figure of international literary renown treats it with respect and reverence. Seamus Heaney's poem "A Birl for Burns" appears below. Heaney also recently published a volume of translations of the work of 15th century Scots poet Robert Henryson. The Times review is available here.

A Birl for Burns

From the start, Burns' birl and rhythm,
That tongue the Ulster Scots brought wi' them
And stick to still in County Antrim
Was in my ear.
From east of Bann it westered in
On the Derry air
My neighbours toved and bummed and blowed,
They happed themselves until it thowed,
By slaps and stiles they thrawed and tholed
And snedded thrissles,
And when the rigs were braked and hoed
They'd wet their whistles.
Old men and women getting crabbèd
Would hark like dogs who'd seen a rabbit,
Then straighten, stare and have a stab at
Standard habbie:
Custom never staled their habit
O' quotin' Rabbie.
Leg-lifting, heartsome, lightsome Burns!
He overflowed the well-wrought urns
Like buttermilk from slurping churns,
Rich and unruly,
Or dancers flying, doing turns
At some wild hooley.
For Rabbie's free and Rabbie's big,
His stanza may be tight and trig
But once he gets the sail and rig
Away he goes
Like Tam-O-Shanter o'er the brig
Where no one follows.
And though his first tongue's going, gone,
And word lists now get added on
And even words like stroan and thrawn
Have to be glossed,
In Burns's rhymes they travel on
And won't be lost.

(Copyright © Seamus Heaney)

These are just two examples of the world-class, high quality, affirming work that's going on, and which the Northern Ireland mainstream media carefully ignore.