Poem introduction

I'll explain what the poem is about - I'm going to read you one or two very short poems in Scots which will be quite unintelligible I think to all of you unless I explain them. 'The Watergaw' - a watergaw is a broken rainbow, a broken shaft of a rainbow that you can see sometimes between clouds - not a complete arc, the broken shaft of the rainbow. And this poem says:

The Watergaw

One wet, early evening in the sheep-shearing season
I saw that occasional, rare thing -
A broken shaft of a rainbow with its trembling light
Beyond the downpour of the rain
And I thought of the last, wild look you gave
Before you died.

[the next two lines are very difficult idiom - ]

The skylark's nest was dark and desolate,
My heart was too
But I have thought of that foolish light
Ever since then
And I think that perhaps at last I know
What your look meant then.

Now in Scots, in my Scots, that reads this way:

The Watergaw

Ae weet forenicht i' the yow-trummle
I saw yon antrin thing,
A watergaw wi' its chitterin' licht
Ayont the on-ding;
An' I thocht o' the last wild look ye gied
Afore ye deed!

There was nae reek i' the laverock's hoose
That nicht - an' nane i' mine;
But I hae thocht o' that foolish licht
Ever sin' syne;
An' I think that mebbe at last I ken
What your look meant then.


from Complete Poems Volumes 1 & 2 edited by Alan Riach (Carcanet, 1993), © Hugh Macdiarmid 1993, by permission of Carcanet Press Ltd. and New Directions Publishing Corporation. Recording used by permission of the BBC.

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