At school, English was taught by two Aberdonians, Alastair Leslie and Alastair Mackie, pouring their enthusiasm into those of us in the thin stream that didn’t leave at 15. Mackie was a poet who followed MacDiarmid’s path, wrote almost wholly in Scots and took us to the medieval Scots poets, especially Dunbar. At nights, after homework corrections, and at weekends, he would teach himself French, German, Italian and Russian so that he could translate Akhmatova, von Eichendorff, Quasimodo and Rimbaud into Scots: imagine what audience there was for that!
Like his master, he was Anglophobic: a poem on Princes Street describes Edinburgh’s central thoroughfare as “chained like a convict tae your English stores”. Another, “Wimbledon”, notes: “The guff o’ Eton in the commentator’s breath/‘Thet woz eh maavellous beck-hend by Bawg [Borg].’”
Mackie’s translation of Osip Mandelstam’s famous Stalin Epigram showed what we lost: the lines describing the dictator’s circle in English – “Around him a crowd of thin-necked henchmen/He plays with the services of these half-men” became – “A clamjanfrie o’ spurtle-neckit heid-bummers/sleekit things, playthings, kiss-my-doups, half men.”
Sunday, September 14, 2014
Mixed feelings about this piece as a whole (the rhetoric at the end made me laugh!), but this bit of John Lloyd's essay for the FT about his childhood in East Fife strongly reminded me of my Scottish grandfather, an educator, a lover of language and literature and an ardent Scotophile (FT site registration required):