An Lasair: Anthology of 18th Century Scottish Gaelic Verse

An Lasair: Anthology of 18th Century Scottish Gaelic Verse

An Lasair: Anthology of 18th Century Scottish Gaelic Verse

An Lasair: Anthology of 18th Century Scottish Gaelic Verse

Synopsis

An Lasair (The Flame) is a colorful new anthology of over sixty poems from one of the most dynamic periods of Gaelic literature. Arranged chronologically and edited with facing translations by Ronald Black, these poems, composed in a range of forms and styles, span the whole gamut of human experience, from politics, religion and war to love, sex and domestic life. Together they form a rich celebration of Gaelic culture and provide a fascinating insight into the passions and preoccupations of the Highland people during a turbulent period of their history. The poems are laid out in facing page translation with full notes and a substantial introduction and commentary. Among the poets included are Neil MacVurich, Dugald Buchanan, Duncan Macintyre, John MacCodrum, Alexander MacDonald, Rob Donn, Mary MacPherson and William Ross.

Excerpt

In terms of Gaelic verse there is remarkable symmetry between the eighteenth century and the twentieth. In the second decade of each of these two centuries Highland society was seriously destabilised by a violent and traumatic event. In the twentieth century it was the First World War; in the eighteenth it was the ’15 rebellion, an appalling tragi-comedy which removed from the Highland people two of their best leaders, Ailean Dearg of Clanranald and Sir John MacLean of Duart (see poems 11–15), and led to the ruin of the powerful Seaforths (poem 22). We now see the First World War as bringing an end to the Gaelic-speaking world as a fully functional society in its own right; likewise, the ’15 brought to an end the kind of society in which poetry was brought forth in the courts of chieftains who lived like kings. The best example of such a king was Ailean Dearg himself, who appears to have cherished classical and vernacular verse in something like equal measure. The medieval tradition of classical verse died in the first half of our century (poems 18, 38), leaving the vernacular supreme.

The Second World War, the events leading to it, and the farreaching changes in society that continued throughout the years of peace (and Cold War) in the second half of the twentieth century also have their direct parallel in the eighteenth. The ’45 was a wretched (though militarily interesting) postscript of history which could and should have been avoided, and in the period immediately after it the Gaelic-speaking public discovered to its astonishment (through certain remarkable publications) that an unprecedented flowering of individual talent was taking place. For the twentieth century we speak of Sorley MacLean, George Campbell Hay, Derick Thomson; for the eighteenth we speak of Alastair mac Mhaighstir Alastair, Rob Donn, Duncan Ban Macintyre.

At the beginning of the eighteenth century we are still hearing of poets who, as servants of their chief and kindred, bear the title of Aos-Dàna – Iain Dubh mac Iain mhic Ailein for the Clanranald MacDonalds (p. 379), Iain mac Ailein for the MacLeans (p. 402), Murdoch Matheson for the MacKenzies (pp. 412–13). By the end of the century, when John MacCodrum and Allan MacDougall are appointed as poets to, respectively, Sir James MacDonald of . . .

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