PF, in the course of his troubadouresque wanderings, has washed up for the night here in Peekskill, where he has brought to my attention the remarkable Douglas Young translations from Greek into Scots, in particular his translation of The Frogs [which he called The Puddocks] by Aristophanes:

Aeschylus will heave his verses,
  ruit and word, and gar them flee,
breenge, and skail the monie stourbaths
  whaur he rowes his poesie.
C’wa then, begin, and gie us your crack. And mak it braw and witty;
nae similes and siclike stuff; nae sentimental ditty.

(It turned out he had mentioned this translation in the comments to this entry, which would have embarrassed me except that I’ve grown impervious to embarrassment at my own negligence and/or forgetfulness; besides, PF says that the comment had slipped his own mind.) Young sounds like someone well worth investigating:

Auntran Blads, in the space of fifty-two pages, constitutes a truly extraordinary demonstration of the range of Young’s intellect as well as his literary talent. In accordance with the internationalism which was a central aim of the Scottish Renaissance writers, the book contains translations from ten languages (though those from Lithuanian, Russian and Chinese were made from English versions) as well as an original verse in Latin, translations of two poems by Burns into Greek, and a short squib stated poetically in English, Latin, Greek, French and German. Scots is the medium of most of the translations as well as of the original poems in the collection: a passage from Dante’s La Vita Nuova is rendered in a quasi-mediaeval register:

Ae time that I our flownrie life appraisit
and saw hou brief and bruckil its duratioun,
i ma hert, whaurin he wones, Luve sabbit sairlie,
and wi Luve’s sabban then my saul was frazit,
sae that I sychit and spak in conturbatioun:
“Siccar my luve maun dee, maun dee fu shairly”.

and the scene of Hector’s farewell to Andromache from the Iliad is in continuous prose but with a consistent rhythm suggestive of the Homeric hexameter:

Sae spak gesserant Hektor, and raxt out his hand til his bairnie. Och, but the wean outskraugh, sclentan back on the breist o his nourrice, fairlie dumbfounert he was at the sicht o his daddie that loed him, fleggit sair at the bress and the crest wi its wallopan horsehair, kelteran doun frae the tap o the bassanat, unco the sicht o’t.

He did another translation of Aristophanes called The Burdies, and “in 1942 he was put on trial and sentenced to a year’s imprisonment for refusing conscription.” A man after my own heart.


  1. ‘The Puddocks’ used to be taught in its own right when I was at primary school. When I first saw your post it took me a few seconds to realise that this is what you meant! It’s through ‘The Puddocks’ that I first read T.S. Eliot, who reviewed it (in the States, I think), when it toured.
    Young is yet another example of a Scots-speaker/writer who achieved International fame and so was looked down upon in later years by Scots literary critics, who never seem to like people who are recognised outside Scotland. Of course, in defence of the critics, he was writing Scots during the period when the fashionable, academically PC view was that it was a spoken and not a written language … and he did deliberately introduce archaic phrases rather than progress the language … but ‘The Puddocks’ has happy memories for me, and it was inspiring to be told at a young age that someone had toured abroad with a play written in our native tongue.
    I’m interested in your comment on the Homeric hexameter. When I started learning (Ancient) Greek, I was told that many native Lallans speakers take to Greek because Scots falls naturally to the Homeric hexameter in the same way that English falls naturally to the iambic pentameter. I don’t know if that’s true, or if my teacher was just trying to capture our attention, but, counting during boring coversations over the years, it strikes me as at least a truism.

  2. Oops — I meant to mention the title in the post, but I was a little distracted. I’ll add it. I like the theory about hexameter; I’ll have to keep it in mind when I read Scots.

  3. In the old version of the post, blown up for my poor tired eyes, it looked for a second like it said “Frogsby”,
    “Brek,” murmured Daisy, without meeting his gaze.

  4. I like the sound of “Frogsby” – it would be a great name for a character in a picture book!

  5. OT as per company policy, but Flann O’Brien calls the Celtic language of Ireland “Gaelic”, whereas IIRC Joyce calls it “Erse”. Is that just so he could make a pun on “arse”, or was it official?
    As I understand, Scottish Gaelic was brought by invaders from Ireland, whereas Welsh and Breton are survivors of the language of the Britons. And then the Saxon Scots invaded N. Ireland. The Brits were less stable than people think.
    My family legend is that they left Scotland during the Jacobite rebellion, stayed 3-4 generations in Holland, becoming Dutch, and then came here. They were very Protestant (Grandfather born in Orange City Iowa). My question is, were there Protestant Jacobites? and more generally, what’s with those Jacobites anyway? was that Bonny Prince Charlie?

  6. I imagine the pun on “arse” wouldn’t have been far from his mind; the word itself had been (nearly?) obsolete for some time. The OED said (circa 1891):
    “Applied by Sc. Lowlanders to the Gaelic dialect of the Highlands (which is in fact of Irish origin), to the people speaking that dialect, to their customs, etc. Hence in 18th c. Erse was used in literary Eng. as the ordinary designation of the Gaelic of Scotland, and occasionally extended to the Irish Gaelic; at present some writers apply it to the Irish alone. Now nearly Obs.”
    The normal term for the language (in English) is “Irish” (with “Gaelic” reserved for the Scottish version), but since the Irish (Gaelic) term for the language is Gaeilge, it’s tempting and not uncommon to call it “Gaelic” in English.
    There’s a nice short history of the Jacobites here (and yes, that was Bonnie Prince Charlie, aka the Young Pretender, who wasn’t always so bonnie: “Many of these negotiations for foreign support were not helped by the manners of Bonnie Prince Charlie. He was a heavy drinker and became angry when things did not go his way. The Prussians withdrew support after Charles had become extremely drunk and insulted them publicly.”) As for the religious issue, the Bonnie Prince Charlie site I linked says: “The Stuart’s [sic] Catholicism prevented many would-be supporters who were Protestant from joining the cause. Although some Protestants did become Jacobites the fear in Britain that the Stuarts would re-introduce Catholicism as the official faith dealt a blow to their restoration efforts.”

  7. Young’s a delyt. You might also be interested in Young’s 1946 pamphlet “Plastic Scots” and the Scottish literary tradition: an authoritative introduction to a controversy and Scots burds and Edinburgh reviewers: a case study in theatre critics and their contradictions, his 1966 collection of reviews of The Burdies.

    “One must recall also the limitations of time and column-space within which theatre critics usually have to work, and their liability to transitory derangements, through fatigue, excess or deficiency of alcoholic refreshment, and so forth.”

  8. Scots burds and Edinburgh reviewers
    Heh! The more I learn about this guy, the more I like him.

  9. Either my family informant is quite confused (likely) or else the family history is really confused. According to the report, the family left Scotland for French Flanders, then Holland, then Iowa. But they spent enough time in Holland to become Dutch Protestants. If the Jacobites were enemies of William of Orange, it seems odd that they would end up in Holland (and Orange City, Iowa).
    Maybe they were Protestants fleeing from the Jacobites themselves, rather than Jacobites fleeing from the British. Or maybe they just were doomed by an evil fate to become Orangepersons.

  10. Yes, there were Jacobite protestants, although simplified histories paint all Jacobins as Roman Catholic. Politics was just as complicated and messy in those days as it is now – perhaps messier. One common reason for protestants to be Jacobins was if they had been disposessed of their land, and they thought they would get it back if the Rebellion succeeded.
    There are also very strong links between the Scots and the Dutch, and between the Scots and William of Orange in particular. Over 50% William’s army that he used to subjugate Ireland was, I am ashamed to say, Scottish. I believe that the percentage was higher among the nobles – bear in mind that Scotland’s Reformation took place for different reasons from England’s, and our branch of Protestantism was (and remains) Prebyterianism – Calvinist Presbyterian at that. If I wanted to simplify horrifically (and I do) I’d say that in that period you’d be hard-pushed to tell the difference between a guid Scots kirk-goer and an Orangeman.

  11. One last question: “Jacob” is a common name in our family. Would that be a Jacobite thing, or just coincidence?

  12. Could be either… also isn’t Jacob quite a popular Dutch name anyway?

  13. Braw, but his Scots luiks gey auldie wurldie and no likely tae bae fully unnerstaundit bi maist Scots speakers.

    The Scots revival of that period is interesting but it bears little resemblance to Scots as spoken. It’s a synthetic, and self-consciously literary, harking back to the distant past rather than any attempt to render the classics in the vernacular Scots as spoken in say Central Scotland, Fife or the North East.

  14. I’d love to know more about that if you have any good links or books to recommend.

  15. There are some wonderful translations by Young in the Oxford Book of Classical Verse in Translation (edited long ago by a dear dead friend of mine, Jeremy Maule); I particularly like this one, from Catullus:
    Guidbye, ma lass. Catullus nou is sweir.
    He’ll nae think lang, or speir again your will.
    But sair ye’ll greet, nou naebody’ll speir
    onie nicht for ye, limmer. Eerie and dull
    your life’s be nou. What lad’ll come ye near?
    Wha’ll think ye bonnie? Wha’ll ye cuddle nou?
    Whas lass be caad? Wha kiss? Or pree whas mou?

    Och, c’wa, Catullus, stievelie nou. Be sweir.
    Just to underline Matt McG’s point that this is a literary Scots, not really a spoken Scots, compare the following:
    Lament ye nymphs, ye cupids a’,
    Lament, ye gallants blithe an’ braw,
    My Jeanie’s tint her birdie sma’,
    Her birdie’s dead.

    He was the apple o’ her ee,
    Sae couthie an’ sae crouse was he,
    An’ hinny-sweet as sweet could be,
    Her dawtie dear.

    Catullus again, and Scots again — but the tone’s completely different (to my ear, anyway), much softer, less crunchy in the mouth. That’s because it’s forty years earlier (the translator is Donald MacAlister; first published 1907), before the modern Scots revival got going. Of course it’s just as artificial as the Young translation, but in a different way — each translation is very much of its time. The beauty of Scots is the way it’s constantly been reshaped (and continues to be so, in the hands of modern poet-translators like Robert Crawford).

  16. I was wondering if you can tell me what “my life is intrusted in the lord” looks like in gaelic, i need it for a class and i want to use gaelic as the language and im having a hard time getting that sentence in gaelic.

Speak Your Mind