The Potent Prince o’ Ballatrie.

I’ve always had a weakness for Scots poetry (one of my favorite poets is Hugh MacDiarmid, about whom I’ve done a number of posts: 2002, 2011, 2013), and Patrick Crotty’s TLS appreciation of the Scottish poet Sydney Goodsir Smith has made me add Smith’s Collected Poems to my wishlist. According to Crotty, Smith’s masterpiece is the 1948 collection Under the Eildon Tree (the title is from the Ballad of Thomas the Rhymer: “Syne he has kisst her rosie lips/ All underneath the Eildon Tree”), which he says “can fairly be described as the most polished extended exercise in Scots verse since Burns’s ‘Tam o’ Shanter’, and the most ambitious since MacDiarmid’s A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle (1926)”; I found a section of it online (thanks, Scottish Poetry Library!), and thought I’d share it:

XII. Orpheus


Wi sang aa birds and beasts could I owrecome,
    Aa men and wemen o’ the mapamound subdue;
    The flouers o’ the fields,
Rocks and trees, boued doun to hear my leid;
Gurlie waters rase upon the land to mak
    A throwgang for my feet.
I was the potent prince o’ ballatrie,
My lyre opened portes whareer I thocht to gang,
    My fleean sangs mair ramsh nor wine
At Beltane, Yule or Hogmanay
    Made wud the clans o’ men –
There wasna my maik upon the yerth
    (Why should I no admit the fack?)
A hero, demi-god, my kingrik was the hert,
    The passions and the saul –
        Sic was my pouer.
   – Anerlie my ain sel I couldna bend.
    “He was his ain worst enemie,”
    As the auld untentit bodachs say –
    My hert, a leopard, ruthless, breme,
    Gilravaged far and near
Seekan sensatiouns, passions that wad wauken
    My Muse whan she was lollish.
No seenil the hert was kinnelt like a forest-bleeze …
I was nae maister o’ my ain but thirlit
    Serf til his ramskeerie wants
   – And yet I hained but ane in the hert’s deepest hert.

    She, maist leefou, leesome leddy
   – Ochone, ochone, Euridicie –
Was aye the queen of Orpheus’ hert, as I kent weill,
    And wantan her my life was feckless drinkin,
        Weirdless, thieveless dancin,
            Singin, gangrellin.

– And nou she’s gane.

Leid is ‘language,’ as we discussed here; mapamound is ‘globe,’ gurlie is ‘stormy; gurgling,’ wud (or wuid) is ‘mad, crazy, impetuous, uncontrolled’ (archaic English wood), ramsh (or rammish) is ‘mad, insane,’ anerlie (variant of anely) is ‘only,’ bodach is ‘old man,’ breme (or breem) is ‘furious, fierce, violent,’ seenil (usually seendil, sendle, sinnle) is ‘seldom,’ thirlit is ‘bound in thirlage = bondage,’ hain is ‘enclose (by a hedge or fence),’ leefou is ‘kind-hearted, compassionate,’ thieveless is ‘ineffective,’ and gangrellin is ‘wandering’; hopefully the rest of the Scots words are clear enough from context with a little squinting. I particularly like kingrik ‘kingdom,’ from OE kyningríce.

By the way, the Scottish Poetry Library has a superb 404 page.


  1. Nice word, mapamound. MacDiarmid also used it several times.

    As fer as cercled is the mapemounde (Chaucer, Balade to Rosemounde).

  2. mappamound < Latin mappa mundi ‘map of the world’

  3. marie-lucie says

    Hence French une mappemonde, an older term for the more modern le globe terrestre (lit. ‘the earthly globe’), not the actual Earth but a sphere representing the Earth, with its major features drawn upon it.

  4. The community’s heart is clearly in the right place, immediately zeroing in on “mapamound”!

    Please enjoy a fairly good image (maybe you can make out the text but I can’t) of the Ebstorf map, twelve feet square on thirty goatskins, bombed in 1943.

    (+ I didn’t know this taxonomy of mappae mundi: Macrobian, T-and-O, Beatus, “complex”)

  5. Portuguese still has mapa-múndi in the original meaning; you can hear it casually in schools and such (it’s a fossil; we don’t have an -i).

  6. Collins has “mappemond”; Oxford and Merriam-Webster have “mappemonde”.

    “bodach” has an interesting etymology.

  7. Is “leid” best glossed as “language” here, rather than perhaps something closer to “song”? I don’t have a good feel of the exact semantic range it covers, but the Scottish National Dictionary (searchable online at lists several senses for it, including “A form of speech, a formula, strain, refrain, the way a rhyme or song goes”. (It’s listed there under LEED; LEID there is lead, the metal, and related meanings.)

  8. You’re absolutely right, of course; I was just letting the recent discussion cloud my mind.

  9. Peter: I think you are clearly right.

  10. Thomas A. Clark (quoted on that 404 page) is pretty awesome. He traverses landscapes leaving the lightest footprint. Then there are inclusions in the traversals like ‘colour/ the first/ candour’. He collects toponyms like Ian Hamilton Finlay did names of boats (there are open stories of what happened there inside those closed names). There are tributes to IHF at the top of his blog that are very IHF, but he’s not him. IHF makes visible the dangerous spirits in the trees; TAC walks like it’ll avert or tone down the apocalypse.

    An Amazon preview

    I didn’t want to post this till I read Keith Basso’s Wisdom Sits in Places about how you can talk in placenames when wisdom is required and you put a special register on, because of the stories that happened in those places.


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