Monday, March 3, 2008
The Scottish World by Billy Kay
Just a nice old postcard
Billy Kay is going to bring out a new paper back edition of "The Scottish World" in August in the USA. I think this will be a must have for most Scottish Americans. I look forward to getting a copy myself. Here is an excerpt from the book that fits well with the theme of shepherds and sheep:
here is the relevant extract from The Scottish World....
"Recently for Radio Scotland I made programmes celebrating the culture of Border shepherds, Gentle Shepherds and the Herd’s Lament. Many shepherds of course emmigrated to Canada, New Zealand and Australia, while shepherds from Caithness and Lewis went as far afield as Patagonia in Argentina. One of the most moving stories in the programme though was told to me by Walter Elliot fae Selkirk, who tells the world he is an honest and simple fencer. Honest, definitely, simple, definitely not….as archaeologist who pioneered the excavation of the Roman camp at Newstead, as translator of the Latin protocol books of Selkirk’s medieval history, as exponent of and expert in Border Scots, Walter is simply one of the great Border tradition bearers of the present day, as well as being an honest wuidcutter! On making these programmes though, I discovered Walter’s family connection with one of Scotland’s and Canada’s great songs of exile, the song about Ontario called ‘The Scarboro Settlers Lament’….which is beautifully sung to the tune of Burns’s ‘O Aw the Airts’ by the great Canadian singer Stanley Rogers. Here is how Walter describes the song’s connection to his great, great grandfather:
‘In the 1820s, Sandy Glendinning, shepherd in Eskdalemuir was wont to meet Walter Elliot, shepherd in Ettrick at the Steps of Glen-dearg on the watershed between the valleys. In 1824, Sandy had decided to emigrate to Canada. Meeting his friend for the last time before he left, they scratched 'Thir Ir The Steps of Glendearg' on the rock, adding their initials and the date. However they kept in touch by letter for the rest of their lives, often writing their letters in verse. Sandy never lost his love for the Border hills as the poem 'Awa wi Scarboro's Muddy Creeks' in his book of 'Rhymes', clearly shows.’
Awa wi Canada's muddy creeks
And Canada's fields o pine;
Your land o wheat's a goodly land,
But oh, it isna mine.
The heathy hill, the grassie dale,
The daisie-spangled lea,
The purlin burn and craggie lin,
Auld Scotia's glens gie me.
O, I wad like tae hear again
The lark on Tinnis Hill
And see the wee bit gowanie
That blooms aside the rill.
Like banished Swiss, who views afar
His Alps wi langin ee
I gaze upon the mornin star
That shines on my countrie
Nae mair I'll win by Eskdale Pen,
Or Pentland's craggy cone;
The days can ne'er come back again
Of thirty years that's gone.
But fancy oft, at midnight hour,
Will steal across the sea;
Yestreen amid a pleasin dream
I saw the auld countrie.
Each well-known scene that met my view
Brocht childhood's joys to mind
The blackbird sang in Fushie Lin
The sang he sang langsyne.
But like a dream, time flees away;
Again the morning came,
And I awoke in Canada,
Three thousand miles frae hame.
In the 19th century, being three thousan mile frae hame in the middle of Canada, meant you were unlikely ever to see hame again, so the poignancy of the words and the haunting beauty of the air, make a powerful emotive whole. Interestingly, the song expresses an aching longing which we do not have a single word for but which the Portuguese call saudade and pour out in their ballads of the fado, while the German word Sehnsucht also comes close to expressing the feeling as well. In the novel Women in Love, D H Lawrence sets a scene in a small Alpine hotel, where Ursula is persuaded by the German hosts to sing ‘Annie Lawrie’. Ursula is powerfully aware of the effect of her voice and the song on those present. Most of them cannot understand the words, but the emotion tied up in the song reaches everyone.
At the end, the Germans were all touched with admiring, delicious melancholy, they praised her in soft, reverent voices, they could not say too much.
‘Wie schön, wir rührend" Ach, die scottishcen Lieder, sie haben so viel Stimmung!
[ How beautiful, how moving. Oh, the Scots songs are so atmospheric.]"
Copyright Billy Kay, All Rights Reserved
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