Tuesday, April 3, 2018

When the birds spoke Gaelic

From Lee Raye's Natural History blog

"The most famous example of speaking animals from Scotland is probably a piece of poetry written by Eoghan MacLachlainn (Ewen MacLachlan) called ‘Dàn mu Chonaltradh’ (English title: The Colloquy of the Birds). It was first published in 1798, but is set in the distant age of joy. The translation I give is from Forbes (1905) and is tentative and literary rather than exact.
When MacLachlainn wrote this poem (c.1795) he was still a young man, working as a tutor at Clunes in Lochaber, south-west Scotland, saving money and hoping to go to university (Mackenzie, 1841:321-3). Perhaps the intended theme is one of hope – the world was once a magical place. Harris-Logan (2007:111) has pointed out that Gaelic poetry which represents birds talking is often written for escapist reasons or out of an aspiration for otherness.
But the theme does not have to be decided by the subject matter. In this case the poetry is not solely influenced by the Gaelic tradition. Given the biblical quote at the end, perhaps we should interpret the poem after the fashion of a fable. In this case the moral would glorify the owl’s passive and quiet role – its better to be quiet and thoughtful than loud and brash."

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