Week 61: The Thocht, by William Soutar

I think the meaning of the Scots words in this poem should be fairly obvious, but just in case: thocht = thought, jizzen-bed = childbed, deed = died, aye = always, owrecome = refrain, gin = if, hinny = honey, ghaist = ghost and I take ‘or’ in the second line of the third stanza to mean ‘before’.

The Thocht

Young Janie was a strappan lass
Wha deed in jizzen-bed;
And monie a thocht her lover thocht
Lang eftir she was dead:

But aye, wi a’ he brocht to mind
O’ misery and wrang,
There was a gledness gether’d in
Like the owrecome o’ a sang:

And, gin the deid are naethingness
Or they be minded on,
As hinny to a hungry ghaist
Maun be a thocht like yon.

William Soutar

3 thoughts on “Week 61: The Thocht, by William Soutar

  1. Hi David, at the start of the third verse the idea considered is that the dead only exist while they are remembered by the living? There’s also “As hinny to a hungry ghaist”. They do exist independently of being remembered but benefit (in some way) each time they are remembered?

    • Hi Chris, I think the allusion here with the hinny (honey) is to Roman beliefs about the ‘di manes’, who were sort of minor deities representing the souls of deceased loved ones. They could be kept happy by offering them libations or leaving food on or near the grave. There is a tombstone in Oxford’s Ashmolean museum for a woman named Livia Casta, in the middle of which is a carving of a cup pierced by four holes. The stone would originally have been laid horizontally and Livia’s relatives would have poured wine and honey into the cup so it could drain down on to her ashes, thus reassuring her shade that it was remembered and giving it something to enjoy. I can’t say for sure that this is the kind of thing Soutar was thinking of, but it seems likely.

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