Week 492: Empty Vessel, by Hugh MacDiarmid

As I noted in week 172, Hugh MacDiarmid is perhaps, along with Ezra Pound, the most politically problematic, or at least confusing, of 20th century English-language poets: at various times, and sometimes at the same time, he gave his allegiance to fascism, communism and Scottish nationalism, all of which may have stemmed from his loathing for the English political class leading him to subscribe to the dubious proposition that my enemy’s enemy is of necessity my friend. Be that as it may, it seems to me that he wrote some very memorable stuff, and I think that this poem, for example, shows him at his best, a pure compassionate lyric about a woman whom I take to have lost a child, either by miscarriage or from infant mortality

Ayont: beyond
Cairney: small stony hill? (not sure about this – related to Gaelic carnan, small cairn?)
Tousie: dishevelled, tousled
Bairnie: small child
Wunds: winds
Warlds: worlds
Licht: light
Aa: all

Empty Vessel

I met ayont the cairney
A lass wi tousie hair
Singin till a bairnie
That was nae langer there.

Wunds wi warlds to swing
Dinna sing sae sweet,
The licht that bends owre aa thing
Is less ta’en up wi’it.

Hugh MacDiarmid

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