The Last Makar
David Forrest is a Glasgow-based poet who has performed his poetry for several BBC projects. Here he provides us with an exclusive and humorous English translation
of his Scots poem. “For many Scottish people today, Scots is a language which is untaught rather than taught. Though it has its own dialects and extensive body of
literature some still consider Scots to be ‘bad English’ or slang or ‘English with a Scottish accent’. Over the last few centuries children have often been taught to
conform to a British standard of English in schools or at home. The cost of that conformity is rarely discussed.”
The last…mak…ar? Writer. The last writer.
Couldn’t actually speak the tongue himself -
the man was mute but not stone deaf.
He’d catch a sound, find its words, follow its sentences home.
A ‘dockie’ put down, a mad moment of ‘flytin’, an ‘amour’
the tongue came out of all of us when we meant what we said.
When we didn’t know ourselves, the words always knew.
The writer wrote them out for us. Big golden scrawls.
Well blame the politician! Blame the king!
Child after child after child
knew only rhymes instead of words
sound instead of phrase
like the sound of just waiting for the end
holding a needle in, saying our last goodbye, then saying
But that man, that man could hear. And when all became
silence, the words became all
couldn’t quiet them, couldn’t stop him
the man was words
no family, no job, just this strange music, pushing him along
making him write, making him sing.
He could write a word to tell a man.
But he couldn’t eat and couldn’t sleep.
His own tongue would kill him before long.
Threescore and ten and then a tongue is done.
Other writers could eek a living from rivers of English with
buckets of Scots.
Good. But it wasn’t his Scots, no more than a potato is salt.
Threescore and ten and then a language is done.
The writer died but the words didn’t stop.
They lingered on his grave and are haunting him still.
A whitter o wirds oan a rickle o stanes.
He was the youngest of women or the oldest of men
he’s whatever mistake that brings it all home.
He was his own man. He was his own man.
He wis his ain mon. He wis his ain mon.