Winter Solstice poems in Scots and Gaelic

Winter Solstice_photograph by Hakukamizaki

December Gloaming (poet unknown)
In the cauld dreich days when it’s nicht on the back o four,
I try to stick to my wark as lang as may be;
But though I gang close by to the window and glower,
I canna see.
But I’m sweir, rale sweir, to be lichtin’ the lamp that early;
And aye I wait whiles there’s ony licht i’ the sky.
Sae I sit by the fire and see there mony a ferly
Till it’s mirk oot-by.
But it’s no’ for lang that I sit there, daein’ naething;
For it’s no’ like me to be wastin’ my time i’ the dark;
Though your life be toom, you can aye thank God for ae thing –
There’s aye your wark.
But it wadna be wark I wad think o’, if you were aside me.
I wad dream by the ingle neuk, wi’ never a licht;
The glint o’ your een wad be licht eneuch to guide me
The haill forenicht.
I wadna speak, for there’s never nae sense in speakin’;
By the lowe o’ the fire I wad look at your bonny hair.
To ken you were near wad be a’ that my her’t wad be seekin’ –
That and nae mair.
. . .
The above poem (December Gloaming) uses Scots Vernacular. Here are a few of its words and phrases with their Standard English counterparts:
dreich = dreary
on the back o four = after 4 p.m.
gang close = stare darkly
sweir = unwilling
mony a ferly = many a strange thing
oot-by = outside
toom = empty
aye = always
ingle neuk = chimney-side
forenicht = evening
lowe = gleam
. . .
William Neill (Prestwick, Ayrshire, Scotland, 1922-2010)
Solstice Wood
There is a spinney on the ridge
and I am certain
that it was always there.
When the winter solstice comes
and a red sphere falls behind trees,
I like to think
I am not entirely alone
but that other eyes across time
are with me, and show the same pleasure
that this is the shortest day,
as the druid wheel of the sun
rolls swiftly towards Springtime.
. . .
Solstice Wood, in Neill’s original Gaelic:
Doire A’ Ghrianstad
That doire bheag air an druim
is that mi cinnteach,
gu robh i an còmhnaidh ann.
Nuair thig grianstad a’ geamhraidh
is cruinne ruadh a’ tuiteam air cul chraobh
is caomh leam creidsinn
nach eil mi gu tur nam aonar
ach tha sùilean eile thar tìm
maille rium, is an aon tlachd aca
on is e sin an là as giorra
is roth draoidheil na grèine
na rolladh gu luath dhan Earrach.
. . .
Derick Thomson (Ruaraidh MacThòmais)
(Stornoway, Isle of Lewis, Scotland, 1921-2012)
When This Fine Snow is Falling
When this fine snow is falling,
climbing quietly to the windows,
dancing on air-currents,
piling itself up against walls
in lovely drifts,
while my son leaps with joy,
I see in his eyes the elation
that every winter brought to my people:
the reflection of snow in my father’s eyes,
and my grandfather as a boy snaring starlings.
And I see, through the window of this snowdrift,
and in the glass that dancingly reflects it,
the hill-pass cutting through the generations
that lie between me, on the scree,
and my ancestors, out on the shieling,
herding milk-cows and drinking buttermilk.
I see their houses and fields reflected
on the lonely horizon,
and that is part of my heritage.
When their boyhood came to an end
they strove with the land, and ploughed the sea
with the strength of their shoulders,
and worshipped, sometimes;
I spend their strength, for the most part,
Ploughing in the sand.
. . .
When This Fine Snow is Falling, in Thomson’s original Gaelic:
Troimh Uinneig a’ Chithe
Nuair that ‘n sneachda min seo a’ tuiteam,
a’ streap gu sàmhach ris na h-uinneagan,
a’ mirean air sruthan na h-iarmailt,
ga chàrnadh fhéin ri gàrraidhean
‘na chithean sàr-mhaiseach,
is mo mhac ‘na leum le aoibhneas,
chì mi ‘na shùilean-san greadhnachas gach geamhradh
a thàinig a riamh air mo dhaoine:
faileas an t-sneachda an sùilean m’ athar,
‘s mo sheanair ‘na bhalach a’ ribeadh dhìdeigean.
Is chì mi troimh uinneig a’ chithe seo,
‘s anns an sgàthan that mire ris,
am bealach that bearradh nan linntean
eadar mise, ‘s mi falbh nan sgàirneach,
agus mo shinnsrean, a-muigh air àirigh,
a’ buachailleachd chruidh-bainne ‘s ag òl a’ bhlàthaich.
Chì mi faileas an taighean ‘s am buailtean
air fàire an uaigneis,
‘s that siud mar phàirt de mo dhualchas.
Iadsan a’ fàgail staid a’ bhalaich,
‘s a’ strì ri fearann, ‘s a’ treabhadh na mara
le neart an guaillibh,
‘s ag adhradh, air uairibh;
is mise caitheamh an spionnaidh, ach ainneamh,
a’ treabhadh ann an gainneamh.
. . . . .