Sunday 11 August 2013

Hold a glass of pure water

. . . the the eye of the sun.  Today, you can hear Hugh MacDiarmid read his poem, which starts with these words.  Or get to read the words as a google-rip  I'll just abstract the core, although the whole poem bears a close listen because it talks about iniquity and inequality with such contained, sustained fury that you should hear it behind safety glass
I dreamt last night that I saw one of his angels
Making his centennial report to the Recording Angel
On the condition of human life.
Look at the ridge of skin between your thumb and forefinger
Look at the delicate lines on it and how they change
- How many different things they can express –
As you move out or close in your forefinger and thumb
And look at the changing shapes – the countless
Little gestures, like miracles of line –
Of your forefinger and thumb as you move them.
And remember how much a hand can express,
How a single slight movement of it can say more
Than millions of words – dropped hand, clenched fist,
Snapping fingers, thump up, thumb down,
Raised in blessing, clutched in passion, begging,
Welcome, dismissal, prayer, applause,
And a million other signs, too slight, too subtle,
Too packed with meaning for words to describe,
A universal language understood by all.
And the angel’s report on human life
Was the subtlest movement – just like that – and no more.
A hundred years of life on the Earth
Summed up, not a detail missed or wrongly assessed.
In that little inconceivably intricate movement.
Which I've liked ever since I saw Hugh MacDiarmid recite it (with added real-time gestures, of course) in UCD shortly before his death in 1978.  I've just realised that this clip resonates strongly with what I wrote earlier about how an artist can/must strive for years to tease out the essential truth of, for example, a hand gesture. Science is a way of knowing.
Why today?  Because Christopher Murray Grieve - Hugh MacDiarmid was his pen-name - was born in Langholm, Scotland (just North of Gretna Green) on 11th August 1892.  He was paradoxically a Scottish Nationalist and a Communist, so I don't know how he coped with the Internationale - probably conflictedly.  He was also, literally and literately, a champion of Lallans (lowlands scots) as a separate and evolving language rather than a mere dialect of English.  Which compels me to cue the Bard of Ayrshire Rabbie Burns, an earlier Scots socialist and pricker of pretension.  Sing it out:
What though on hamely fare we dine,
Wear hoddin grey, an' a that;
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine;
A Man's a Man for a' that:
For a' that, and a' that,
Their tinsel show, an' a' that;
The honest man, tho' e'er sae poor,
Is king o' men for a' that. 
You can find the whole song here.  If you still think that Lallans is essentially the same as English check out Matthew Ch.1 v.18 in Scots.

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