Bho Leabhar-Latha Maria Malibran / From the Diary of Maria Malibran (2009)

With facing English versions by Sally Evans, Michel Byrne, Niall O’Gallagher, Ian MacDonald and the poet, Christopher’s fourth collection features a moving elegy for Alasdair Cameron, who died from an AIDS-related illness in June 1994, an item about the legendary sinking of Szymanowski’s pianos in the pond on the estate at Tymoszówka at the time of the Bolshevik Revolution, plus poems addressed to Marina Tsvetaeva and Pier Paolo Pasolini and a “requiem” for the Catalan poet Maria-Mercè Marçal (1952-1998).
The central sequence takes the form of extracts ‘from the imagined diary of famed opera singer Maria Malibran (1808-1836), who rents a villa and garden close to Paris for a much needed period of rest together with her partner, the violinist Charles Bériot. While still haunted by memories of her abusive father, the renowned tenor García, she attains a final notion of what it could mean to “have a self”, no less vulnerable than the reflection on the surface of a pond, which will return in the wake of no matter what disturbance.
The epilogue is an ironic polemic about dealing with such a “non-Gaelic” subject in Gaelic poetry.
What point is there in lying? Why
should I not admit it? Gentle readers,
these are not the subjects you prefer.
If pleasing you was what I had in mind
I should have chosen a different topic.
Such as the implements left in the barn
by my kind grandfather, who’s dead now,
what each tool was called, and what
was the right way of using it. I should
have mourned the rust eating away at them.
Or else how downcast I feel when
the ferry takes me away from the land
I know towards the big city, and the croft
where I spent my childhood becomes only a smudge
at the edge of vision, until I only see
the television aerial on the roof
of the house. You would rather have read,
perhaps, about the homesickness and guilt
I feel at my desk in a high office,
deafened by the noise of traffic in the street,
in my eyes the little houses, in my ears
the words of the succulent language that was ours
which we refused to speak to our children
and which I will praise provided that you never
ask me to use it, or write anything but English.
Instead of that, I wrote about a woman
who had not a word of Gaelic, who perhaps
didn’t know a language of the kind
even existed. If I am unable
to write true Gaelic poems,
that may be because it would appear
I am not a true Gael. But, gentle readers,
I will throw these words on hostile,
barren, unresponding ground, and you
can take my word for it, although
they are not teeth, or pebbles,
in the end they will start to grow,
bones and flesh and skin on each one,
and under their new eyes the new book
I wrote about Maria Malibran.

Dè ’m fàth dhomh bhith nam bhreugaire? Carson
nach aidichinn e? A luchd-leughaidh chaoimh,
chan iad sin na cuspairean as fheàrr leibh.
Nam b’ e bhith còrdadh ribh a bha nam rùn,
bu chòir dhomh sgrìobhadh air cùis eadar-dhealaicht’.

’S dòch’ air an acfhainn a chaidh fhàgail anns
an t-sabhal lem sheanair caoin, tha marbh a-nis,
gach ainm a bh’ oirr’, ’s an dòigh cheart air an robh
gach ball ga chleachdadh, ’s mis’ a’ caoidh na meirg’
a lobhas iad, ’s an tradisean air chall.

No mar a tha mi muladach san àm
a bheir an t-aiseag mi air falbh bho thìr
m’ eòlais chun a’ bhaile mhòir, ’s a’ chroit
san d’ fhuair mi m’ àrach òg a’ dol ’na smàl
a-mhàin air iomall lèirsinn, gus nach fhaic

mi iadhaire an telebhisein air
mullach an taigh. B’ fheàrr leibh a bhith leughadh,
math dh’fhaodt’, mun chianalas ’s mun chiont a bhios
mi faireachdainn aig deasg na h-oifis àird,
faram na trafaige san t-sràid gam bhòdhradh,

’nam shùil na taighean beaga, is ’nam chluais
faclan na cànain brìoghmhoir’ ud a bh’ againn
a dhiùltamaid a bhruidhinn ris a’ chloinn,
’s a mholas mi cho fad ’s nach iarr sibh orm
a cleachdadh no bhith sgrìobhadh ach sa Bheurla.

An àite sin, sgrìobh mi mu bhoireannach
nach robh facal Gàidhlig aice, nach robh
fhios aice, ’s dòcha, gu robh cànan ann
den t-seòrsa. Mura bheil mi comasach
air dàintean fìor Ghàidhealach a sgrìobhadh,

tha sin a chionns nach eil mi ’nam fhìor Ghàidheal,
a rèir coltais. Ach, a luchd-leughaidh chaoimh,
tilgidh mi na faclan seo air talamh
nàimhdeil, seasg, neo-mhothachail, is faodaidh
sibh a bhith gam chreidsinn, ged nach e

deudan a th’ annta, air neo dèideagan,
aig a’ cheann thall tòisichidh iad a’ fàs,
cnàmhan is crè is craiceann aig gach fear dhiubh,
’s an leabhar ùr fa chomhair nan sùl ùr ac’,
a sgrìobh mi mu Maria Malibran.

translated by the author

buy a copy

‘A huge step forward for Gaelic poetry’
– Ronald Black

© 2021 Christopher Whyte. All Rights Reserved | Designed by Jarka Jones

Privacy Settings
We use cookies to enhance your experience while using our website. If you are using our Services via a browser you can restrict, block or remove cookies through your web browser settings. We also use content and scripts from third parties that may use tracking technologies. You can selectively provide your consent below to allow such third party embeds. For complete information about the cookies we use, data we collect and how we process them, please check our Privacy Policy
Consent to display content from Youtube
Consent to display content from Vimeo
Google Maps
Consent to display content from Google