Leanabachd a’ Cho-Ghleusaiche (2020)

Leanabachd a’ Cho-Ghleusaiche
The poem that gives this book is title was inspired by the childhood of the Czech composer Bohuslav Martinů, who grew up in the church steeple at Polička, a country town on the border between Bohemia and Moravia.
Years afterwards he would write to his friend the poet Miloslav Bureš:
‘I have frequently asked myself about the influence the years spent in the tower can have had on my work as a composer.
From one side a view of the fishpond, the baths, from the other the graveyard and the village stretching into the distance, to the north merely a flat part with no trees and the town in front, all shrunk, with little houses and little people and above a great skyline as far as the eye could reach.
Only a lot later did I begin to observe people.
But in my childhood they were just tiny figures, no way of knowing where they were going or why, forming a species of ornament, of movement, itself insignificant in the overall picture I had before my eyes’.
This is how the title poem sounds in English.
Not being successful in his trade,
his father got a job keeping watch over
the village, so as to raise the alarm if a fire
that had started in some house or other risked
spreading and devastating the whole neighbourhood.
For that reason he and his young wife went to live
in the church tower, separated from the distant
earth by two hundred and twenty-seven steps,
with no neighbours beyond the great, tongued bell
which it was also his father’s job to keep in order.
He was born there, and spent his first years
like a little bird in the nest who would never
learn to fly, and would not undertake the long
journey down all the steps on his own
till he was nearly a teenager. At times, though, he felt
like a giant, because the world he belonged to
(though he wasn’t convinced about that)
looked extraordinarily small. People were merely
little smudges hurrying here and there,
sometimes multi-coloured, on market days
gathering in patterns which resembled
(he reflected as a grown up man long afterwards)
the notes he would collect and scatter
across the five lines of a stave. He had amazing
dreams. One night he dreamt the steeple was
the giant’s leg, and he began walking
over the moors towards the mountains.
The bell and the stairs were the buckles on his boots,
constantly clattering and jingling. Another night
he dreamt the steeple was the bell’s clapper,
fixed in the ground, but swaying back and forth
with a settled, violent rhythm, like
in an earthquake. No way of telling who
was pulling and tugging at the rope. He awaited
with dread the instant when the clapper would
strike the metal with such a deafening boom
all reason and perception would vanish
in the echoing din. Mostly, however, the bell
and the boy kept on good terms. He could tell
from how it sounded in the morning whether
it had snowed already, or if snow was on the way,
if there would be mist, or merely a slight drizzle.
The air’s ear never perceived the bell’s sound
in the same way twice. As a famous composer,
all he needed to do was dig back to his distant
childhood, put the bell on his head like a harmless,
musical hat – he immediately found all the
chords he needed. The piece was at an end.
translated by Shuggie McCall
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‘Challenging assumptions about Gaelic poetry, his work maps out new territory for other poets to explore’.
– Niall O’Gallagher

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

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