The Solitary Reaper

by Ken Cockburn

was composed for an exhibition linking Wordsworth and Basho at Kamikoro Bunko, Osaka, Japan, in autumn 2016. It draws on Wordsworth’s poem ‘The Solitary Reaper’, which describes an encounter with a ‘solitary Highland Lass’ as she sings a beautiful song in a language he cannot understand Gaelic. It takes as its starting point seven words from Wordsworth’s text, and their equivalents in translations of the poem into Gaelic (by Maoilios Caimbeul) and Japanese (by Saeko Yoshikawa); the Japanese words can also be found in one or more of Basho’s haiku. I used a GaelicEnglish dictionary by Malcolm Maclennan (1925), whose English definitions of Gaelic words often contain an evocative poetry. From his English definitions of the seven selected Gaelic words, together with definitions of other words found literally on the same page, I stitched together these poems. For example, ‘hill cnoc         

’ dra

ws on the following words and definitions from Maclennan:

cnò:  a nut, a filbert
cnoc:  a knoll, an eminence
cnoid:  a splendid present
conair:  a path, way
conas:  furze, whins; strife, wrangling

The Solitary Reaper

field   raon   

A dissonant cry
in a large, illfurnished house
rather seek poetry, your portion
of land, your allies
on a mossy plain,
seek the grace of the highway.


melancholy   tiamhaidh

Parched with thirst
and melancholy
at the well
I melt into tears
and better feelings


vale   gleann      

A sparrow and blossom
of woodsorrel in the dell
where I am fond of roaming
fond of its sudden, hazy calm,
with sometimes puffs of soft wind.


voice  guth

An act of weeping,
an act of beseeching
and the curlew’s voice
the place of an oracle.


spring   earrach

The deer don’t run,
are confident and trusting
it’s spring,
the dogbrier greens
and I am rich.


song  òran

A hermit
whose dress and ornaments
appear fantastic,
whose songs, orderly and becoming,
shine like gold.


hill    cnoc

A gift of hazels
on the knoll
and the path continues
through the whins.