The Last Bard o Scotland

Translation by George T. Watt, frae the original by Joseph Charles MacKenzie

Watters o Irvine an Annock,
Ma saut tears mell wi the sautie ocean,
Wast o Arran Isle an the Clyde
Thay watters flow wi the aul lang syne.

Gilliland! Makar o muir an weirie glen,
Yer sang o luve fur this airt wees awa,
On yer last breith poesie wull en anaa,
An yon thocht, rax ma hert ayont aa ken.

Yer sowl wull sclim thay heich braes
Like the geintle smirr that fas in simmer glim,
Or shaddaes o clouds fleein ower the laigh leys,
Ae calmin souch, a psalm, ae fooneral hymn.

Bard faws vyce cried me frae ae faur airt,
Fan ye rest wi yer forebears in Gallowa’s yirth,
Yet yer Lallans’ tung wull aye be heard,
Fur nocht can still ae hert wi Heiven’s gift.

Watters o Irvine an Annock,
Ma saut tears mell wi the sautie ocean,
Wast o Arran Isle an the Clyde,
Thay watters flow in the aul lang syne.


saut: salt / mell: to mingle, mix with / sautie: briny, (fig) bitter / wast: west / thay: those / in: into /aul lang syne: the days of yesteryear /makar: a poet of the court /muir: moors / weirie: physically exhausted, but also in a state of longing for something / airt: area also art / wees awa: fades away / wull en anaa: will soon end too / yon thocht: that thought / rax ma hert ayont aa ken: racks my heart beyond all knowing / sowl: soul / sclim: ascend, climb / thy haech braes: the high hills / smirr: a fine rain, drizzle / fas: falls / simmer: summer / glim: gleam or gloaming / shaddaes: shadows / laigh: low / leys: ground, plains / souch: sound of the wind, breeze, (fig) sigh / faws: whose / vyce: voice / crie: to call, summon loudly / frae: here “to” / fan: when / yirth: earth / aye: ever / nocht: naught


Original English

Waters of Irvine and Annock, flow with my tears,
West to the Firth of Clyde and Arran:
Soon, soon, Ayr will be mute and barren.
Flow, waters, flow, like the passing of long, lost years.

Gilliland! Singer of moors and the pensive glen,
The muses fade on your final breath,
Love resigns your harp to tender Death,
And my heart weighs heavy, beyond all earthly ken.

Your soul in silence moves on the high bonny braes,
As cloud-shadows cross the Lowland plains;
Sweet falls your music, like summer rains,
As if to quell my grief no happiness allays.

Great Bard, who tuned my green lyre, my mentor, my guide,
Soft be your sleep on Galloway’s breast,
In your fathers’ plaid, take now your rest,
Your Lallan lays, in Time’s embrace, shall yet abide.

Waters of Irvine and Annock, flow with my tears,
West to the Firth of Clyde and Arran:
Soon, soon, Ayr will be mute and barren.
Flow, waters, flow, like the passing of long, lost years.


On Hearin the Deith o an Aul Fairmhaund

by George T. Watt

He’s gaed awa noo tae plou ae new furra,
straucht an true throu the rich loam,
twa horse, nane o yon airn beasties,
warm sweit o Clydesdale an man.

Aathin wis aye keppit trig an naet,
wi ae paitience wrocht deep waein the hert,
hurry wis ae wurd he niver kent,
his steady een aye saw the wey aheid.

Faimly aye first waeoot the croonin o it,
as naitural as the rain the carin o it,
the fairmer’s tryst implicit fur ae guid man,
aa sleppit easy unner his husband haun.

Fit mair cuid ony guidman dae?
Siller, easy wrocht, disnae mak weelbein,
crap disnae graw in illwarkit syle,
a puir hairst cams frae careless hauns.

He’s gaed awa noo but nae awa,
aa he stuid fur stauns waein his clan,
thay luik wi steady een oot ower the wurld,
wi a patience wrocht waein the hert.


plou: plough / airn: iron / trig: tidy / croonin: crowning, (fig) glorifying / wrocht: worked as in forged / style: soil or tilth / hairst: harvest / clan: family


George T. Watt haes been published in Lallans, the magazine o the Scots Language Society, Gutter, New Writing Scotland an ae couple o anthologies. He haes twice been ae ‘Runner up’ in the McCash poesie compeitition an ane o his poems wis selected as ane o the tap twinty wi the SPL in 2014. He haes also been featured on BBC Radio Ulster’s, ‘A Kist o Wurds’. George T Watt has ae passion fur Scotland, fur the Scots tung, an the Scottish kintra side an aa thay factors envaigle intil his poesie. Hooniver, this disnae mak him blin tae the importance o Scotland’s ceties an mony years spent leivin an warkin in Dundee also influences his wark.

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12 Responses

  1. Julian D. Woodruff

    Thanks for posting these. Wow, do words like incipit, patience , and influence clang against the rest to one who is not accustomed to the tongue!

    • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

      Not at all, Mr. Woodruff, although one who is, as you say “not accustomed to the tongue” might naturally read the words on the page but hear them internally in his own American voice, which is why I always emphasize that lyric poetry is a vocal, not a printed art. The printed text is dead and mute until the poem arrives at its terminus in the human voice reciting it.

      If the clash you are experiencing has something to do with words that are also used in Inglis set against words that “look more Scottish,” or something like this, I can assure you that all the words are Scots. The fact that Inglis shares these words (which are really cognates between the two languages and pronounced quite differently) does not make them “less a part of Scots.”

      If you keep in mind that the proximate ancestor of Scots is the Old Northumbrian language of the northern borders and Lowlands, which has, after all, the same Anglian roots as the Mercian language from which Middle English is derived, and also the various layers of learned language added by the Romans and later the French to both languages, then nothing will “clash” in the cognitive sense.

      Does this help in any way?

  2. Joseph S. Salemi

    One minor typo — in Watts’ Lallans translation of The Last Bard, in the second line of the last quatrain, “saut” is misspelled as “suat.” Perhaps it could be easily corrected.

  3. Sally Cook

    I am nowhere as knowledgeable about word origins as you gentlemen. Still, while .preparing to do a reading, I too recently noticed .a “clash” be.tween words which, when reading them aloud, .did not happen when reading them to myself.
    I had chosen these poems because, as .poems on the written page, they worked well together.
    However, that was not the case when I began to read them aloud.
    .I have been thinking about this ever since, and conclude that I prefer the poems in which .this linguistic clash does not rear its ugly head.
    Could it be that the word derivations themselves were causing an unsettling , jarring effect, and that certain words should not be used together because of their origins ?
    I would like to hear more, and contribute to, further discussion on this topic.
    Thank you for introducing it.

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Dear Sally —

      The variations in speech that we call “dialects” or “sister languages” will always cause trouble for persons who aren’t familiar with them. Here’s an example: a speaker of standard Italian will probably be able to understand a good deal of Sicilian dialect when it is printed on a page, but if he tries to pronounce it himself, or if he listens to somebody speaking Sicilian, he will have much difficulty.

      This was your problem with the Lallans text. It’s not a defect of the Lallans itself; it’s a problem that anyone would have when dealing with a dialect or sister language that he is unfamiliar with. We process language differently when we read it in print, and when we confront it phonetically.

      In any case, poems aren’t written to make people happy or comfortable. We can’t ask Lallans to change itself to make things easier for us.

  4. C.B. Anderson

    Just look at what the Tower of Babel has done to us! For the cunning linguists among us it might be a comfortable place, but for the rest it is a fell irratio. Nonetheless, I like the the sound, either spoken or presented to the mind’s ear, of the auld language. It gives me gooseflesh, and that is rare these days.

    • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

      Yes, and not only the fine auld toungue of the Lallans, but a classic subject—seen throughout the best of Scottish verse—evoking in the distant background the figure of the Plowman Poet, even as it celebrates a very real farmhand’s earth-fed humility and virtue.

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Listening to someone read Chaucer in the original Middle English gives one the same experience. But it’s useful to have a printed text of Chaucer in your hand at the same time.


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