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Metadata for text 3
No. words in text21309
Title Smuaintean fo Éiseabhal (Thoughts under Eiseaval)
Author MacDonald, Donald
Editor Black, Ronald
Date Of Edition 2000
Date Of Language 1950-1999
Publisher Birlinn
Place Published Edinburgh
Volume N/A
Location National, academic and local libraries
Geographical Origins South Uist
Register Literature, Verse
Alternative Author Name Dòmhnall Aonghais Bhàin
Manuscript Or Edition Ed.
Size And Condition 21.5cm x 13.8cm
Short Title Smuaintean fo Éiseabhal
Reference Details CM personal copy
Number Of Pages xxix (including 2 maps), 115, and 4 plates at the end of the volume
Gaelic Text By Ed.
Illustrator N/A
Social Context Dòmhnall Aonghais Bhàin was born in 1926 in South Lochboisdale, South Uist, and was the youngest of four children. There were a number of local bards in the area while he was growing up (he particularly looked up to Roddy Campbell), and he also used to listen to his mother singing songs she learnt as a gutter at the seasonal herring fishing. His father had died before he was a year old. He left school aged 14 and over the years took many jobs in the island and on the mainland, working, for example, at a tweed mill in Oban and on a hydro-electric scheme in Inverary, before returning to the island and working on contracts in Lochboisdale and in Benbecula, including work on the controversial Rocket Range. He then spent five years looking after his sick mother and nine years working at the alginates factory in Lochboisdale while looking after the family’s four-acre croft. When the factory closed down, he spent a year on a job-creation scheme but did not return to work after that due to ill-health. He spent time in various hospitals and a number of his poems were written about his hospital stays, in praise of the care and kindness he received from the nurses there.

Dòmhnall was influenced not only by the local bards and storytellers of his youth, but by his schoolteacher, Annie Macphee, who introduced him to Byron, Shelley, and Keats. Dòmhnall started composing poems while he was young but being surrounded by many gifted poets, he lacked confidence in his work. Also, from an early age he preferred writing highly descriptive nature poetry, rather than the poetry on local topics normally covered by the village bards, and he thus became somewhat distanced from his contemporaries. In the 1960s, after an operation had removed a stomach ulcer from which he had suffered for years, Dòmhnall began to produce large amounts of poetry. With the encouragement of Grimsay bardess, Mary MacLean, many of his poems were published in The Stornoway Gazette, Am Pàipear (the Uist community newspaper), Gairm, and in The Scotsman. He frequently used a cassette recorder to help him with composition and to record his final work.

Of the 136 poems known to the editor at the time of publishing, around fifty were nature poems, around fifty were poems to women or girls, three were composed for men, and around a dozen were poems on ‘thoughts on death and change’. The rest covered various subjects and included some of the more typical village bard topics about happenings in his own community, such as the introduction of ‘new lights’ to South Lochboisdale (Na Solais Ùra, pp. 98-99).

Dòmhnall grew up with both the traditional metres of Gaelic and English poetry, and, increasingly as he got older, the new freer style of poetry favoured by many twentieth century writers. His poems show elements of both styles. Mìosan na Bliadhna (pp. 44-53) shows a combination of styles, including some traditional elements, and some freer verse, almost as if in an attempt to define a new style for himself. This volume is the first collected edition of his work. It was published shortly after his death in March 2000, when the editor was asked to help put together a collection of his work for an exhibition on the life and work of the author at Kildonan Museum in South Uist. An illustrated account of Dòmhnall’s life can be found in Timothy Neat’s Voice of the Bard.
Contents The title of the book was taken by the editor from the title that the author chose to head a series of his own poems which appeared in Gairm in 1982. Easaval (or Eiseaval, as it appears on the book’s cover) is the highest summit in Boisdale and is behind Dòmhnall’s house.

The volume begins with the Clàr-Innse (pp. v-vi). There follows a Roimh-Ràdha in Gaelic by writer Aonghas Pàdraig Caimbeul (pp. vii-ix), an Introduction in English by the editor, Ronald Black, (pp. xi-xxi), and two short chapters about the poet, Am Bàrd by Ailig O’Hianlaidh (pp. xxii-xxiv), and The Poet by Henry Marsh (pp. xxv-xxix).

The main body of the text contains 26 poems in Gaelic with English translations (pp. 2-79) and 31 poems in Gaelic without English translations (pp. 80-113). There are a few brief notes at the end of the bi-lingual section. A number of the English translations are by the author himself. These are reproduced here with some minor editing, and ‘author’s translation’ is indicated where appropriate. The rest of the translations are by the editor.

The poems in this collection were selected by the editor and exclude some of those previously published elsewhere. At the back of the volume is a list of Dàin Eile (pp. 114-15) by Dòmhnall Aonghais Bhàin, not included in this compilation, giving titles and first lines, and details of publication where appropriate.
Language The language used in Dòmhnall’s poetry is often lyrical, and is at times highly descriptive, particularly in his nature poems and in his poems about women. His work is sometimes reminiscent of the poetry of Duncan Bàn MacIntyre (whose work he greatly admired) and William Ross.

With the exception of An Rocaid (a poem for children about the Apollo space mission to the moon, pp. 4-7), Dòmhnall Aonghais Bhàin’s poetry tends to focus on traditional topics, such as love and nature, and local affairs. In particular his poetry contains a wealth of descriptive vocabulary for women and nature. Mo Reul Iùil (pp. 54-59) is one of his finest love poems, in which he addresses the woman in question, praising her attributes. His description of the woman’s hair begins, ‘Tha cuailean dualach rìomhach ort \ Mar dhìtheanan an òir \ A’ dol ’na stuadhan dì-snaidhm \ ’S a’ chìr ga cur an dlòth’ (p. 54). Interestingly, Dòmhnall himself described his poems about women as praise poems rather than as love poems, saying that he had never been ‘wildly in love’, and that although he has written poetry for women, ‘it’s not love poetry that I write’ (Neat 1999).

Mìosan na Bliadhna (pp. 44-53) is possibly Dòmhnall’s finest nature poem. It is a long poem (158 lines), which describes the attributes of each month of the year in turn. For example, we find ‘Mìos an-iochdar, greannach, ascaoin, \ Trògbhoil gamhlais teann dha daonnan — \ Tàsanachd gun truas ri daoine \ No ri creutair;’ (p. 44). This poem is experimental in its composition, with the length of the lines and stanzas, and the rhymes and stresses varying from stanza to stanza (or from month to month), although the poem does display a certain amount of consistency in its rhythmic discipline (see the ‘Introduction’, p. xviii).

Dòmhnall’s nature poetry also contains a fair amount of terminology for birds, plants, and animals, for example, in Bàgh Hartabhagh (pp. 16-19) he writes: ‘Chì thu calmain agus naoisg, \ Cearcan-fraoich agus geòidh, \ Gearradh-breac a’ snàmh nan tonn \ ’S dreathan-donn feadh nan còs’ (p. 18).

Dòmhnall’s poems are rich in imagery, and he frequently intertwines symbolism about nature and about women. For example in Mo Reul Iùil, a love song (pp. 54-59), he writes ‘Tha do mhuineal glé-gheal \ Mar dhéideag air an tràigh, \ Mar shneachd’ air mullach Éiseabhail \ An géiread a’ mhìos Mhàirt; \ Mar eala bhàn nan cuantan \ Air bhàrr nan stuadh a’ snàmh, \ No ceò air iomall Bheinn Chruachain — \ Taobh tuath de dh’Earra-Ghàidheal’ (pp. 56-58). Chì Mi Bhuam, a nature poem (pp. 87-88), finishes with the following stanza: ‘Chì mi rìbhinn an fhuilt òir — \ S tric a bòidheachd air m’ aire \ ’S i cho snuadhmhor ris an ròs \ Bhios fo òg-dhriùchd na madainn’ (p. 88).
Orthography The orthography is generally that of the late 20th century, although Black uses both acute and grave accents. Black also uses the initial apostrophe before na, but not before ga, and he uses se rather than ’s e.The poet himself uses both ga mo and gam, according to the rhythm of the line.
Edition First edition of this collection. Some of the poems included were previously published in The Stornoway Gazette, Am Pàipear (the Uist community newspaper), Gairm, and The Scotsman, and in The Voice of the Bard (1999).

There are some differences in spelling conventions used in this edition and in the Voice of the Bard. Black has used both acute and grave accents, whereas Neat has followed standard orthographic convention in using only the grave accent. Black uses the initial apostrophe before na, whereas Neat does not. Neither editor uses the initial apostrophe before ga. Black uses se where Neat uses ’s e. In addition, in the poem An Rocaid (pp. 4-7), Neat presents lines 16-28 as one stanza, whereas Black has a break between lines 21 and 22. In this same poem, Black uses companach where Neat uses companaich (line 29). In Seann Taigh-Solais Charlabhaigh (pp. 74-79), Neat has four-line stanzas, whereas Black has eight-line stanzas, although each contains essentially the same text. This is also the case in Sgeulachdan nan Taighean-Céilidh (pp. 68-73).

There are also differences in the English translations. Black’s translations are more literal, while still reflecting the rhythm of the original. Neat has translated more freely, with the focus more on ‘narrative flow’ than on 'literal accuracy’. Black uses the author’s own translation of Dealbh Camilla (pp. 24-25), whereas Neat prints a fresh translation based on versions made by the author.

There are slight differences in orthography between the poems previously published in Gairm and those published in this volume. For example, in the poem Éiseabhal Stùcach (pp. 38-41), Black has mu d’ chuid bhòidhchid, whereas Gairm has mu d’ chuid bòichead. Black writes sìon where Gairm has sian, and where Gairm sometimes hyphenates strings of words, such as sleabhag-nam-fiadh, Black does not.
Other Sources
Further Reading Black, Ronald, ed., An Tuil Anthology of 20th Century Scottish Gaelic Verse (Edinburgh, 1999: Polygon).
Neat, Timothy with John MacInnes, The Voice of the Bard: Living Poets and Ancient Tradition in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland (Edinburgh, 1999: Canongate).
Dòmhnallach, Dòmhnall, ‘Smuaintean fo Éiseabhal’ Gairm, 118, 119, 120 (1982), 169-176, 236-241, 374-378.
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