March 2017        

The taxman cometh!

Gabriel Rosenstock translates and introduces a poem by George Mackay Brown

The Marxist scholar George Thomson (1903–1987) was drawn to the culture and language of the Blasket Islands and had a warm friendship with one of its fine memoirists, Muiris Ó Súilleabháin. What Thomson saw among the Blasket Islanders was a civilisation that contained remnants of an older society, one that existed before the notion of private property came about, a community oblivious to the state and all its machinations.
     There were many such peripheral societies among the islands of Europe, far from the madding crowd. The poet George Mackay Brown (1921–1996) recorded, in poetry and prose, the traditional life of Orkney and the daily rituals that he loved. Capitalist materialism to him was “a useless utilitarian faith, without beauty or mystery.”
     His poem “Taxman”—a mere eight lines—sends a shiver up the spine.
Fear CánachTaxman
Seacht speal ina luí in aghaidh an bhalla.Seven scythes leaned at the wall.
Féasóg ar fhéasóg órgaBeard upon golden beard
An t-ualach deireanacha eornaThe last barley load
Ag longadán tríd an gclós.Swayed through the yard.
An corc á bhaint as buidéil leanna ag béithe.The girls uncorked the ale.
Fidil is cosa ag bogadh le chéile.Fiddle and feet moved together.
Ansin idir coinleach is fraochThen between stubble and heather
Marcach ar séirse.A horseman rode.

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