2007 - 2022

Laoidh ann am Beul an Là

Le sùil air ais gu latha cuimhneachaidh an Olocoist air Diciadain dàn smuaineachail le Fearghas MacFhionnlaigh. With a look back to Holocaust Memorial Day on Wednesday, a contemplative and powerful poem by Fearghas MacFhionnlaigh.



“Às dèidh Auschwitz chan eil bàrdachd ann.”
(Theodor Adorno, feallsanach agus sgrùdair-ciùil)

“Dè th’ann am fear-ealain nad bheachdsa? Na dhearg amadan gun ach sùilean aige mas e peantair a th’ann? Gun ach cluasan aige mas e fear-ciùil a th’ann? No gun ach clàrsach aig gach ìre dhe chridhe mas e bàrd a th’ann?…Is ann chan ann! – Tha e aig an dearbh àm an sàs ann am poilitigs… Chan ann gus seòmraichean a sgeadachadh idir a tha peantaireachd. Is e inneal-cath a th’ann airson ionnsaigh agus dìon an aghaidh an nàmhaid”
(Pablo Picasso, peantair)

Tha bàrdachd ann às dèidh Auschwitz.
Canaidh mi le meas e, oir chan eil mi nam Iùdhach.
Cha toir sinn a’ bhuaidh sin dha na Nàsaich –
an t-òir mu dheireadh a spìonadh as ar beul
‘s ar teanga lapachadh le glas-ghuib gathach.
Dè ach bàrdachd a churas saor ar n-uirghioll?
– gach meatafor na uèir ghlan-geàrrte
– gach dàn na bheàrn-èalaidh.

Tha peantadh ann às dèidh Dachau.
Canaidh mi le meas e, oir chan eil àireamh ghorm air mo làimh.
Cha toir sinn a’ bhuaidh sin dha na Nàsaich –
Kristalnacht gun cheann a dhèanamh de ar sùilean
‘s air ar reatanathan a dheargadh ath-ìomhaighean uamhainn.
Dè ach peantaireachd a churas saor ar fradharc?
– gach stràc-bruise na ghath-solais
– gach canabhas na phriosm imfhios.

ceòl ann às dèidh Buchenwald.
Canaidh mi le meas e, oir cha do chaith mi reul buidhe riamh.
Cha toir sinn a’ bhuaidh sinn dha na Nàsaich –
gach eun fhuadachadh à làrach ar cinn
‘s nar cluasan adhlacadh mac-talla neo-bhàsmhor a’ bhàis.
Dè ach ceòl a churas saor ar claistinn?
– gach teud air ghleus na sgiath air chrith
– gach fonn na laoidh am beul an là.


‘No poetry after Auschwitz’
(Theodor Adorno, philosopher and music-critic)

‘What do you think an artist is? An imbecile who has only his eyes if he is a painter, or ears if he is a musician, or a lyre at every level of his heart if he is a poet?…On the contrary, he is at the same time a political being…No, painting is not done to decorate apartments. It is an instrument of war for attack and defense against the enemy’
(Pablo Picasso, painter)

There is poetry after Auschwitz.
I say it respectfully, for I am not a Jew.
We won’t give that victory to the Nazis –
to pluck the last gold from our mouth
and traumatize our tongue with a barbed-wire gag.
What but poetry shall deliver our speech?
– each metaphor a severed wire
– each poem an utter breach.

There is painting after Dachau.
I say it respectfully, for my arm bears no blue number.
We won’t give that victory to the Nazis –
to make an endless Kristalnacht of our eyes
and brand our retinas with after-images of horror.
What but painting shall screen our vision?
– each brushstroke a beam of light
– each canvas a prism of insight.

There is music after Buchenwald.
I say it respectfully, for I have worn no yellow star.
We won’t give that victory to the Nazis –
to banish every bird from the ruins of our head
and seal in our ears the undying echo of death.
What but music shall make our hearing sound?
– each vibrant string a trembling wing
– each melody a hymn on the lips of the dawn.

Comments (12)

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  1. Aileen says:

    This is wonderful. I just wish I had enough Gaelic to read and understand it in that language, but even in English it has power and beauty, and being able to switch between the two helps me develop what very — really very little indeed — little Gaelic I have.
    But it would also be a great help to be able to hear the Gaelic. My grasp of Gaelic spelling and sounds isn’t great and it would help with that, but also any poem is surely best heard in the original tongue? Given that this is a web-based journal wouldn’t it be possible to ask each contributor writing in Gaelic also to record it? (Preferably slowly!) Then we who can’t read the music would have a chance to hear it.
    I’d also love this to be a feature of prose articles in Gaelic too. It would be a great way to help support the learning of Gaelic, and this support the language itself.
    (I’d suggest the same of the Scots articles, but there the spelling matches the expected sounds in English, our common language, so those articles are more accessible even if you don’t speak Scots. But it would be good to hear nonetheless, only it might out off any potential contributors who, like me, can write and understand Scots perfectly well but only speak it either with that hybrid Scots/English accent — which sounds so horrendous! — or else attempt a fake Scots accent not native to us, which can sound piss-taking or patronising.)

  2. jimnarlene says:

    Beautiful and painful, both at the same time.
    We must never forget, we may forgive, but never forget.

  3. Liz Macdonald says:

    Very poignant Fearghas Beautiful in English but even more so in the spoken Gaelic I am sure .

  4. Douglas Robertson says:

    Moving and though provoking about arts role in confronting and contesting powers and powers. Many thanks.

  5. Angus Morrison says:

    Thanks so much Fearghas for another wonderful poem – profound, moving and timely.

  6. Fearghas MacFhionnlaigh says:

    Douglas Robertson comments: “Moving and thought provoking about arts role in confronting and contesting powers”.
    I respond:

    It is a fascinating question as to when are the arts propaganda. Are they ever, in some sense, not? Ought they not ever to be? Is there justifiably good as well as reprehensibly bad propaganda? Is even legitimately “good” propaganda (if such exists) incompatible with “high” art? Does it fatally contaminate the arts to be “engagé”? Is there a transcendent (aloof?) purity which the arts should aspire to?

    It is noteworthy that totalitarian regimes always seek to tightly channel the arts for their ideological purpose. But then such regimes, by definition, seek to channel absolutely everything to further their ideology, so it is not just an art question.

    As far as the arts are concerned, is there a difference between imperialism and totalitarianism? Does the former allow more artistic liberty? – conformity still enforced, but within the beguilingly expansive margins of the imperial language and culture. Thus, we might argue, Scotland has in some senses flourished as imperial participant in (Anglo-) British culture, while welcomed internal colonialisation has simultaneously left us feeling proposterously compelled to extirpate our own languages and cultures like embarrassing weeds on our front (British) lawn.

    Was Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ propaganda? Michaelangelo’s Sistine Chapel? Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ (first for, then scunnered with, Napoleon)? Was Andy Warhol a (self-) propagandist? How many good Hollywood movies have an agenda beyond “art”? Is that legitimate? Is it avoidable? Should it be minimised in pursuit of “artistic” integrity?

    The 7/84 Theatre Company’s “Cheviot, Stag, and Black, Black Oil” was surely a wonderfully successful artistic production while being gate-crashingly political in subject-matter. Interestingly, though, I attended a different production by the company around that time (1970s), in which the spell of the drama was intermittently interrupted by one of the cast coming to the front of the stage to declaim socialist dogma. Dynamic tension was snapped (in my opinion). The aesthetic compromised for the politic.

    It is tautological to say that the arts are an intrinsically “aesthetic” engagement with existence. However, all arts, I would suggest, flower up from within worldviews. A “worldviewless” art is arguably a philosophical contradiction. Insofar as a given worldview expands horizons, the arts can find themselves being enthusiastically (or at least compliantly) exuberant. When a worldview restricts or contracts horizons (as does totalitarianism or decrepit outlooks) the arts cannot, or at least should not, feel comfortable. They surely cannot at that point be true to themselves without rebelling (even unwittingly). Without somehow critiquing (again, even unwittingly) the prevailing dogmas. Not necessarily by being overtly political or gratuitously offensive, but by continuing to throw open the doors and windows of existence in their own aesthetic manner. Putrid governments don’t like that kind of thing, as we know. Pure aethereal fragrances turns their stomachs. Longings the Committee has not endorsed are awakened. People look up for “more than this”.

    Jim Carrey in ‘The Truman Show’ (1998) eventually, of course, bumps up against the media-manufactured and -contolled “horizon” of his tragically impoverished and inauthentic existence from birth. It is for him a moment of shock, of life-changing enlightenment, and of liberation.

    Art can be just everyday fun (or just everyday graft). Obviously. No existential big deal. But the highest arts, I would suggest, have a universal role to which they can (ought to? inherently must?) nobly aspire. That is, to take us on journeys towards and, if possible, past our personal “horizons of factuality”. So that we, with Carrey, can choose (or perhaps refuse) to step out beyond the limits of the consciousness hitherto enclosing us, whether that was by innocent default or by media and/or governmental intent. Intuitively we can, if we concentrate, tell whether the oxygen in the ambient air is invigorating or dissipating. Vivifying or suffocating. Perfume or gas.

    1. Fearghas MacFhionnlaigh says:

      Gaelic version of above comment –

      Tha an ceangal eadar na h-ealainean agus a’ bholsgaireachd (cf Gaeilge: “bolscaireacht” = “propaganda”) a’ togail ceist inntinneach. A bheil dlùth-cheangal ann eatarra? No a bheil ealain a’ dol air iomrall ma rachas i an sàs ann am bolsgaireachd? A bheil bolsgaireachd mhath inmholta ann, a thuilleadh air bolsgaireachd dhona shuarach? Ma tha a leithid de rud ann ri “bolsgaireachd mhath”, an gabh ealain “àrd” a dhèanamh aiste? A bheil e na thruailleadh do ealain a bhith “engagé”? Am bu chòir dha na h-ealainean a bhith neo-phàirteach (“fad’ às”) bho cheistean poilitigeach?

      Tha e follaiseach gum bi riaghaltasan absolutach, tur-smachdach, daonnan airson na h-ealainean a thoirt am bruid dhan ideòlas aca. Ach mar a tha làn fhios againn, bu mhiann le riaghaltasan dhen t-seòrsa ud gum biodh gach uile nì air thalamh a’ toirt ùmhlachd dhan cuid ideòlais. Mar sin chan e ceist ealaine a-mhàin a tha sin.

      A thaobh nan ealain, ge-tà, a bheil diofar ann eadar ìmpireachas agus tur-smachdachas? Am bi a’ chiad fhear a’ fàgail beagan a bharrachd saorsa dhan ealain? Gèilleadh air a spàrradh fhathast gun teagamh, ach cothrom air choreigin fàs a dhèanamh taobh a-staigh iomallan mealltach cànan agus cultar na h-ìmpireachd. Mar sin, faodar argamaid a dhèanamh gun tàinig Alba fo bhlàth, ann an seagh, mar chompàirtiche ìmpireil a’ chultair Angla-Bhreatannaich. Aig an aon àm, dh’fhàg ar n-incholonachadh (air cho deònach ‘s a bha e) sinn nar cùis-bhùirt a’ cur às dhar cànanan agus cultaran fhèin mar dhroch lusan nàrach air ar faiche-aghaidh (ar faiche Bhreatannach).

      An e bolsgaireachd a bh’ ann an ‘Guernica’ Phicasso? Caibeal Sistineach Mhichaelangelo? ‘Eroica’ Bheethoven (a’ moladh, agus an uairsin a’ diùltadh, Napoleon)? An robh Andy Warhol na (fhèin-) bholsgaire? Cò mheud fiolm Hollywoodach sa chìthear clàr-gnothaich eile seach “ealain”? A bheil sinn toilichte le sin? An gabh a sheachnadh? Am bu choir a bhacadh air sgàth “fìorghlaine ealanta”?

      Is e dealbh-chluich air leth soirbheachail a bh’ ann an “An Tìbhiot, an Damh, ‘s an Ola Dhubh, Dhubh” leis a’ Bhuidhinn Thèatar 7/84. Bha e cur thairis le connspaid phoilitigeach. Gu h-ùidheil, ge-tà, chaidh mi gu dealbh-chluich diofraichte leis a’ chompanaidh timcheall air an àm ud (sna Seachdadan). An triop sin chaidh draoidheachd an dràma a mhilleadh gu cunbhallach nuair a thàinig fear dhen sgioba air adhart gus òraidean rag-bharaileach Sòisialach a lìbhrigeadh ris an luchd-èisteachd. Chaidh an teannas dinimigeach a bhristeadh (nam bheachdsa). Estètigs sgrioste le poilitigs.

      Chan eil ann ach ath-bhriathrachas a ràdh gum bi na h-ealainean a’ dol an sàs sa bheatha ann an dòigh “estètigeach”. Ach faodar a ràdh gur ann à broinn “sheallaidhean-saoghail” coitcheann domhainn a dh’fhàsas na h-ealainean. Is e co-bhreugnachadh feallsanachail a bhiodh ann an ealain a tha “as aonais sealladh-saoghail”.

      Cho fada ‘s a leudaicheas sealladh-saoghail sam bith ar raon-fradhairc, faodaidh na h-ealainean a bhi fàs gu dealasach (no co-dhiù gu macanta) gun fhiosta. Nuair a bhios sealladh-saoghail a’ crùbadh no a’ lùghdachadh ar raon-fiosrachaidh (mar a nì tur-smachdachas no feallsanachdan caithte), chan urrainn dha na h-ealainean, no co-dhiù cha bu chòir dhaibh, a bhith comhfhurtail. Aig a’ phuing sin, cha bhi iad dìleas dhaibh fhèin mur eil strì air choreigin ann (fiù ‘s gun an nàmhaid buileach soilleir). Gun na rag-bharailean a tha riaghladh an t-saoghail a chur gu deuchainn (eadhon gun fhiosta). Cha ruig na h-ealainean a leas a bhith poilitigeach gu follaiseach no oilbheumach gun deagh adhbhar, ach dìreach gu bhith cumail orra a’ fosgladh gu farsaing uinneagan is dorsan na beatha nan dòigh estètigeach fhèin. Cha toigh le riaghaltasan groda a leithid sin de nì, mar a tha làn fhios againn. Bidh cùbhraidheachd fhìorghlan nèamhaidh a’ cur sgreamh orra. Iarrtasan gan dùsgadh gun chead na Comataidh. An sluagh a’ fàs miannach air “barrachd air na tha seo”.

      Air a’ cheann thall anns ‘The Truman Show’ (1998), tha fhios, bhuail Jim Carrey bochd an aghaidh na fàire, ma b’ fhìor, dhe bheatha fhallsa dhìblidh bho àm a bhreith. Breug-fhàire a chaidh a chruthachadh ‘s a chumail fo smachd leis na meadhanan-craolaidh.

      Faodaidh na ealainean a bhi dìreach nan dibhearsan làitheil (no nan dleastanas làitheil). Gun teagamh. Cha mhòr an sgeul bitheil e sin. Ach tha gairm uile-choitcheann aig na h-ealainean as “àirde”, chanainnsa, air am b’urrainn dhaibh (air am bu chòir dhaibh? air am b’èiginn dhaibh?) a bhi miannach gu h-uasal. Is e sin, gu bhi gar stiùireadh air turasan a dh’ionnsaigh, agus (ma ghabhas a dhèanamh) seachad air, “fàirean ar fìrinnean mas fhìor”. Gus am bi comas againn, còmhla ri Jim Carrey, roghainn (no diùltadh) a dhèanamh ceum ùr a ghabhail taobh thall iomallan faing an fhèin-fhiosrachaidh a bha gar n-iadhadh gu ruige seo, co-dhiù is ann a dheòin, no a dh’aindeoin fo bhuaidh nam meadhanan no riaghaltasan.

      Le dlùth-aire, faodaidh sinn innse gu h-iomfhiosach co-dhiù a tha an t-ogsaidean san àile timcheall oirnn a’ dol am meud no a’ lùghdachadh. Gar beothachadh no gar mùchadh. Na chùbhrachd no na ghas.

      1. Fearghas MacFhionnlaigh says:


  7. Donald black says:

    I guess artists have to live so they probably have to live with patronage, but with limited knowledge, even I have noticed some subtle subversion. Maybe, if I knew more I would see more. Maybe the essence of art is to subvert – or art, in trying to express the essence of the subject, inevitably subverts convention, especially in the uncontrollable dialogue between the artist, the artefact and the observer.

    1. Fearghas MacFhionnlaigh says:

      Donald, I find your first option (“Maybe the essence of art is to subvert”) too terminally “demolitional” as definition for the generally constructive and life-enhancing activity of art. I am more comfortable with your second option (“Or…inevitably subverts convention”). We might well go on to ponder, of course, just how far those conventions being subverted became such through propagation by past artists!

  8. Margot Dunnachie says:

    A very poignant poem Fearghas, thank you.

    I have to rely on the english version, not having the Gaelic, but for me it speaks of the ability of the arts to restore and heal traumatised souls, to reconnect them to the creativity that is fundamentally at the very core of every human being. Whether we are creating or responding to the arts I have a sense that there is a deep mystery to the healing that they bring.

  9. Fearghas MacFhionnlaigh says:

    Your comment is much appreciated, Margot.

    I certainly agree with your allusion to “the ability of the arts to restore and heal traumatised souls”. I recall as a young boy in Canada when a timber house burnt down near us. Nobody was hurt, but the memory of days later inquisitively raking through the cold black debris has stayed with me. A bit of photograph here. A piece of ornament there. Nails everywhere. Getting shouted at by a neighbour to “Beat it!”.

    My own world “burnt down” once. I tried to process the trauma through writing. I found myself again searching for fragments. Fragments of what, I began to wonder. Realizing of course that my forlorn sifting through the ruins reflected a profound existential need to find anything which was at all construable as “meaning”. (In my derangement, even perceived similarities in the names of medical staff seemed like some kind of glimmer of light.)

    The late polymath Arthur Koestler wrote a book called “The Act of Creation” in which he argued that creativity in the arts, in science, in humour etc, is typically via sudden insight into hitherto overlooked correspondences (“Eureka moments” – cf Archimedes’ task to compute the volume of gold in a crown being resolved by noticing the displacement of bath-water). Major historical scientific progress Koestler maintained was not, as popularly imagined, the fruit of pedantic linear logic. Rather, humdrum verification was but the necessary conclusive validation of an initial creative “hunch” – a sudden insight like an illumining electric arc between two unlikely “electrodes”.

    The late Dutch philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd held that “meaning” rather than (substance-positing, Hellenistic) “being” is how existence experientially presents to us. He saw the “aesthetical” as one of 15 mutually irreducible (though mutually informing) aspects of temporal meaning. He identified “harmony” as the elusive “kernel” of the aesthetic aspect. Koestler’s suggestion seems compatible enough with that. For those with the predisposition, one extensive attempt to explain Dooyeweerd’s aspects is that of Professor Andrew Basden, here:

    In my own dereliction, relating one found fragment of “meaning” to another enhanced it exponentially. These patterns, however rudimentary, were some kind of psychological first-aid or balm. (All the time wondering if I was simply inventing them.)

    I have frequently discussed the nature of pattern with art pupils over the years. Leaves on plants. Days of the week. And so on. Pattern, being by definition repetitive and therefore predictable, can bestow a sense of comforting security (hence much domestic decor favours it). If days did not form cyclical weeks, if we woke up each morning in different locations with unknown people, imagine the increasing stress..

    So we each seek our own ongoing life-balance between the tamely predictable and the refreshingly unforseeable. For example, the repetitive rhythm and verse-structure of a song forms a consoling sound-pattern, but we normally enjoy at least some variation. An impending rhyme-moment may be anticipated, the precise word perhaps not.

    You refer to “the creativity that is fundamentally at the very core of every human being”. Dooyeweerd was a Christian. For him therefore our individual “core” transcends the temporal. So art’s potential ability to “restore and heal traumatised souls” could in that sense hint at (aspire towards) an ultimate inner transcendence over devastation. An awareness, however inchoate and intangible, of some kind of equilibrium above the wreckage of where we are presently “at”.

    Of all art, that which alone journeyed with me through the Night were the symphonies of Beethoven. The odd numbers only. Incrementally, the 3rd, 5th, 7th, and the heart-yearning, heart-breaking, heart-healing, heart-soaring, 9th.

    The following, voiced from that abyss decades ago, is the most powerful piece I have written. If perchance I can read it, I find I cannot speak it:

    (For Nurse Dionne Franklyn, Ward 7 Neurological,
    Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Edinburgh, 1990)

    As the exact white form of the Moon
    Completes her comforting brave-faced round;
    Parting the curtains of desolate Night,
    Being both symbol and earnest substance of the Light

    So you, Dionne the Nurse, traversed and graced
    That God-riddled, time-fractured wilderness;
    Favoured the huddled Abrahamic tent
    Where lay my brain-struck only son

    And I, bent over him,
    The past a blur, the future blank,
    The trackless present freeze-framed in hope
    That I might see again a finger move

    Or hear a word, or be assured
    He knew no pain (Ciaran! My Son! My Son!);
    I went colour-blind, tunnel-visioned
    Through that sterile land.

    No horizon quickened,
    No sky shone kind beyond the vitreous sand;
    The flowers faded, stiffened as they dried.
    Wall-eyed, I carried him when he tearless cried.

    But you bathed him with your gentle humour,
    Buoyed him with photos of your dippy dog –
    “Here’s Kally with a big blue balloon in her teeth!
    And she didn’t even burst it! Imagine!” –

    Then that morning
    When you bade him choose a T-shirt
    And he slowly raised
    A palsied hand.

    A hand heavier to lift
    And more profound
    Than all the Moon-bound oceans
    Of the round blue Earth.


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