To the Bourgeoisie

A hunner year syne this year, the European warld wis tearin itsel tae targets. In Scotland, the hoodies had been croakin fir the brave kiltit lads tae leave their faimlies an ging aff the fecht in the Great War. Reid burns o bluid flowed oot the glens o Angus, Aberdeenshire, Ross, tae slake the drouth o French an Belgian fields. Maist o these puir wee laddies widnae come back fae the carnage hail, neither in body nor mind. Ilka clachan in Scotland seems tae hae a monument tae “the Glorious Deid”, wi a leet o nemmes langer nor the nummer o fowk that bide there the day.

This gloaming-hour o man’s mercy wis brichtened by a licht fae the east. The Tsars were ousted, an the provisional governement cowpit. The bluidy ruination o the Russian fowk unner the wecht o thae black-hertit Tsars was owre. Fir aince, the doon-hauden fowk had thrown aff their yoke an lit a fire in the hoose o their maisters.

It wis hope, hope in aa the derkness o the age.

Fir aa that Russian Socialism hasnae wrocht the future it ettled tae, the fire an the hope o thae days can inspire us yet. Be radical, be bauld. Gin a thoosan years o serfdom can be dinged-doon in a puckle years by a few engaged Communists, whit can we acheieve here?

Nou’s the day, ma brithers an sisters. An nou’s the hour. Pit yir shooders tae the cause. Ane mair muckle shove an the British stane will at last be shiftit.

Edwin Morgan giftit us in Scotland a braw owresettin o Bolshevik poet Mayakovsky. Here’s Billy Kay, readin To the Bourgeoisie. A poem like a gunshot, soundin the stert o the Revolution.


[Forty-four years after their first publication, Edwin Morgan’s versions of the great twentieth-century Russian futurist Vladimir Mayakovsky are back in print. Wi the haill voice collects twenty-five of Morgan’s translations into Scots, accompanied by his own introduction and glossary. Buy it from Carcanet Press here]

See also the Edwin Morgan Archive here.

Comments (8)

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  1. John McGowan says:

    I am a born and bred working class Scot and I would like to ask wjo exactly is this kind of drivel aimed at? What is the point of it? Who speaks like this? Who has ever spoken like this and where? Is it meant to represent the Scots language as spoken now, in this day and age, by a particular social group or in a particular area? Or is it just what it seems, an awful, embarrassing, patronising, mish mash of archaic and modern terms, scraped together from every part of the country and shoe-horned together in a desperate attempt to appear what? Couthy? It fails even in its own terms for its spelling comes nowhere near the sounds I assume it is supposed to represent – just look at “fowk, wecht, fir aince” and ask yourself how those words are meant to sound. And look at the way the writer forgets himself or herself and slips into standard English with words like “can” and “neither” where you might expect “kin” or “neethur” or similar. Anyway, I probably shouldn’t take such umbrage at this kind of nonsense but sometimes it “jist Feel ye hiv teh git it aff yer chist”

    1. Ally says:

      Hiya John!

      O course, the wark o Mayakovsky is high art. We canna hae the limits o his owresetters (in this case Edwin Morgan) limitit tae the street patter Scots that loads o us spik ilka day. He maun hae use o the hail o the Scots leid.

      Gin ye were tae read a Shakespearean sonnet oot, wad ye speir “who has ever spoken like this and where?”

      Na ye wadnae, as ye’d ken yersel tae be committin a act o gross eejitry.

      Obviously ye hae a curiosity anent the Scots language, which is great an I encourage. Mibbie hae a look at this braw blog post that helps ye owrecome some o the difficulties ye’ve set oot abuin;


      1. John McGowan says:

        Who do you think you are to patronise me with your “encouragement” ? You are not the guardian of the Scottish language – whatever that is supposed to be. And I repeat what I said. No one speaks the way you attempt to write. You use archaic, obsolete terms, which every language has, and yoke them together with dialect terms taken from, as far as I can tell, disparate parts of Scotland. What is the point of that? If you had a real interest in modern Scots then you would try torecreate in your writing the sounds of the people today as they actually speak, people from a particular region and from a particular social class or Sub class, something which would sound absolutely nothing like the stuff you produce. But of course that would not suit your agenda so you will continue to exert much toil and sweat in your misbegotten enterprise . Good luck .

        1. Ally says:

          Hiya John, thanks for the wishes of good luck.

          I’d suggest that the screivit leid doesnae aye hae tae be limitit tae the wye folk spik.

          There’s mony an airt in Scotland whaur the main tongue is Scots. I’m fae ane an i bide in anither.

          Sorry ye’re sae bealin aboot hou I choose tae express masel. Hope ye can get owre it ae day or anither.

    2. Stuart Murray says:

      This is a real problem for the Scots language movement. People have differing perceptions of what it is and isnt.

  2. John McGowan says:

    Priceless stuff. But I congratulate you for your slightly loopy devotion to a lonely, dead end cause. I would like to ask you, though, do you use this stuff in all your dealings, I mean do you “spik” like this in your everyday life or is this form of expression simply the claes ye pit own when ye try ti be mare scoattish thin awe the rest ay us?

    1. Jamie Smith says:

      Ally’s writin leuks like guid, pautent Scots tae me.

      Anent ‘spik’, I see a wheen o fowk uise that on Facebook an Twitter aa the time. It micht no be hou ye say it yersel, but a guid mony fowk dae say it like thon.

      An ye dinna aye need tae write the exact wey ye speak. A lot o fowk that speaks Scots ilka day writes in RP efter aa!

      Writin in Scots isna an ettle tae be ‘mair Scottish’ than aabody else ony mair nor a body frae Fraunce writin in French is daein it juist tae be ‘mair French’. The differ is that the French are guid at uphauden thair leid sae it disna seem fremmit tae fowk readin it.

      1. Stuart Murray says:

        perhaps its post-facebook-language. Unknown or unfamiliar to those who grew up before the internet.

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