Margaret Winefride Simpson
WHEN Miss Simpson, in 1929, published a little volume of verse, Day's End, she gave promise, by her command of the true Scots tongue and the feeling which she put into its use, of good work still to come. This present volume is an excursion upon new paths.
To translate the simple bucolic verse of Horace into "homespun," as has been done with so much success, was comparatively simple, for the Roman musing upon his fields in springtime and harvest looked upon the same world as the Scot looking upon the green straths of the Ochils, and the notes of the musical peace which stole into the soul of Horace were just those which steal into the soul of the Scot sniffing the scent of the brown earth and the budding and ripening corn. Nor was the Roman tongue in which the music was enshrined so unlike our own Scots in its movement, its demeanour, and its sonorousness.
But to translate the songs and ballads of the French into our native Scots is no such easy task. Generalisations are always faulty. Life has no rule, no universal code; it is no "weel gaun mill." On the Judgment Day, no books of law will be at the elbow of the Judge. And yet for general guidance we must obliterate exceptions and individualities, and I venture to write these distinctions. The French are gay, the Scots happy; the French sparkle, the Scots quietly chuckle; the French have passion, the Scots love; the French make their approaches with courtly bows and courtiers' address, the Scots make their addresses with the shy lyric of a beating heart and pay their homage by tender diminutives; the Scots live at the fireside and make love in the gloaming, the French in a drawing-room and under a chandelier. The loving Scots heart, both in affairs of death and life, is simple and direct and deals little in either studied ceremonial or polished manners.
Miss Simpson nevertheless manages to show how much the lyrical language and thoughts of the French lovers in song are our own. She has been successful in finding a common note for emotions which drive the poets of both tongues into song and dirge. Again and again we forget in these translations that the lines were born in hearts other than ours and were spoken to the world in another tongue.
That is the sigh of disconsolate lovers of all lands, and comes from the corsetted dandies of Watteau as from the bonny Marys and the Annie Lauries whose best gowns are fashioned from homespun by the village seamstress or, maybe, by their own fingers.
The triumph of translation is that it reads as though it were no translation at all. The scholar of mechanical mind and class-room life, goes to the original and turns up his nose and spreads his dictionary knowledge over sheets of notepaper, sacrificing knowledge and understanding to information. Miss Simpson whilst following the channels of feeling of her originals is more concerned with the thought of how they would have written had they sung in Scots and had their hearts been Scots. Thus one may feel here and there the bonds which bind all translators, but the songs as a whole show that quality of independent feeling and diction which give them a life and a lyric of their own.
J. RAMSAY MACDONALD.