The Muckle Shockle / El Gran Carámbano / The Big Icicle

Photo by sue hughes on Unsplash

Dorothy Lawrenson: I enjoy the opportunities that Scots sometimes offers for bringing the archaic into conversation with the contemporary. Here, the medieval concept of the wappenschaw – a muster of armed men – finds a modern echo in the image of the lads brandishing ‘light-sabres’ made of ice. This is another poem that goes back to my childhood beside the river Tay; I used to walk under the brick-built part of the Tay Rail Bridge every day on the way to school, marvelling at the one or two huge icicles that would hang there in the winter – until kids knocked them down!

Carlos Llaza: The physical immediacy of the Scots leid is one of the greatest challenges for the translator. Being much wordier, Spanish lacks actions such as ‘chuck’ or ‘ding doon’, and nouns like ‘dreeps’ or ‘wrack’. ‘The Muckle Schockle’, just like the object itself, deals with transience and permanence. The arch ‘ringin wi vyces’ reverberates throughout the poem, until the frightening ‘skimes o ice’ transform into ‘shables o licht’. Inevitably, the Spanish rendition has a much softer sound. However, ‘carámbano’ allows for certain reverberation.

Scroll down to see a video of poet and translator reading this poem, with English subtitles.

The Muckle Shockle
bi Dorothy Lawrenson

The brick-biggit airch 
wis ringin wi vyces 
o lads that wis daffin

an chuckin stanes
at the muckle shockle:
thon gey wark o dreeps

– a stalactite o ice
if ilka drap stuid
for a hunner year –

wis gart shoogle and dirl
and dingit doon
in an oor.

Fleggit bi fawin
skimes o ice
the boys wis soon again

rypin the wrack
tae mak a wappenshaw
o shables o licht.

El Gran Carámbano
traducido al español por Carlos Llaza

El arco de ladrillos 
timbraba con voces 
de chicos jugando 

y tirando piedras 
al gran carámbano: 
esa obra del goteo 

– estalactita de hielo 
si cada gota permaneciera 
por cien años –

hecha para que tiemble y timbre 
fue derribada 
en una hora. 

Temerosos de los destellos 
de hielo que caían 
los muchachos volvieron 

para saquear el desastre 
y mostrar el poderío 
de sables de luz. 

The Big Icicle 
translated into English by Dorothy Lawrenson

The brick-built arch 
was ringing with voices 
of lads who were playing 

and chucking stones
at the big icicle: 
that great work of drips 

– a stalactite of ice 
if every drop stood 
for a hundred years –

was made to shake and ring
and knocked down
in an hour.

Frightened by falling
flashes of ice
the lads were soon back 

plundering the wreckage 
to make a wappenshaw 
of sabres of light.

One comment

  1. Superb! I am amzed how well this transforms into Spanish – the wonderful sounds of ‘al gran carambano’ – ‘que tiemble y timbre’ – ‘sables de luz’ !
    The Scots, of course, is very appealing: perhaps because I have seen other ‘lads . . . daffin / an chuckin stanes’ in much the same way. A vivid and authentic picture. The introduction of a ‘wappenschaw’ takes us by surprise, and emphasises the timelessness of this kind of incident.

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