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Still Life?
Hit spaeks for itsel.
Maybe twaartree cuttit flooers
set ithin a vase afore dey dee,
or da oarmils o laem pigs
raised in a roug apo da brigstaens.
Laekly ower guid a naem
for yun depooperit aald body
‘da dialect’.

Shui never hed a richt strood o claise,
never a richt dyde o maet.
Bit shui traachled on,
vargit awa i da rig an da byre,
afore da rig an da byre
wis nae mair.

An noo,
laek da flail an da flaakie,
da Shaetlan spade, an shuin
da Shaetlan boat,
shui’s hed her day.
Eence things is hed dir time
you man lat dem gaeng.
Hit widna be kirsen ta lat her
hing on an hing on.

Dat’s mair or less whit Svabo -
him at med dir first dictionary -
sed aboot Faroese.
Ower corruptit ta be wirt savin,
he sed.
Micht as weel gaeng ower ta Danish
an be duin wi it.

Bit dey never antit him,
an dey kyuckered up dir bit o tongue;
fed up her rickle o banes;
gied her a strood ta be prood o;
caad her a language
an traetit her laek ene.

Bit we’r moaderate Shaetlan fock.
We’r wantin naethin ta dui
wi da cetocidal Faroese,
da dilatory Gaels,
or da inhospitable Welsh -
dem at pits dis Gaelic bruck on da TV,
an spaeks plen English aa da time
aless whin dae’r unken fock listenin.
We’r no wantin ta be
dialect fascists.

Laek Edwin Muir sed
(an he laekly man a kent)
dis dialects is laek "the babbling of children
to grown men and women",
A regression tae "the simplicity and irresponsibility
of the infant mind".
We man cast aff dis "dialect speech
and its associations of thought and feeling"
if we’r ever ta come ta onything
at da gret wise Orkney man
wid tink "adult."

As for dis dialect writin,
Better laive hit
tae da Edinburgh literati -
dem at laeks ta hae a aald tongue
wi a "less than respectable status"
at dey can turn tae ta express
"linguistic individualism, anarchism,
nomadism and hedonism"
afore gaein back tae dir ain language -

Laek da obsequious colonised native,
blyde o bits o brucks fae da mester’s table,
we accept da baands an lug-marks o dem
at’s cassen aff dir native spaek,
or never hed ene,
an mak dat da axioms
o wir philosophy.

Bit is dis somethin ta be writin
poietry aboot?
Sood I no be writin aboot
drug addicts,
Or some idder important
sociological issue?
Laekly dat.
Bit since you canna write articles
in ‘dialect’
I faa ta brack up whit I hae ta say
ta mak it leuk
laek vaerse.

Still life?
Yea, bit juist da very inhad,
afore da liver drink
rins his coorse.


Edwin Muir, Scot and Scotland, 1982 edition, p. 42.
James Robertson, introduction to A Tongue in yer Heid, p. xiv.

(First printed in The New Shetlander. 'Still Life' is the title of a collection of Shetland poems.)