Posted by: Dr. Breffni Lennon | June 10, 2012

“Hallaig” (1952) by Sorley MacLean


(English translation by Seamus Heaney) 

Time, the deer, is in Hallaig Wood

There’s a board nailed across the window
I looked through to see the west
And my love is a birch forever
By Hallaig Stream, at her tryst

Between Inver and Milk Hollow,
somewhere around Baile-chuirn,
A flickering birch, a hazel,
A trim, straight sapling rowan.

In Screapadal, where my people
Hail from, the seed and breed
Of Hector Mor and Norman
By the banks of the stream are a wood.

To-night the pine-cocks crowing
On Cnoc an Ra, there above,
And the trees standing tall in moonlight –
They are not the wood I love.

I will wait for the birches to move,
The wood to come up past the cairn
Until it has veiled the mountain
Down from Beinn na Lice in shade.

If it doesn’t, I’ll go to Hallaig,
To the sabbath of the dead,
Down to where each departed
Generation has gathered.

Hallaig is where they survive,
All the MacLeans and MacLeads
Who were there in the time of Mac Gille Chaluim:
The dead have been seen alive,

The men at their length on the grass
At the gable of every house,
The girls a wood of birch trees
Standing tall, with their heads bowed.

Between The Leac and Fearns
The road is plush with moss
And the girls in a noiseless procession
Going to Clachan as always

And coming back from Clachan
And Suisnish, their land of the living,
Still lightsome and unheartbroken,
Their stories only beginning.

From Fearns Burn to the raised beach
Showing clear in the shrouded hills
There are only girls congregating,
Endlessly walking along

Back through the gloaming to Hallaig
Through the vivid speechless air,
Pouring down the steep slopes,
Their laughter misting my ear

And their beauty a glaze on my heart.
Then as the kyles go dim
And the sun sets behind Dun Cana
Love’s loaded gun will take aim.

It will bring down the lightheaded deer
As he sniffs the grass round the wallsteads
And his eye will freeze: while I live,
His blood won’t be traced in the woods.

In the original Scottish Gaelic

‘Tha tìm, am fiadh, an Coille Hallaig.’

Tha bùird is tàirnean air an uinneig
trom faca mi an Aird an Iar
’s tha mo ghaol aig Allt Hallaig
’na craoibh bheithe, ’s bha i riamh

eadar an t-Inbhir ’s Poll a’ Bhainne,
thall ’s a-bhos mu Bhaile Chùirn:
tha i ’na beithe, ’na calltainn,
’na caorann dhìreach sheang ùir.

Ann an Sgreapadal mo chinnidh,
far robh Tarmad ’s Eachann Mòr,
tha ’n nigheanan ’s am mic ’nan coille
a’ gabhail suas ri taobh an lòin.

Uaibhreach a-nochd na coilich ghiuthais
a’ gairm air mullach Cnoc an Rà,
dìreach an druim ris a’ ghealaich –
chan iadsan coille mo ghràidh.

Fuirichidh mi ris a’ bheithe
gus an tig i mach an Càrn,
gus am bi am bearradh uile
o Bheinn na Lice fa sgàil.

Mura tig ’s ann theàrnas mi a Hallaig,
a dh’ionnsaigh sàbaid nam marbh,
far a bheil an sluagh a’ tathaich,
gach aon ghinealach a dh’fhalbh.

Tha iad fhathast ann a Hallaig,
Clann Ghill-Eain ’s Clann MhicLeòid,
na bh’ ann ri linn Mhic Ghille Chaluim:
chunnacas na mairbh beò –

Other translations of the great Scottish Gaelic visionary poem can be accessed here and here, and for more information on Sorley MacLean go here.


Timothy Neat also made a 63 minute documentary film in 1984 about the poetry of Sorley Maclean, and the landscapes that inspired him. Unfortunately it is only available on VHS at the moment.

Prof. Geoffrey Dutton has written a very interesting contextual assessment of the poem titled Sorley Maclean’s ‘Hallaig’: a note.


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