Document 449

A Small Book of Translations: 01 - Preface

Author(s): Alexander Hutchison

Copyright holder(s): Alexander Hutchison


A couple of surprises prompted this book. First, there were enough poems translated by me to go decently between two covers; and second, there was to some extent a counter-weight of my own poems, particularly versions in Italian. In fact there is a strong link between Scotland and Italy in the work – reinforced by my visits to the town of Arpino (the birthplace of Cicero), and involvement in the project "Il Libro di Pietra" (The Book of Stone), directed by Giuseppe Bonaviri.

A kind of chronology may be picked out in the order of the poems included here; but since it depends partly on historical content and partly on the dates of authors it is not strictly maintained. The carmina of Catullus in Scots (or most of them) were translated first, when I returned to Scotland from Canada in 1984. These were made in a north-east dialect, close to the language I used outside the house and school when I was growing up. At home and in school this was modified towards Standard English, and later the accents of academia and North America were added as an overlay.

The Scots in all the translations where it appears is intended as a spoken language. The orthography aims to give a guide to pronunciation without being too idiosyncratic. I have never seen the point of a standard orthography for Scots, since it would reduce variety in the main elements – musicality being one of these.

The use of Scots in rendering classical texts has a long tradition: Gavin Douglas's version of The XIII Bukes of Eneados being the earliest. From my own point of view I have relished the energy, flexibility and humour (especially with a vituperative edge) provided by the Scots vocabulary. In considering the poems of Pasolini's youth, the parallels between Doric and Friulian – their essentially rural origin – made the decision to use Scots a natural one. In tackling Catullus, Scots is particularly useful when the context is direct, levelling, emotive, and – though it's in a different register – it also serves as well as English in delivering ironic disdain.

Buckie, where I was born and grew up, lies long and narrow along the Moray Firth coast: the countryside at the broadest point of the town being only about a kilometre from the sea. Both the fishing and farming communities were generous to me in a number of ways, and their differing accents and idioms were readily assimilated during the process of growing up. Subsequently, sources as diverse as Dunbar and Henryson, Montgomerie, Urquhart, the varied deposits of folk tradition and balladry as well as nearer contemporaries, all contributed to thickening the broth. But the stock was basically Banffshire and Moray coast.

If the Italian connection began indirectly with Catullus, the first personal encounter was with Roberto Sanesi – translator of Eliot, Blake, Thomas, all of Paradise Lost – whom I met at Leuven in Belgium in 1985. Thereafter we corresponded, met once more, and swapped translations when he came to read at the Edinburgh Festival in 1988. This friendship has led to contacts with other writers and artists in Pavia, Milan, Rome, Trieste and Verona – not least coming together in tribute after his death to remember Sanesi's skillful elucidations.

One section of this book contains a series of re-creations or re-arrangements, taken one line at a time in a flick through generally well-known texts. What resulted was a refracted syntax, part accident part design. This method, based on a stratagem which Gael Turnbull has employed in several ways, produced work which didn't seem out of place in a book of translations.

Hamish Henderson always supported and egged me on: he once landed me in it – straight in the door, I could have done with a glass in my hand – to deliver "Amabo, dulcis Ipsitilla" to an afternoon crowd in Sandy Bell's Edinburgh bar. The first batch of Catullus poems was printed in Chapman 42 – an issue which by coincidence was a tribute to Hamish.

My high school Latin teacher, the late Thomas Laing, first encouraged me to try versions of the classics in Scots. He taught me Cicero too, of course; though I didn't warm to that passionate discourse and complicated sensitivity till much later, when I read the letters and had a chance to see where he lived – and where he learned to speak the way he did.

To friends and collaborators who contribute translations here, or gave assistance at any stage – particularly Giuseppe Bonaviri, Peter Brand, Mariarosaria Cardines, Alec Finlay, Laura Fiorentini, Daniela Fraioli, Peter France, Duncan Glen, Rody Gorman, Tom Hubbard, Tomaso Kemeny, Dante Marianacci, Luisa Matera, Peter McCarey, Richard Price, Tessa Ransford, Carla Sassi, Massimo Struffi and the Fondazione Umberto Mastroanni – special thanks.

This work is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

The SCOTS Project and the University of Glasgow do not necessarily endorse, support or recommend the views expressed in this document.


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APA Style:

A Small Book of Translations: 01 - Preface. 2024. In The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. Glasgow: University of Glasgow. Retrieved 17 June 2024, from

MLA Style:

"A Small Book of Translations: 01 - Preface." The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. Glasgow: University of Glasgow, 2024. Web. 17 June 2024.

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The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech, s.v., "A Small Book of Translations: 01 - Preface," accessed 17 June 2024,

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The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. 2024. Glasgow: University of Glasgow.


Information about Document 449

A Small Book of Translations: 01 - Preface


Text audience

General public
Audience size 1000+

Text details

Method of composition N/A
Year of composition 2004
Word count 796
General description Preface to collection of poems in translation

Text medium

Leaflet/brochure (prospectus)
Magazine (e-zine)

Text publication details

Part of larger text

Text setting

Other Literature in translation/poetry

Text type

Prose: nonfiction


Author details

Author id 420
Forenames Alexander
Surname Hutchison
Gender Male
Decade of birth 1940
Educational attainment University
Age left school 17
Occupation Writer / Senior Lecturer
Place of birth Buckie
Region of birth Banff
Birthplace CSD dialect area Bnf
Country of birth Scotland
Place of residence Glasgow
Region of residence Glasgow
Residence CSD dialect area Gsw
Country of residence Scotland
Father's occupation Medical Practitioner
Father's place of birth Spey Bay
Father's region of birth Moray
Father's birthplace CSD dialect area Mry
Father's country of birth Scotland
Mother's occupation School Meals Supervisor
Mother's place of birth Buckie
Mother's region of birth Banff
Mother's birthplace CSD dialect area Bnf
Mother's country of birth Scotland


Language Speak Read Write Understand Circumstances
English Yes Yes Yes Yes Generally/work/home etc.
French Yes Yes No Yes
Italian No Yes No No translation
Latin No Yes No No
Scots Yes Yes Yes Yes Socially/home/writing