Corbandie & Magdalena

By way of reply to Raphael, here’s three pieces. First, my version of his untitled piece addressed to ‘magdalena’.

magdalena you may not know
how to work the washing machine
but you do know what’s what
I for instance mean something to you

and that makes about as much sense for you
as it makes me into some thing so
the fact of the matter is magdalena
if I may now think of myself as a thing

I can then say that there are things
you don’t know how to work
and I take that to mean that you also
wouldn’t know how to work me

all things being washing machines
but magdalena we are not we say
happily we other things we
are ready to help please help yourself

This was ridiculously difficult because it plays on the host of different meanings you can take from two ordinary words, Sache and [help me out here, Raphael, I can’t find my notes!], so basically I had to find a bunch of idiomatic near-synonyms that would cover the shades of meaning possible in German. I failed.

Next, for aural reference, is ‘Corbandie’ in Scots (he really got the music — the two languages occasionally sound so close):


See thi corbie oan thi wire
i thi bullyragglan wind
wi a braichum up o feathirs roond’iz heid:

syne he pints intil thi blast
lyk a collie oan thi brae
at thi cloods that split lyk sheep aboot’iz neb;

syne he stauchers, steps, and flauchters
till he dips his heid and grips:
ut’s as near’s he gets tae flehan oan thi spot.

But he wullna let ut gae
an be breeshilt by thi breeze
tho ut gees um coordy-licks wi aa uts micht,

till thi meenut that he wants tae,
syne thon burd wull spang thi left
lyk a fleck o ess that’s fleean up thi lum.

An sae ut’ll be wi you, ma luve,
an thi bairnie in yir wame
i thi hanlawhile that lichters you o hur;

fur therr’s naebody sall ken
o thi cause that maks hur cry
‘Here comes in corbandie’ – an be boarn.

(Corbandie — in argument, some great difficulty which opposes a plausible hypothesis.)

And finally, for sense, here’s the somewhat pallid English gloss I gave him to work from (the first time, incidentally, I’d ever translated my Scots stuff into English):


See the crow upon the wire
get roughed up by the wind
wrap untidy feathers round his head:

first he points into the blast
like a collie on the hill
at the clouds that split like sheep about his nose;

then he staggers, steps and flutters
till he dips his head and grips:
it’s as near as he gets to flying on the spot.

But he will not let it go
and be bustled by the breeze
though it gives him little smacks to make him fight

till the minute that he wants to,
then that bird leaps into heights
like a fleck of ash that’s flying from the fire.

And so it will be with you, my love,
and the child in your womb
in the hourless hour that lightens you of her;

since nobody can know
of the cause that makes her cry
‘There’s nothing I can do now but be born.’


About Bill Herbert

Poet and pseudo-scholar W.N. Herbert was born in Dundee in 1961, educated there and at Oxford, where he completed his DPhil thesis on Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid, and now lives and works in Newcastle. He is Professor of Poetry and Creative Writing at Newcastle University, and his books are published by, among others, northern publisher Bloodaxe Books. He is also the Dundee Makar, or city laureate.
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3 Responses to Corbandie & Magdalena

  1. kulturweider says:

    thank you so much, Bill! I think the other word you have in mind is “bedienen” which means “to use” but also “help yourself”.

  2. Sampurna Chattarji says:

    Would be great to have audio files of these two!

  3. Bill Herbert says:

    OK — I’ll record mine as an experiment in getting sound onto the site.

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