Auld Maunsie's Crö
Probably still the most famous poem in the Shetland dialect. Basil Anderson's vivid picture of a way of life, a place and its people, makes perceptive comment on life anywhere, at any time.
Read By John J Graham
Anderson belonged to Unst. A crö, in many areas of Shetland, is a
sheep-pen, but in Unst it is also a stone-walled enclosure for
growing cabbages (kale), safe from ravaging sheep and rabbits. Maunsie’s crö
became much more than an ordinary crö, as the poem describes.
Oot-ower apon a weel-kent hill,
Whase watters rise ta grinnd a mill,
Auld Maunsie biggit him a crö,
Ta growe him kale for mutton brö –
Fir Maunsie never tocht him hale,
Withoot sheeps’ shanks an cogs o kale.
Noo Maunsie’s wis as göd a tongue
As ever psalm o Dauvid sung.
It fittit weel a gödly mooth,
An said few wirds at wirna truth,
An never swöre by Göd or Deil
Excep’ whin kyunnens ate his kale.
Maunsie never muckle fashed wi schule,
Aye wrocht by random mair dan rule;
Bit, drew he plan or drew he no,
He set da steead an honest O;
An shön da neebors roond aa saw
Rise up a stanch sheep-hadden waa;
While, laek a man inspired wi hope,
He clappit on da hidmost cope,
An as he sew da seed and söt,
Wi touchts o kale he schowed da cöt.
Auld Maunsie’s crö wis fair ta see,
A tooer an laandmark ta da ee.
Whin Nickie soucht da fardest haaf
He pointed wi da huggy staff
‘Noo Erty, keep her ta da Nord,
Tak Maunsie’s crö on Byre o Scord.’
An whin a schooner took da soond
Lat eence her head be heilded roond
Deil oucht da skipper hed ta dö
Bit hadd her fir Auld Maunsie’s crö.
Mair noted far dan clock or schime
Auld Maunsie’s crö proclaimed da time:
Jöst as da sun raise ower da crö
Auld Lowrie o da Liogue raise tö.
Whin ower da crö da sun wis high
Oot staagin cam da Setter kye –
What hedna folk ta truck an dö
Afore he heilded aff da crö.
Fae Gaapaslap la Swartagerts
Da crö wis kent dat mony erts
Der wis nae ooer in aa da twall
Bit in some place some tongue wid yall
Ta langsome legs an elbucks tö,
‘Da sun is by Auld Maunsie’s crö!’
Whin Betty Bunt at bedd in Virse
Wis riskin reeds an gorsty-girse,
Auld Maunsie’s crö below da sun
Said ‘Hame an see da denner on!’
Noo, if her limmer o a lass.
Ne’er heedin hoo da time wid pass,
Sat purlin wi her lazy taes
Among da ess, afore da aze,
Shö’d stamp, wi sic an angry fit,
‘What! no a tautie washen yit?’
An swear sic oaths baith sma an grit
As weel micht mak a crö ta flit.
‘Hing on da kettle ida crook
Or, troth, A’ll flatten laek a fluke
Dy sweery carcage whaur du sits!
Göd fegs! Du’ll pit me by me wits!
Da Soarra scad dee in his brö –
Da sun is by Auld Maunsie’s crö.’
An whin at last da sun gaed doon
An, bricht an boanie, raise da mön,
Auld Elder Rasmie o da mill
Grew restless as shö neared da hill,
Gaed twar-tree casts aboot da flör,
Dan, solemn, soucht agen da door,
But never crossed his smuk da goit,
Jöst nose an nicht-kep gae a scoit,
Fir shöre as A'm a sinner tö
Da mön was heildin aff da crö.
So stappin inby i da neuk
He haarled oot da muckle Beuk,
Spread wide his naepkin ower his knees
Ta keep da holy brods frae grease,
Lickit his toom ta turn da laef,
Said, ‘Lord, da baess hae got dir shaef,
We look ta Dee, laek aalie sheep,
Ta gie wis schowins frae da Deep.’
Da schapter read, he booed him doon
An prayed at He wha rules abön,
His haund roond dem an dirs wid keep –
Fir He wid wauk tho dey sood sleep –
An gaird dir herts laek stocks o kale
Fae dat black kyunnen ca’d da Deil,
An staund a waa aroond dem tö
Far shörer dan Auld Maunsie’s crö.
Whin winter skies gae ne’er a flame
An lads wir linkin oot fae hame,
Or whin da mists lay ower da hill
Till raikin dogs wid even will,
Auld Maunsie’s crö, set on da heicht,
Wid tell da rodd ta left or richt,
An whin da snaw wis driftin deep
Da crö was soucht by cruggin sheep,
Whaur safe and snug dey’d buried lie
Till fanns wir scoomed, or drifts wir by.
Whin simmer took cauld winter’s place
An aa da hills wir run wi baess,
Here mares, an foals, an pellit röls
Wid come at nicht ta mak der böls,
An wheygs an calves wi ‘moo’ an ‘mö’
Wid bliss Auld Maunsie fir his crö.
At last, despite baith sheep and kale,
Maunsie an his crö began ta fail.
Time booed his rigg, an shöre his tap
An laid his crö in mony a slap;
Snug-shorded by his ain hert-stane
He lost his senses een by een,
Till lyin helpless laek a paet,
Nor kale, nor mutton he could aet;
So dee’d, as what we aa maun dö,
Hae we, or hae we no, a crö.
An strange ta tell, da nicht he dee’d,
His crö, in raubin ta da steead,
Laid stiff an stark his yearald röl,
Aa mangled in a blödy böl;
An sae da corbie, an da craw,
At flapt der wings ower Maunsie's waa,
Wi mony a ‘corp’ an ‘caw’ did say,
A sowl wis flit fae aert dat day.
Dan aff on roosty wings agen
Ta hock da ro an tear his een.
Bit years gaed by as aye der geen,
Da winter white, da simmer green,
Da voars aye sawn, da hairsts aye shorn,
Aye some een dead, aye some een born;
Auld Maunsie’s name an fame wir spent,
Bit still his crö-steead wis eart-kent.
Bit, less! its name trowe time wis lost:
Folk aye wir fey ta raise a ghost.
So efter bein named by aa:
‘Da crö o him at’s noo awa
(Lord rest his sowl!)’ – it cam ta geng
By da föl name o ‘Ferry-ring.’
An so wi age an moss grown grey
It waddered mony a heavy day,
But o da waas at eence wir seen,
Da mark an guide ta mony een,
Deil stane wis left bit een or twa
Upstaundin whaur hill-baess could claw.
An later folk hed mair ta dö
As mind Auld Maunsie or his crö.
*schowed da cöt: the seed was chewed before planting, to moisten it. Maunsie chews away, happily thinking of his future crop. [Soot is mentioned in the previous line because it was mixed in with the seed for sowing.]
*fey ta raise a ghost: it was believed that to mention a dead person’s name brought a risk that the spirit would return to haunt you. So instead of saying ‘Maunsie’s crö’, people referred to it in the roundabout way illustrated in the poem.