William Ross (poet)

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William Ross (Scottish Gaelic: Uilleam Ros [ˈɯ.ʎam ˈros]; 1762–1790/91) was a Scottish writer of Romantic poetry in Scottish Gaelic from the Isle of Skye and a parish schoolmaster, who is often referred to as, "The Bard of Gairloch." More than two hundred years after his death, Ross remains a highly important and admired figure in Scottish Gaelic literature.[1] According to Derick S. Thomson, "Ros is justly regarded as the leading poet of love of the eighteenth century."[2] Despite being widely viewed, however, as a, "love-lorn romantic who died of unrequited love", Ross was also very capable of poking fun at himself.[3]

Life[edit]

Ross was born at Broadford (Scottish Gaelic: An t-Àth Leathann), Isle of Skye (Scottish Gaelic: An t-Eilean Sgitheanach, Eilean a' Cheò), as the son of a ceannaiche-siubhail, or travelling peddler.[4] His mother was the daughter of John Mackay, Gaelic poet and bagpiper to the Tacksman of Clan Mackenzie of Gairloch (Scottish Gaelic: Geàrrloch) and who, blind from the age of seven due to smallpox, is now known as "The Blind Piper" (Scottish Gaelic: Am Pìobaire Dall). Ross spent some time at Forres, (Scottish Gaelic: Farrais) Morayshire, where he gained an education at the local grammar school. Later the family moved to Gairloch in Wester Ross (Scottish Gaelic: Ros an Iar), which was his mother's birthplace.[1][5]

Travelling as a peddler with his father, Ross learned the many different dialects spoken throughout the western Scottish Highlands, which further helped develop his command of the Gaelic language. An accomplished musician, he also sang well and played several musical instruments. He was appointed as both schoolmaster and catechist for the Church of Scotland parish at Gairloch.[6]

Around 1780, William Ross met Mòr Ros (Lady Marion Ross), a member of the minor Scottish nobility, during a formal ball held at Stornoway (Scottish Gaelic: Steòrnabhagh), Isle of Lewis.[7] Their "short lived romance", according to Derick S. Thomson, "has become legendary and his finest love poetry (Feasgar Luain, Òran Cumhaidh, and Òran Eile) are concerned with her; their passionate subjectivity is quite unusual in Gaelic verse of the time."[8]

Tragically, Mòr Ros rejected the impoverished poet's advances and, in 1782, she instead married an English sailor from Liverpool named Captain Samuel Clough.[9] According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, "legend has it that Ross died of love, but if he did it was a lengthy process".[1]

Despite the poet's many versifications of his loss and heartbreak over the marriage of Mòr Ros, he was also capable of poking fun at his own sorrow, as he did in the self-flyting poem Oran eadar am Bàrd agus Cailleach-mhilleadh-nan-dàn ("Exchange of Verses between the Poet and the Hag-who-spoils-poems"). In that poem, we also, according to Derick Thomson, "see [Ross] deflating his own romantic, poetic conceptions about the ideal loved-one."[10]

In his 1783 poem Moladh Gheàrrloch ("In Praise of Gairloch"), William Ross describes the Highland winter sport of shinty (Scottish Gaelic: camanachd, iomain), which was traditionally played by the Gaels upon St. Andrew's Day, Christmas Day, New Year's Day, Handsel Monday, and Candlemas. The Bard's account of the annual match played upon New Year's Day at ebb tide upon the Big Sand (Scottish Gaelic: Gainmheach Mhòr) of Gairloch, is, according to Ronald Black, "as succinct a description as we have of the great festive shinty matches of the past."[11]

Ross' last song, Òran Eile, according to Derick Thomson, "is the finest distillation of the poet's love and despair, unsentimental, spare, with much realistic detail and with an underlying passion which shows in the imagery and word craft."[12]

William Ross died of tuberculosis at Gairloch in either 1790 or 1791.[1][5] According to legend, on the night of his death, Mrs. Samuel Clough's dress accidentally caught fire from a candle we was holding inside her house in Liverpool, which resulted in her death as well.[13]

Works[edit]

William Ross is said to have burned all his manuscripts, but his poems survived as oral poetry and were subsequently collected and written down from the dictation of those who had memorized them.[14]

Two volumes of Ross's Gaelic poems were published—Orain Ghae'lach (Inverness, 1830) and An dara clòbhualadh (Glasgow, 1834), edited by John Mackenzie.[5][15] His poetic range covered Scotch whisky, chasing girls, and an iconic lament over the death in exile of Prince Charles Edward Stuart in 1788. Other 18th-century Gaelic poets, including Alasdair mac Mhaighstir Alasdair of Lochaber and John MacCodrum of North Uist, were also major influences.[1][16]

More recently, William Ross' poetry was a major influence upon Sorley MacLean, who remains one of the most important figures in 20th century Scottish Gaelic literature.[17] MacLean considered William Ross' last song, Òran Eile,[18] "one of the very greatest poems ever made in any language", in the British Isles and comparable to the best of William Shakespeare's 154 sonnets.[19]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e Thomson, Derick S. "Ross, William". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/24136. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. ^ Derick S. Thomson (1987), Companion to Gaelic Scotland, page 253.
  3. ^ Derick S. Thomson (1993), Gaelic Poetry in the Eighteenth Century: A Bilingual Anthology, Association for Scottish Literary Studies, Aberdeen. Pages 161-167.
  4. ^ Ronald Black (2001), An Lasair: anthology of 18th century Scottish Gaelic verse, Birlinn Limited. Page 500.
  5. ^ a b c Lee, Sidney, ed. (1897). "Ross, William (1762-1790)" . Dictionary of National Biography. Vol. 49. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  6. ^ Derick S. Thomson (1987), Companion to Gaelic Scotland, page 252.
  7. ^ Derick S. Thomson (1993), Gaepic Poetry in the Eighteenth Century: A Bilingual Anthology, Association for Scottish Literary Studies, Aberdeen. Page 147.
  8. ^ Derick S. Thomson (1987), Companion to Gaelic Scotland, page 252.
  9. ^ Ronald Black (2001), An Lasair: anthology of 18th century Scottish Gaelic verse, Birlinn Limited. Page 500.
  10. ^ Derick S. Thomson (1993), Gaelic Poetry in the Eighteenth Century: A Bilingual Anthology, Association for Scottish Literary Studies, Aberdeen. Pages 161-167.
  11. ^ Ronald Black (2001), An Lasair: anthology of 18th century Scottish Gaelic verse, Birlinn Limited. Page 501.
  12. ^ Derick S. Thomson (1987), Companion to Gaelic Scotland, page 252.
  13. ^ Ronald Black (2001), An Lasair: anthology of 18th century Scottish Gaelic verse, Birlinn Limited. Pages 500-501.
  14. ^ Derick S. Thomson (1987), Companion to Gaelic Scotland, page 252.
  15. ^ Lee, Sidney, ed. (1893). "Mackenzie, John (1806-1848)" . Dictionary of National Biography. Vol. 35. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  16. ^ Derick S. Thomson (1987), Companion to Gaelic Scotland, page 252.
  17. ^ Krause, Corinna (2007). Eadar Dà Chànan: Self-Translation, the Bilingual Edition and Modern Scottish Gaelic Poetry (PDF) (Thesis). The University of Edinburgh School of Celtic and Scottish Studies. p. 67.
  18. ^ "18mh – Beachdan: Uilleam Ros". Làrach nam Bàrd (in Scottish Gaelic). BBC Alba. Retrieved 13 July 2019.
  19. ^ MacLean, Sorley (1985). "Old Songs and New Poetry" (PDF). In Gilles, William (ed.). Ris a' Bhruthaich: The Criticism and Prose Writings of Sorley MacLean. Stornoway: Acair. pp. 111, 114.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Attribution

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainLee, Sidney, ed. (1897). "Ross, William (1762-1790)". Dictionary of National Biography. Vol. 49. London: Smith, Elder & Co.