William Auld

Nobel prize-nominated Esperanto poet

Born: 6 November, 1924, in Erith, Kent.

Died: 11 September, 2006, near Dollar, aged 81.

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THE Scottish Esperanto poet and translator William Auld always said that Esperantists had yet to explore fully the richness and potential of their language.

Whatever the truth of this claim, few writers in the 119-year history of Esperanto could match Auld for his mastery of poetic and narrative style in a language which, as he told students, should be considered a major work of art. In fact, he argued, Esperanto was greater than the Mona Lisa or the nine symphonies of Beethoven because, unlike these, the language published by the Polish doctor Ludoviko Zamenhof in 1887 could itself be used to create other works of art.

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And, among the post-war generation of Esperanto writers, no-one was more adept at waking the sleeping beauty of the language than William Auld. For this reason he was nominated in 1999 - and in following years - for the Nobel Prize for Literature: the first Esperanto writer to be so honoured and, to date, the only one.

Auld attributed his interest in languages to his paternal grandmother, a native Gaelic speaker who subsequently learned English in domestic service in Glasgow. The young Auld was fascinated that someone could think in a tongue that was not English.

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Auld himself was born in Erith, Kent, and lived there until he was nine. Then the family returned to Scotland where Auld won a scholarship to study at Alan Glen's School, in Glasgow. He enjoyed reading, excelled at sport and was an enthusiastic boy scout. It was as a scout in 1936 that Auld encountered Esperanto.

The Second World War saw Flying Officer Auld undertake high-altitude reconnaissance, flying a Spitfire over North Africa, Palestine and Greece. Poetry was never far away, although Auld later dismissed his early Esperanto poems written before and during the war.

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Auld's first published work was a translation which appeared in 1947 in Esperanto en Skotlando, the Scottish Esperanto periodical founded in that year and which Auld later edited (1949-55). The periodical flourishes to this day.

There followed, over the ensuing decades, an extraordinary literary output, including poetry, translations, essays, textbooks, a verse drama and anthologies, to say nothing of editorships of Esperanto literary periodicals and, for over a quarter of a century, of the house magazine of the Esperanto Association of Britain, La Brita Esperantisto (1973-2000). During this period he was vice-president of the Worldwide Esperanto Association, the principal organising body of the global Esperanto movement (1977-80), and president of the Esperanto Academy, which oversees development of the Esperanto language (1979-83).

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It would be easy, given this activity and energy, to forget that Auld worked full-time. Having read English at Glasgow University, he qualified in 1956 as a teacher. In 1960, he was accepted for a post in a secondary school in Alloa, where he remained until retiring as depute rector. In 1963, he and his wife, Meta, whom he had known since school days, moved to Dollar, and remained living in the same house for the next 43 years.

Arguably, Auld's literary masterpiece is the lengthy modernist poem La Infana Raso (1956). The poem, which confirmed Auld as the pre-eminent Esperanto writer of the post-war years, was inspired in part by Ezra Pound's Cantos. La Infana Raso can be translated as "The Infant Race", although Meta Auld, his wife, preferred "This Mewling Race".

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Auld himself, however, said his principal accomplishment was the translation of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings (1995). The translation, which captures faultlessly the magic of Tolkien's style, represents the culmination of an Esperanto literary journey which began some six decades before.

Beyond Esperanto circles, Auld was little known. A former president of the Esperanto Association of Britain once met someone from Dollar and asked if the person realised that the greatest living Esperanto poet resided in the town. The person did not - which speaks volumes about Auld's modesty. He was also generous: in 2001 he donated his vast Esperanto collection to the National Library of Scotland.

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Within Esperanto circles, however, Auld was feted not only as a master of style, but also as an inspirational teacher - whether in a classroom or, more informally, over a drink. In a speech at St. Andrews University, Auld described Esperanto as "an exciting medium for creative thought and poetic art". It was this excitement that Auld conveyed through his writing, both original and translated, and, more widely, through his rich Esperanto life.

He leaves a wife, Meta, two children and four grandchildren.

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The author is editor of La Brita Esperantisto