THE name of William Auld will be unfamiliar to those readers who were not educated in Alloa and who are not best acquainted with literature in Esperanto, the world’s foremost international invented language.

Yet the extraordinary Auld should be recognised by all Scots and lovers of language in general for his amazing literary efforts that saw him nominated three times for the Nobel Prize for Literature, which incidentally is the only Nobel Prize category never won by a Scot.

The reason why Auld is not better known to the public is that he wrote all his best work in Esperanto, the international language created by the Polish-Jewish ophthalmologist and linguist Ludwik Lejzer Zamenhof in the 1880s, and which is now used by individuals and communities across the world as a neutral means of communication.

Usually known as Bill, Auld was one of the world’s leading Esperanto scholars, as well as a prolific translator of literature into Esperanto, and a major author of verse and prose in the language. He was also the first writer in Esperanto to be nominated for the Nobel prize for Literature, and to date remains the only writer in the language to be so honoured – the winners in the years he was nominate were Gunter Grass (1999), Elfriede Jelinek (2004) and Orhan Pamuk (2006), so he was clearly competing in the very highest literary league.

Born in Erith in Kent on November 6, 1924, Auld’s Scottish parents soon came north to live in Glasgow. A myth grew up that Auld was a product of the Gorbals, but in truth his family lived in a more prosperous part of the south side of Glasgow. He won a scholarship to Allan Glen’s School where he was recognised at an early age as highly intelligent, a league above his classmates, but he took up various sports such as boxing “to prove I was not an intellectual sissy,” as he said many years later. The school has a website which includes names and details of distinguished former pupils – perhaps they could add William Auld to that list, given his Nobel nominations. BA Robertson and George Wyllie are deservedly on that esteemed list so why not Bill Auld?

Esperanto became his passion while he was a young teenager. Auld had a grandmother who was a native speaker of Gaelic and it was perhaps her inspiration that led him in 1937 to a Glasgow library where he discovered a book on the language of Esperanto. Intrigued by the possibility of a common language, he told his scout master who encouraged the young Auld to learn more by giving him a textbook in Esperanto.

He later explained: “I liked the egalitarian nature of the language, the brotherhood-of-man aspect.

“It wasn’t so much Esperanto as internationalism which attracted me. I am, and always have been, a believer in the brotherhood of man and other such outmoded concepts.”

Auld promptly learned as much as he could and persuaded his friend John Francis to take it up as well so that the two friends were soon conversing in Esperanto.

How the world could have done with a common language in the late 1930s, but both Hitler and Stalin outlawed Esperanto and indeed some speakers in both of these countries were put to death for their belief in the language.

Auld volunteered for service in the RAF early in the Second World War and he was soon flying Spitfires over North Africa and elsewhere in the Mediterranean theatre on reconnaissance missions which, due to the solo nature and high altitude of the flights, were considered highly dangerous. In between his various “ops”, Auld tried to teach his colleagues Esperanto and made his first efforts at writing poetry in the language, though he was later critical of these youthful works.

He returned to Glasgow University after the war and in 1947 his first published work, a translation which appeared in 1947 in Esperanto en Skotlando, the Scottish Esperanto periodical which was founded that year. Auld would go one to become its editor for six years from 1949.

After graduating, Auld became an English teacher, and in 1952 he published his first book along with three other poets, hence the name Kvaropo, which translates as quartet or foursome. This first publication of his poetry in Esperanto was called Spiro de l’pasio (Breath of Passion).

One of the four was Auld’s old friend, John Francis, with John Dinwoodie (1904-80) and Reto Rossetti (1909-94) making up the four. They exerted significant influence on the evolution of Esperanto literature across the world, notably on the work of Baldur Ragnarsson of Iceland; South African Edwin de Kock, England’s Victor Sadler, and later,

Dutch-Scotsman Albert Goodheir who has been called the “fifth member” of the quartet. The four would later become known to Esperanto followers as the Scottish school, and it is worth noting that the book sold out its first print run of 2000 copies, an achievement many a poet would envy.

In 1956, Auld wrote the book that would gain him recognition in the world of Esperanto. Inspired by Ezra Pound and others, he wrote an epic poem of 25 cantos. His most famous work by far, and the one which most probably got him nominated for the Nobel prize, its name is La Infana Raso – The Infant Race. It has never been out of print since.

One of its best-known passages is a literary call to arms. In Esperanto it reads:

Saluton, antauuloj, jam pasis via horo ...
Kuragon, homofratog de ciu hautkoloro
la tempmirago, kiu dialgis nin damninde
nin fine rekunigoa!
Kag dume, palpe, blinde,
ni venas, iras, eroj en ceno kies finon,
ne formas ni nek vidos, Kuragon kaj obstinon!

Which translates into English as:

My forebears, ciao! the hour
passed for you ...
Courage, my brother men of every hue,
the time-mirage that scattered us unkindly
will reunite us!
Meanwhile, feebly blindly,
We come and go, links in a chain whose end,
We’re not and shall not see, Take Heart, contend!

Auld had married his teenage sweetheart Meta by the time he moved to Alloa as a secondary schoolteacher in 1960. They settled in Dollar and stayed there for the rest of Auld’s life. Meta learned Esperanto and they spoke it daily, but his two children never embraced the language.

Now settled into teaching, the next 30 years saw Auld’s great period of work. From his pen poured essays, textbooks, and translations as well as his own poetry.

He ran literary periodicals, and one of his most famous works was a remarkable translation of JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings in 1995 which Auld himself considered to be his greatest achievement in his career.

It was after this epic work appeared that Auld was described as “the best translator of Esperanto in the world”. No one in the Esperanto community was arguing.

His own love of Scottish poetry shone through in his many translations of the works of Robert Burns. He also translated works by Shakespeare and Lewis Grassic Gibbon, and was not averse to translating popular works of fiction – Jack London was just one of the authors whose novels he translated.

Auld’s own poetry can be found in the eight volumes that he wrote between 1952 and 1992.

At the same time his growing prestige in the world of Esperanto saw him become renowned among the global community of speakers, which now numbers around two million.

He became editor of the house magazine of the Esperanto Association of Britain, La Brita Esperantisto, from 1973 to 2000. He also was elected vice-president of the Worldwide Esperanto Association, the principal organising body of the global Esperanto movement, and was also president of the Esperanto Academy, which oversees development of the Esperanto language, from 1979 to 1983.

He particularly enjoyed his work as president of the Esperanto wing of PEN, the organisation which promotes literary cooperation and freedom of expression.

The eight anthologies that he edited are generally reckoned to be the founding corps of Esperanto poetry, while his 1970s work with Margaret Hill saw him bring Scottish and British folk songs to a whole new Esperanto audience.

His 1972 textbook A First Course in Esperanto is still used as a foundation course for new speakers of the language.

Despite all of these achievements, Auld remained a modest and unassuming man, so much so that people in his home area of Dollar were unaware of the literary giant in their midst.

In the late 1990s, the local museum decided to hold an exhibition honouring the writers and artists who lived locally. It had to be pointed out to them that they had omitted Bill Auld – an omission that, to their credit, was swiftly put right in 1999 when a small exhibition about Auld was put on display.

In a superb interview in the Guardian in that year of 1999 – the year, don’t forget, when he was first nominated for the Nobel Prize, to the amazement of the press and media who had never heard of him – Auld revealed his attitude to his lack of fame.

“I am a realist,” he told interviewer Gerard Seenan after being nominated. “If I was writing in English and I got ignored I would be pretty bloody offended. I am not a popular writer and I wouldn’t be in English, but my books are probably read by a great deal more people than the average British poet.

“It is wonderful, a great honour, to be on the short list. A friend told me, ‘this is not any old prize, this is the prize.’ I suppose he is right. But what difference will it make? Bugger all I should think.”

That was true – though Auld was a living legend to the two million people worldwide who have learned Esperanto, he remained unknown to the general public.

He never failed to promote and defend “artificial” Esperanto, saying in that same interview: “Of course it is artificial; it is derived from art. Esperanto is an art like Beethoven’s ninth symphony is an art. You can’t analyse Esperanto in the same way as you can’t analyse Beethoven’s ninth – all you can do is say very clever things about it.”

Although he lived quietly as a retired teacher, Auld could have made considerable profits from his works, but he preferred to plough his income from his Esperanto books back into the promotion and development of the language. Five years before he died, Bill Auld donated nearly 5000 books in and about Esperanto from his own personal collection to the National Library of Scotland. They are available to consult in the Special Materials Reading Room.

His donation overnight made the National Library one of the world’s major centres for Esperanto studies and speakers and authors in the language to travel from all over the world to consult the works which include books printed in countries as diverse as Japan, Albania and Vietnam.

Bill Auld died on September 11, 2006, at the age of 81. Most of us will never learn a word of Esperanto but that should not stop us from appreciating Bill Auld.