Radio Scottish Democracy

You hear an old man scratching himself
Before he gets up at Kinlochmoidart.


You tune in to a woman in Lima, yawning.
You listen to what hasn't happened yet, the shout


That is still just an intake of breath;
Straining so hard, your imagination


Becomes a microphone for the future.
A new voice starts to come unjammed


Against a rout of white-noise, Floddens,
Cullodens, nostalgias that rhyme,


When kilties went roaring over the grass,
Fell on it, let it grow through them.


You pick up words moving - towards or away?
Reaction times quicken. Is that it? Listen -

Not to dour centuries of trudging,
Marching, and taking orders;

Today I have heard the feet of my country
Breaking into a run.


Robert Crawford, from Talkies (1992)

The Morning After

Scotland, 19th September 2014

Let none wake despondent: one way
or another we have talked plainly,
tested ourselves, weighed up the sum
of our knowing, ta’en tent o scholars,
checked the balance sheet of risk and
fearlessness, of wisdom and of folly.

Was it about the powers we gain or how
we use them? We aim for more equality;
and for tomorrow to be more peaceful
than today; for fairness, opportunity,
the common weal; a hand stretched out
in ready hospitality.

It’s those unseen things that bind us,
not flag or battle-weary turf or tartan.
There are dragons to slay whatever happens:
poverty, false pride, snobbery, sectarian
schisms still hovering. But there’s
nothing broken that’s not repairable.

We’re a citizenry of bonnie fighters,
a gathered folk; a culture that imparts,
inspires, demands a rare devotion,
no back-tracking; that each should work
and play our several parts to bring about
the best in Scotland, an open heart.

Christine De Luca

The Voyage

And if or when the people's surge subsides
to tourist trickles from this present spate,
do not relax or quietly desiccate,
do not raise dykes against their future tides:
push out your boats onto the rising seas
of all their desolations, hopes, needs, dreams,
flooding the city streets and housing schemes,
the hospitals, schools, farms and factories.
For in the end a Parliament is not
a building, but a voyage of intent,
a journey to whatever we might be.
This is our new departure, this is what
we opted for, solid and permanent,
yet tenuous with possibility.

James Robertson, from Voyage of Intent: Sonnets and Essays from the Scottish Parliament

Speaking of Scotland

What do you mean when you speak of Scotland?
The grey defeats that are dead and gone
behind the legends each generation
savours afresh, yet can’t live on?

Lowland farms with their broad acres
peopling crops? The colder earth
of the North East? Or Highland mountains
shouldering up their rocky dearth?

Inheritance of guilt that our country
has never stood where we feel she should?
A nagging threat of unfinished struggle
somehow forever lost in the blood?

Scotland’s a sense of change, an endless
becoming for which there was never a kind
of wholeness or ultimate category.
Scotland’s an attitude of mind.

Maurice Lindsay, from Collected poems 1940-1990

'Scotland small?'

Scotland small? Our multiform, our infinite Scotland small?
Only as a patch of hillside may be a cliché corner
To a fool who cries ‘Nothing but heather!’ where in September another
Sitting there and resting and gazing around
Sees not only the heather but blaeberries
With bright green leaves and leaves already turned scarlet,
Hiding ripe blue berries; and amongst the sage-green leaves
Of the bog-myrtle the golden flowers of the tormentil shining;
And on the small bare places, where the little Blackface sheep
Found grazing, milkworts blue as summer skies;
And down in neglected peat-hags, not worked
Within living memory, sphagnum moss in pastel shades
Of yellow, green, and pink; sundew and butterwort
Waiting with wide-open sticky leaves for their tiny winged prey;
And nodding harebells vying in their colour
With the blue butterflies that poise themselves delicately upon them;
And stunted rowans with harsh dry leaves of glorious colour.
‘Nothing but heather!’ ̶ How marvellously descriptive! And incomplete!

Hugh MacDiarmid, excerpt from 'Dìreadh I', from
Complete Poems, Vol. II

Scotland

It requires great love of it deeply to read
The configuration of a land,
Gradually grow conscious of fine shadings,
Of great meanings in slight symbols,
Hear at last the great voice that speaks softly,
See the swell and fall upon the flank
Of a statue carved out in a whole country’s marble,
Be like Spring, like a hand in a window
Moving New and Old things carefully to and fro,
Moving a fraction of flower here,
Placing an inch of air there,
And without breaking anything.
So I have gathered unto myself
All the loose ends of Scotland,
And by naming them and accepting them,
Loving them and identifying myself with them,
Attempt to express the whole.

Hugh MacDiarmid, from Complete Poems, ed.by Michael Grieve and W.R. Aitken

rising on the other side of sorrow



Who is this, who is this on a bad night,
who is this walking on the moorland?
The steps of a spirit by my side
and the soft steps of my love:

footsteps, footsteps on the mountains,
murmur of footsteps rising,
quiet footsteps, gentle footsteps,
stealthy mild restrained footsteps.

Who is this, who is this on a night of woe,
who is this walking on the summit?
The ghost of a bare naked brain
cold in the chill of vicissitude.

Who is this, who is this in the night of the spirit?
It is only the naked ghost of a heart,
a spectre going alone in thought,
a skeleton naked of flesh on the mountain.

Who is this, who is this in the night of the heart?
It is the thing that is not reached,
the ghost seen by the soul,
A Cuillin rising over the sea.

Who is this, who is this in the night of the soul,
following the veering of the fugitive light?
It is only, it is only the journeying one
seeking the Cuillin over the ocean.

Who is this, who is this in the night of mankind?
It is only the ghost of the spirit,
a soul alone going on mountains,
longing for the Cuillin that is rising.

Beyond the lochs of the blood of the children of men,
beyond the frailty of the plain and the labour of the mountain,
beyond poverty, consumption, fever, agony,
beyond hardship, wrong, tyranny, distress,
beyond misery, despair, hatred, treachery,
beyond guilt and defilement; watchful,
heroic, the Cuillin is seen
rising on the other side of sorrow.

Sorley MacLean, excerpt An Cuillithionn/The Cuillin, from An Cuilithionn 1939: The Cuillin 1939 and Unpublished Poems, ed. by Christopher Whyte

astride the razor's edge

Skyedance

peaks to the clouds that soar



If you are a delicate man,
And of wetting your skin are shy,
I'd have you know, before you go,
You had better not think of Skye!

Alexander Nicolson, excerpt The Isle of Skye: An Edinburgh Summer Song, from The Scottish Mountaineering Club Journal (page 107)

Ceann Loch Aoineart

Còmhlan bheanntan, stòiteachd bheanntan,
còrr-lios bheanntan fàsmhor,
cruinneachadh mhullaichean, thulaichean, shlèibhtean
tighinn sa bheucaich ghàbhaidh.

Èirigh ghleanntan, choireachan ùdlaidh,
laighe sa bhùirich chràcaich;
sìneadh chluaineagan, shuaineagan srùthlach,
brìodal san dùbhlachd àrsaidh.

Eachraidh bheanntan, marcachd mhullaichean,
deann-ruith shruthanach càthair,
sleamhnachd leacannan, seangachd chreachainnean,
srannraich leacanach àrd-bheann.

Onfhadh-chrios mhullaichean,
confhadh-shlios thulaichean,
monmhar luim thurraidean màrsail,
gorm-shliosan Mhosgaraidh,
stoirm-shliosan mosganach,
borb-bhiodan mhonaidhean àrda.

Somhairle MacGill-Eain, from Caoir Gheal Leumraich / White Leaping Flame: collected poems in Gaelic with English translations, ed. by Christopher Whyte and Emma Dymock


Kinloch Ainort

A company of mountains, an upthrust of mountains,
a great garth of growing mountains,
a concourse of summits, of knolls, of hills
coming on with a fearsome roaring.

A rising of glens, of gloomy corries,
a lying down in the antlered bellowing;
a stretching of green nooks, of brook mazes,
prattling in the age-old mid-winter.

A cavalry of mountains, horse-riding summits,
a streaming headlong haste of foam,
a slipperiness of smooth flat rocks, small-bellied bare summits,
flat-rock snoring of high mountains.

A surge-belt of hill-tops,
impetuous thigh of peaks,
the murmuring bareness of marching turrets,
green flanks of Mosgary,
crumbling storm-flanks,
barbarous pinnacles of high moorlands.

Sorley MacLean

Harris Tweed Hebrides



Luathadh - Waulking the Cloth

Meeting at the Mobile Library Van

In your muddy coat, you stroll up from your croft;
choose two biographies.

And I'm not sure you'll want
to look at poetry; am surprised

when the pirate behind your fiery eyes
lets me help you choose a Douglas Dunn
to add to your collection.

Quick as a dog you're down at the loch side,
showing me your veg patch,
hidden from storms inside peat stacked walls.

"Bloody deer have eaten all my greens."

You ask if I like beetroot, tug up
two huge globes covered in mud.
Each one must weigh at least a pound.

And I've been waiting for this windy day
to open windows wide,

chopping the beets with onions and Bramleys
adding sugar, spice, and vinegar
and slowly simmering them together.

And I'm thinking, six jars of chutney
are more than a fair exchange

for the poetry I chose for you to relish.

Pauline Prior-Pitt

Discontinuity

I could blame da wye da sea is smoothed
da stanes; da sylk o touch; da waelin, laevin;
an will da haert be dere whin I come back?

Or I could blame da saandiloo. He wis clear
whit wye ta geng: dis wye noo, nae luikin
owre your shooder. Tide dusna wait;

see da wye da swill o joy is drained.
Dance daday. Damoarn you slip
inta eternity.

Or I could blame da hush at fills you
til you’re lik ta burst wi aa da wirds
at could be said but you hadd back.

Hit’s whit happens whan you step
in time, but sense a fault-line vimmerin
trowe you: dis side or dat?

Only da sea can greet an sing at da sam time:
shade an licht: cobalt, ultramarine an dan
da lönabrak – a tize, a frush o whicht.


Christine De Luca, first published in The Dark Horse, 28

waelin: selecting
saandiloo: ringed plover
damoarn: tomorrow
hadd: hold
vimmerin: trembling
greet: cry
lönabrak: surge of sea breaking on shore
tize: temptation
frush: splutter
whicht: white

Sanday Island

Expansive skies
as of Dutch-masters
but these are faster:
shifting light tones.

Sea colours assault
both shores and eyes.
A lot of angry white
breaking from brilliance.

Dry dykes could never
hold that water out
so grazings and furrows are
backspaced a field-fathom.

But lichened slabs,
cemented just high enough
to make muted roofs,
stay-put on built frames.

Gales ruffle skins
of sand and walls:
of cattle and dwellings
and pass over all.

Ian Stephen, from Varying States of Grace