Angle of Vision

But, John, have you seen the world, said he,
Trains and tramcars and sixty-seaters,
Cities in lands across the sea --
Giotto's tower and the dome of St. Peter's?

No, but I've seen the arc of the earth,
From the Birsay shore, like the edge of a planet,
And the lifeboat plunge through the Pentland Firth
To a cosmic tide with the men that man it.

Robert Rendall, from An Island Shore: Collected Writings of Robert Rendall (ed by Neil Dickson)

Ida and Meg

(i)
Miss Woodham and Miss Peckham
known inevitably by the gossiping classes
– aka the inquisitive and mostly kind
citizens of Stromness, Houton, Orphir –
as The Woodpeckers
in Muckle House (not so big)
were the sole inhabitants of Cava
without company or electricity for near-on thirty years.

They were not a couple
(all who knew them insist
as, scandalised, did they).
That is not the issue.
That does not seal the deal,
whatever they signed up to
1st April 1959 in Clevedon
when they packed everything that mattered
(it was very little)
(it was essential)
in a tea chest on an axle with two pram wheels,
(Ida’s work, the maker and fixer)
topped by Fanny the cat in a box with a window,
Meg’s peddler’s licence in her purse,
attached the rope harness,
looked at each other –
and if you want to get a handle
on a door into your life,
you could start by reaching for
whatever passed between them
– a promise, a joke, a shared
sense of how things shall be –
that morning in 1959
when Meg fitted the harness across Ida’s shoulders
and they took a deep breath, stepped North.

* * *

There must have been
the island they carried in their heads,
and the island they themselves invented
every unswerving step away from Clevedon.
In the Borders the pram wheel broke.
They left the bogie with a farmer’s boy,
put the tea chest on a train,
picked up the cat and walked on.

* * *

How they chose to live
and what they inhabited,
their daily living by each other
with nowhere to hide,
each other’s staff,
makes marriage seem faint-hearted.
The sheer bloody work of it!
After the first 400 bags of sheep-shit, bottles,
floats and bruck carried from the House,
Meg stopped counting.

Without electricity,
peat for heat, a harmonium, books and radio,
a flower garden in one ruin, veg in another,
their lives together so long in such proximity:
a conundrum
a bare island
only vision and work make habitable.

Peat dug from the Calf, Meg rowed,
Ida bagged and worked the pulleys.
There was a well of sorts,
for water always seeps in Orkney
between sandstone layers; buckets lowered, yoked,
staggered to the house, till Ida rigged
a hosepipe, pump and storage tank.

Standing in the debris of their lives
among buckets, a rusted Singer, curtain rags,
whatever kept them bound together
(Meg slept in the Muckle House,
Ida in the Wendy by the shore)
is more intriguing than desire
to one in his life’s October.
It could be each had sunk
a shaft down through their days
of necessary work, bird-silence, sea,
and reached the water table, life itself,
and there lived as they wished
in concurrence
subterranean.

Andrew Greig, from Found At Sea

Croftwork

The twin died overnight
despite all efforts, feeding colostrum
at the cost of near impalement
on his mother's horns,
her patience none the less astonishing.
The other's in the shed, hand cossetted.

Next morning, when I hear his throaty cry,
a cow runs frantic
towards where his mother stands indifferent,
or wise to the reality.

I open the half door and step in.
He's left his hay and carpet bed and sprawls
helpless on the dry cement,
convulsing, froth around his lips.

Unlock the locker.
Draw out the gun: select
a double zero cartridge from the belt.

Another calf cry as his body twists,
legs spasmodic.

Choose the top barrel:
slide the safety catch and place
the muzzle in between his eyes
just touching calf-soft hair.
Select the second trigger.
Squeeze.

The force flings half his body through an arc:
the young pink blood flows smooth
and silent, and coagulates.

Good gun the merciful.

If such a day should come to me,
give me a soldier's kind deliverance.
Come close: aim straight:
and wash away my thoughts before they dry.

John Purser, from The Dark Horse 20

A Conjoining of Ancient Song



Gospel Truth - Hebrides Invented Church Spirituals
By Paul Kelbie, Scotland Correspondent The Independent

A study into the roots of gospel music by an American professor has lead the accomplished musician, who has played with Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie, to conclude that the "good news" music sung in black American churches originated from Scotland, not Africa.
 
Professor Willie Ruff, of Yale University, said the roots of the music derived from evangelical spirituals and blues and jazz, had more to do with the crofters of the Outer Hebrides than slaves on US plantations.
 
For years the accepted wisdom has been that gospel music was born during the period of slavery in the Deep South. But Professor Ruff conceded that his findings have startled a number of elders in black churches.
 
"They have always assumed that this form of worship came from Africa," Professor Ruff, an Afro-American professor of music, said. "Black Americans have lived under a misconception. Our cultural roots are more Afro-Gaelic than Afro-American. Just look at the Harlem telephone book, it's more like Edinburgh or the book for the North Uists.
 
"There is a notion that when African slaves arrived in America they came down the gangplanks of slave ships singing gospel music - that's just not true. What I'm talking about here pre-dates all other congregational singing by blacks in America."
 
Traditional psalm singing, or "precenting the line" as it is correctly known, in which the psalms are called out and the congregation sings a response, was the earliest form of congregational singing adopted by Africans in America. Even today, psalm singing and gospel music are the backbone of black churchgoers in the US, with CD sales alone worth half a billion dollars last year.
 
But Professor Ruff, 71, a Baptist from Alabama, said: "I, like everyone else, assumed it was unique to black congregations in the United States, having grown out of slavery, but I began to wonder if it was performed by white congregations in the same way," he said.
 
He began researching at the Sterling library at Yale, one of the world's greatest collections of books and papers, where he found records of how Highlanders settled in North Carolina in the 1700s.
 
"Scottish emigrants from the Highlands, and the Gaelic speaking Hebrides especially, arrived in parts of North Carolina in huge numbers and for many years during the slavery period black Africans, owned by Scottish emigrants, spoke only the Gaelic language. I found, in a North Carolina newspaper dated about 1740, an advertisement offering a generous reward for the capture and return of a runaway African slave who is described as being easy to identify because he only speaks Gaelic. There is no doubt the great influx of Scots Presbyterians into the Carolinas introduced the African slaves to Christianity and their way of worship," he said.
 
But it wasn't until Professor Ruff travelled to Scotland that he became convinced of the similarities after hearing psalm singing in Gaelic. "I was struck by the similarity, the pathos, the emotion, the cries of suffering and the deep, deep belief in a brighter, promising hereafter.
 
"It makes sense that as we got our names from the slave masters, we carried the slave owners blood, their religion and their customs, that we should have adopted and adapted their music. There are more descendants of Highland Scots living in America than there are in the Highlands - and a great many of them are black.
 
"I have been to Africa many times in search of my cultural identity, but it was in the Highlands that I found the cultural roots of black America."
 
Jamie Reid-Baxter, a history research fellow at Glasgow University and a psalm expert, said: "The Scottish slave-owners would definitely have brought that style of singing with them and the slaves would have heard it. Both these forms of music are a way of expressing religious ecstasy."
 
© 2003 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd
 
 
 

Let the Northern land shine

A poem for the inauguration of the University of the Highlands and Islands, 2011
 
 
I
The university looks like a chart of the stars,
thirteen constellations spangling the land
of colleges with their planets in room and hut,
scattered over islands, folded into glens.
Windows shine in the dark of the night
with the ghostly glow of computer screens,
a phosphorescent net with a catch of thought
holds the craggy land in its mesh,
from Lerwick in the north, Whalsay and Unst,
to Dunoon in the south and Campbeltown beyond,
from Elgin, Buckie and Keith in the east,
to Lewis and Uist, Benbecula and Barra.
Yet without approaching these wave-pounded coasts
with their cliffs and gloups, their skerries and stacks,
serene voices enter the debate
online in America, Germany, Japan.


II
It was said St Columba made the northern land shine,
with his understanding of Scripture, of tides and moon,
the illumination of manuscripts and singing of psalms
in monasteries perched in the desert of the ocean
and thrust beyond Drumalban, in Monymusk and Deer.

The Picts, carvers of bent rods and zigzags,
of discs and crescents, combs, and mirrors,
must have had schools to share their templates
of symbol s and beasts, to teach ogham
and to plan their intricate, whirling designs.

The learning of the Norse in Scotland has gone,
lost in language, overtaken by change,
yet they trained smiths to make jewellery and arms,
tailors, sail-makers, skalds and wrights.
Rognvaldr Kali Kolsson was educated well:
“There are nine skills known to me:
At tables I play ably,
Rarely do I run out of runes,
Reading, smith-craft, both come ready.
I can skim the ground on skis,
Wield a bow, do well in rowing,
To both arts I can bend my mind –
Poet's lay and harper's playing."
In the golden peace of the Lordship of the Isles
MacMhuirich poets kept a school in Uist,
Beaton doctors had a school in Mull
where Avicenna, Hippocrates and Galen were read,
and Morrison breves taught the law in Ness.
Experts came over drawn from Ireland:
Ó Brolcháin and Ó Cuinn came to Iona to twine
winding foliage round the high crosses,
Ó Seanog played on the harp in Kintyre,
Cú Chulainn himself came for martial training.
And who knows if the great stone circles
of Callanish and Orkney were lunar labs,
or how the geometry was worked out
of the carved stone balls at Skara Brae,
or in what groves the druids rehearsed their arts?


III
So much has been lost
of the learning of the past,
forgotten through spite and abjection,
but from fractured rocks
fresh flowers will blow,
and puffins fly from the fissures.
The land heaves a sigh
from the weight of the ice,
the population begins to recover
from the years the youth
would make for the south,
the place robbed of their hopeful spirit.


IV
We look out on hills and woods
while contemplating cause and effect
and the sea stretching silver around the globe,
just as those others, with quill in hand,
would pause and peer from corbelled hut
to delight in the sunlight, the arrival of ships.
Some died serene, some were murdered,
some grew lonely, lacking books and guidance,
their minds vast in the narrowness of their days.
Rev. Colin Campbell, minister of Ardchattan,
would write in Latin to Sir Isaac Newton
for a chance to discuss astronomy and maths,
and his struggle killed the mason Hugh Miller
who tried by himself over in Cromarty
to make Genesis agree with the fossils on the beach.

But now there are libraries, real and virtual,
the goodwill of the Parliament to own our own,
and the internet to open our conversations wide.

Though the tides brush out our ripples in the sand,
the northern land again will shine
with the aurora dancing above our thought.

Meg Bateman

Ghosts



Lau

Sgreapadal

Sgreapadal anns a’ mhadainn
ris a’ Chomraich ’s ris a’ ghrèin,
Sgreapadal a tha cho bòidheach,
a cheart cho bòidheach ri Hallaig.
Cha chuirear briathran air bòidhche,
cha dèanar dealbh no ceòl no dàn dhi.

Sgreapadal anns a’ Chèitean
nuair nach eil an fhraineach òg
ach mu leth-troigh a dh’àirde,
cha mhòr os cionn an fheòir.

Sgreapadal an crò ’s a’ bhuaile
le ballachan a deas ’s an iar ’s a tuath,
agus an ear an linne
a-null gu Comraich Ma Ruibhe.

Tha cuimhne leth- mharbh air Ma Ruibhe,
gun ach ainmean sgrìobhte marbh
air a’ chloinn ‘s na fir ‘s na mnathan
a chuir Rèanaidh às an fhearann
eadar ceann a tuath na Creige
’s an Caisteal a thogadh do MhacSuain
no do Mhac Ghille Chaluim
airson fòirneart agus dìon.

Uaine ruadh-dhreagach is buidhe
tulaich gu fàire a’ Chùirn Mhòir
san àird an iar os cionn na bruthaich
a’ teàrnadh gu lèanagan uaine,
’s a’ choille ghiuthais dorcha ’s uaine
tuath gus an ruig i ’n Caisteal
’s na creagan liath-ghlas air a chùl.

Agus mu dheas ceann creag Mheircil
ceudan troigh os cionn an fheòir,
tùir is cuilbh is stìopaill
le bannan breaca liath-ghlas
’nan gile clach-aoil ris a’ ghrèin.

Bruthach chas ’na càrnaich
an ear sìos o cheann na Creige
fo bheithe, caorann is feàrna;
’s an Eaglais Bhrèige sa mhuir-làn
nuair tha an reothairt ’na buille.

Cha b’ e a breugan-se bhrath an sluagh
ri linn an diadhaire mhòir,
Rèanaidh, a thog an tuath
o cheithir bailtean deug
ann an Eilean nam Fear Mòra,
Ratharsair Mhòr nan Leòdach.

Dh’fhag Rèanaidh Sgreapadal gun daoine,
gun taighean, gun chrodh ach caoraich,
ach dh’fhàg e Sgreapadal bòidheach;
ra linn cha b’ urrainn dha a chaochladh.

Thogadh ròn a cheann
agus cearban a sheòl,
ach an-diugh anns an linnidh
togaidh long-fo-thuinn a turraid
agus a druim dubh sliòm
a’ maoidheadh an nì a dhèanadh
smùr de choille, de lèanagan ’s de chreagan,
a dh’fhàgadh Sgreapadal gun bhòidhche
mar a dh’fhàgadh e gun daoine.

Taigh Mòr a’ Chlachain ’s na fiachan
a thug e air Mac Ghille Chaluim
trom air tuath gach baile;
agus Rèanaidh diadhaidh,
ged nach robh esan anns na fiachan
leis na chuir an fhearas-mhòr
sac air Seumas Mac Ghille Chaluim
agus fògairt air a mhac,
aig a’ mhiad is aigan loinn
a chuir iad an Taigh Mhòr.

Fuidheall beag dhe dhaoine
ann an Eilean nam Fear Mòra
is turraidean dubha san linnidh
eadar Sgreapadal ’s a’ Chomraich
a’ fanaid air leac Ma Ruibhe
’s air Uamha ’n Fhuamhaire ’n Rònaigh
agus a sreathan beaga chlach,
suidheachain fhear is bhan is cloinne
ag èisteachd ri Maighstir Ruairi
ag innse nack eil an seo baile mhaireas,
Rèanaidh ann no Rèanaidh às.

Tha ’n linne gorm ris a’ ghrèin
agus na speuran rùiste
is bannan geala Creag Mheircil
a’ deàrrsadh anns an àird a deas
os cionn na coille beithe ’s calltainn,
caorainn agus feàrna.
’S os cionn nam bruthaichean uaine
far a bheil an fhraineach òg
’s am feur òg ’nam brat-làir
a-null gu taobh na coille giuthais
a tha ruigheachd Caisteal Bhròchaill.

Gàireachdaich agus còineadh,
gaol is mire ’s fulangas,
fearg is fuath agus gamhlas,
treuntas, gealt is bristeadh-cridhe,
agus uairean de shonas caomh
air Sgreapadal fhàgail
mar a dh’fhàg iad Caisteal Bhròchaill
mun d’fhàg iad tuath Sgreapadail
’s na Feàrnaibh agus Hallaig
agus gach baile
dhe na ceithir deug tha fàs
air sgàth airgead Rèanaidh
agus airgead MhicCoinnich.

Tha tùir eile ain linnidh
a’ fanaid air an tùr a thuit
dhe mullach Creag a’ Chaisteil,
tùir as miosa na gach tùr
a thog ainneart air an t-saoghal:
pearasgopan ’s sliosan slìoma
dubha luingeas a’ bhàis
a mharbh mìltean Nagasaki,
bàs an teis mhòir ’s na toite,

am bàs a dhèanadh an lèirchreach
eadhon air a’ bhòidhche
a dh’fhàs ann an Sgreapadal
agus a tha ann fhathast
a dh’aindeoin gnìomh dona Rèanaidh,
a shannt is fhearas-mhòir.

Ach ’s e luingeas-fo-thuinn
agus an luingeas adhair
agus an dadman is an neodron!
Chan e bhochdainn mhall chràiteach
an tiodhlac ach an lèirsgrios obann
a thuiteas às an iarmailt
’s a dh’èireas às gach bruthaich
’s a leanas ris gach lèanaig àlainn
eadar ceann a tuath na Creige
agus a’ choille ghiuthais
eadar Sgreapadal ’s an Caisteal.

’S e ’n sannt ’s an fhearas-mhòr
a dh’fhàg Sgreapadal gun daoine
agus bann iarainn nan lagh
a chuir grèim-teanchrach air an t-sluagh,
a’ bagairt togail os an cionn
Cùirn Mhòra dhubha ’n acrais
is Creagan Meircil na gorta
air am fàs an fhraineach phuinnsein
on cinn an rocaid mharbhteach,
bom idrigin is neodroin.

Somhairle MacGill-Eain, from Caoir Gheal Leumraich


Screapadal

Screapadal in the morning
facing Applecross and the sun,
Screapadal that is so beautiful,
quite as beautiful as Hallaig.
No words can be put on beauty,
no picture, music or poem made for it.

Screapadal in May
when the young bracken is
but half a foot in height,
hardly above the grass.

Screapadal the sheep-pen and the cattle-fold
with walls to the south and west and north,
and to the east the sea-sound
over to the Sanctuary of Maol Rubha.

There is a half-dead memory of Maol Rubha
but only the dead written names
of the children, men and women
whom Rainy put off the land
between the north end of the Rock
and the Castle built for MacSwan
or for Mac Gille Chaluim
for violence and refuge.

Green, red-rocked and yellow
knolls to the horizon of the Carn Mor
in the west above the brae
coming down to green meadows,
and the pine wood dark and green
north right to the Castle
and the light-grey rocks beyond it.

And to the south the end of Creag Mheircil
hundreds of feet above the grass,
towers, columns and steeples
with speckled light-grey bands,
limestone whiteness in the sun.

A steep brae with scree-cairns
to the east down from the end of the Rock
under birch, rowan and alder,
and the Church of Falsehood in high water
when the spring tide is at its height.

It was not its lies that betrayed the people
in the time of the great pietist,
Rainy, who cleared
fourteen townships
in the Island of the Big Men,
Great Raasay of the MacLeods.

Rainy left Screapadal without people,
with no houses or cattle, only sheep,
but he left Screapadal beautiful;
in his time he could do nothing else.

A seal would lift its head
and a basking-shark its sail,
but today in the sea-sound
a submarine lifts its turret
and its black sleek back
threatening the thing that would make
dross of wood, of meadows and of rocks,
that would leave Screapadal without beauty
just as it was left without people.

The Big House of Clachan and the debts
that it brought on Mac Gille Chaluim
heavy on the tenantry of each township;
and godly Rainy,
though he was not in such debt
as the social climbing put
with its burden on James Mac Gille Chaluim
and brought exile on his son,
with the largeness and the beauty
that they added to the Big House.

A little remnant of its people
in the Island of the Big Men
and black turrets in the sound
between Screapadal and the Sanctuary
mocking the flagstone of Maol Rubha
and the Giant’s Cave in Rona
with its little rows of stones,
seats of men and women and children
listening to Maighstir Ruairi
telling that here is no abiding city,
Rainy or no Rainy.

The sound is blue in the sun
and the skies naked
and the white bands of Creag Mheircil
glittering to the south
above the wood of birch and hazel,
rowan and alder,
and above the green braes
where the young bracken
and the young grass are a carpet
over to the side of the pine wood
that reaches Brochel Castle.

Laughter and weeping,
love, merriment and suffering,
anger, hatred and spite,
heroism, cowardice and heartbreak,
and times of gentle happiness
have left Screapadal
just as they left Brochel Castle
before they left the crofters of Screapadal
and of Fearns and Hallaig
and of every township
of the fourteen desolate
for Rainy’s money
and Mackenzie’s.

There are other towers on the Sound
mocking the tower that fell
from the top of Castle Rock,
towers worse than every tower
that violence raised in the world:
the periscopes and sleek black sides
of the ships of the death
that killed the thousands of Nagasaki,
the death of the great heat and the smoke,

the death that would bring utter devastation
even on the beauty
that grew in Screapadal
and is still there
in spite of Rainy’s bad deed,
his greed and social pride.

But the submarines
and the aeroplanes
and the atom and neutron!
The slow sore poverty is not
their gift but the sudden holocaust
that will fall from the sky
and will rise from every brae
and will cling to every beautiful meadow
between the north end of the Rock
and the pine wood
between Screapadal and the Castle.

Greed and social pride
left Screapadal without people,
and the iron band of laws
that put a vice-like grip on the people,
threatening to raise above them
the black Carn-Mors of hunger
and the Meircil rocks of famine
on which grow the poisonous bracken
from which come the deadly rocket,
hydrogen and neutron bombs.

Sorley MacLean, from White Leaping Flame

Like

The fog that is like    but more rare
The wind that is like    but not so sharp
The sand that is like    but turns to mud
The hills that are like    but more peopled
The flowers that are like    but bloom earlier
The beach that is like    but more crowded
The summers that are like    but darken quickly
The air that is like    but not so sweet

Elizabeth Burns, from Painted, spoken

a poem about missing a landscape, and homesickness
the Scotsman's return from abroad

six days between heaven & hell



Midges are a nuisance, and ticks can be a real danger. - TGO
For those who live here as well as those planning to visit, please take care when outdoors....no matter what time of year but particularly now, whether in your own garden, city parks, or our beloved hills and glens. Please protect your pets as well. They are just as vulnerable to tick-borne diseases as we are.