At My Father's Funeral

The idea that the body as well as the soul was immortal was probably linked on to a very primitive belief regarding the dead, and one shared by many peoples, that they lived on in the grave. This conception was never forgotten, even in regions where the theory of a distant land of the dead was evolved, or where the body was consumed by fire before burial. It appears from such practices as binding the dead with cords, or laying heavy stones or a mound of earth on the grave, probably to prevent their egress, or feeding the dead with sacrificial food at the grave, or from the belief that the dead come forth not as spirits, but in the body from the grave.

J.A. MacCulloch, The Religion of the Ancient Celts

We wanted to seal his mouth
with a handful of clay,
to cover his eyes
with the ash of the last

bonfire he made
at the rainiest edge
of the garden

and didn’t we think, for a moment,
of crushing his feet
so he couldn’t return to the house
at Halloween,

to stand at the window,
smoking and peering in,
the look on his face

like that flaw in the sway of the world
where mastery fails
and a hinge in the mind
swings open – grief

or terror coming loose
and drifting, like a leaf,
into the flames.

John Burnside



Air iomall an talamh-àitich, eadar dhà sholas,
tha a’ churracag a’ ruith ʼs a’ stad, ʼs a’ ruith ʼs a’ stad,
is cobhar bàn a broillich, mar rionnag an fheasgair,
ga lorg ʼs ga chall aig mo shùilean,
is tùis an t-samhraidh
ga lorg ʼs ga chall aig mo chuinnlean,
is fras-mhullach tonn an t-sonais
ga lorg ʼs ga chall aig mo chuimhne.

Bàgh Phabail fodham, is baile Phabail air fàire,
sluaisreadh siorraidh a’ chuain, a lorg ʼs an eag nan sgeir,
is fo ghainmhich a’ gheodha,
gluasad bithbhuan a’ bhaile, am bàs ʼs an ùrtan,
an ùrnaigh ʼs an t-suirghe, is mile cridhe
ag at ʼs a’ seacadh, is ann an seo
tha a’ churracag a’ ruith ʼs a’ stad, ʼs a’ ruith ʼs a’ stad.

Ruaraidh MacThòmais, from Creachadh na Clàrsaich: cruinneachadh de bhardachd 1940-1980


On the edge of the arable land, between two lights, the
plover runs and stops, and runs and stops, the white foam of
its breast like the star of evening, discovered and lost in my
looking, and the fragrance of summer, discovered and lost by
my nostrils, and the topmost grains of the wave of content,
discovered and lost by my memory.

Bayble Bay below me, and the village on the
skyline, the eternal action of the ocean, its
seeking and searching between the pebble stones
and in the rock crannies, and under the sand
of the cove; the everlasting movement of the
village, death and christening, praying and courting,
and a thousand hearts swelling and sinking, and here,
the plover runs and stops, and runs and stops.

Derick Thomson, from Plundering the Harp: collected poems 1940-1980

The Eye

Across the bay, they’re building a house
with a glass wall, panes all the way up

into the gable, windows that wrap
around corners for a view as wide

as sea and sky, to take in Sumburgh Head,
Auriga, every passing vessel

and pod of orca, storm-force gales,
anvil clouds, the cliffs of Levenwick,

the waxing moon lighting a track
clear to Fair Isle. This huge eye,

lidless, unfillable, as hungry
for every last object it can rest on

as if it were mortal, knowing how soon
light goes by; how little time it has.

Sheenagh Pugh


North Uist

In the guest book, a hand that used a biro
like a seismograph’s shuddering pen –
At 92 this maybe my last, but it was magical.

At breakfast I meet an interesting man,
it’s his job to date the remains of crannogs,
he prides himself on his accuracy.

I tell him that I also work in dates and traces
but unlike him I try to show that we never
left the island, and were not marooned.

Richie McCaffery


Now let the anchor find some long-sought hold
     In deep dim waters off this purple shore –
Come you, and firmly fold
     Salt-crusted sails away, that never more
Shall scud on stormy seas:
     For here are the Hebrides.

Hamish Maclaren, from Sailor with Banjo: entertainment in rhyme and song

Lichen Circles

Alone in this bay near Port Mary
only the waves creeping in
and the squeal of a buzzard
high on a clifftop for company

even hotter than yesterday
less wind, sea less frantic

I lie here on this shingle beach
in the early evening sun
until the sea laps my ankles
and the sun’s shadows grow long

around me sea pinks on wizened rock
terns diving out by the reef

three hours I’ve lain here now
among the glistening wet pebbles
and the lime green lichen circles

sky blue all blue
and a heat haze
right along the coast of Mull

drifting with the haze taking it all in
becoming those lichen circles.

Norman Bissell, from Slate, Sea and Sky: a journey from Glasgow to the Isle of Luing

Autumn at Kincraig

Yellow birch leaves fall like flakes
on rooted rutted forest tracks
rain splatters
on plastic hoods among the woods.

Tawny oaks and bronzy bracken
beech leaves thickly dark and molten
as we walk
in single rank along the bank.

The living river far below
a dark brownish steady flow
then shower of sun
gently catches golden larches.

Tessa Ransford, from Not Just Moonshine: new and selected poems