things to come



But nothing will disturb the beauty of the Scottish Highlands...

Touched

I come on crooked-fingered trees,

on lichens and ferns upheld on decay,

each brittle branch in its green muff of moss.

Brown leaf-mould crumbles beneath me

down into gullies, where only the liverwort,

luminous and fleshy, holds on as I slither.



I startle at the sockets in a gleaming skull,

at a heron’s harsh cry, try not to let

bog suck and swallow me or root fell me

in the failing light. I clamber over, double



under, sprawling trunks. Brambles

snatch at my sleeves, my hair, in my hurry.

in the undergrowth deer crash. On their trail

I glimpse a hound bounding white, its ears

aglow. The chill air makes me dizzy,

twigs spiral overhead…



It’s a relief to see the car through the trees,

get the dog in the back, drop into the seat,

and with the radio and heating on,

drive back to concrete and glass,

hoping colleagues won’t notice.


Meg Bateman, from Transparencies

Na Fir-Chlis




The origin of the name is a bit obscure, but in gaelic the Northern Lights are known as Na Fir-Chlis. In Gaelic “Na” is the definite article, while “fir” is the plural of “fair”, meaning man, or one. “Chlis” means quick, lively, or nimble.
 
So Na Fir-Chlis  can be translated as “the nimble ones” or “the lively ones”, which is a suitable name for the Northern Lights. Legend has is that these “nimble ones” were inclined to violence, as in the proverb
 
When the mirrie dancers play, they are like to slay.
 
And this gives a clue as to the origin of the phrase “merry dancers”, as they are referred to by many people in Orkney today. It is, in fact, probably a mis-pronouncing of the word “mirrie” which means shimmering, a very suitable description of the Northern Lights.
 
Thus from Na Fir-Chlis, the nimble / lively ones, we have the sense of motion, of “dancers”, while the description as shimmering, or “merrie”, completes the name, properly The Mirrie Dancers.
 
That “mirrie” sounds very similar, especially in the Orcadian tongue, to the English “merry” leads to them being called The Merry Dancers, with connotations of happiness, but the name more properly describes their shimmering nature, and as legend has it, they are often far from happy, fighting in the sky and staining the morning moss blood-red!
 
 

Do Mo Mhàthair

Bha thus’ a’ sgoltadh sgadain
ann an Yarmouth fad air falbh
’s a’ ghrian shaillt sa mhadainn
ag èirigh às a’ chuan
’s an fhuil air oir do sgìne
’s an salainn ud cho garbh
’s gun thachd e thu o bhruidhinn
’s gu robh do bhilean searbh.

Bha mis’ an Obair-Eadhain
a’ deoghal cùrsan ùr,
mo Ghàidhlig ann an leabhar
’s mo Laideann aig an stiùir,
’nam shuidh’ an siud air cathair
’s mo chofaidh ri mo thaobh
is duilleagan a’ crathadh
siùil na sgoilearachd ’s mo thùir.

Tha cionta ga mo lèireadh
mar a dh’èirich ’s mar a thà.
Cha bu chaomh leam a bhith ’g èirigh
ann an doillearachd an là,
bhith a’ sgoltadh ’s a bhith reubadh
iasg na maidne air an tràigh
’s am muir borb ud a bhith beucadh
sìos mo mhiotagan gun tàmh.

Ged a nì mi sin ’nam bhàrdachd
’s e m’ fhuil fhìn a th’ air mo làimh,
’s gach aon sgadan thug an làn dhomh
a’ plosgartaich gun dèan mi dàn,
’s an àite cùbair tha mo chànan
cruaidh is teann orm a ghnàth
is an salann garbh air m’ fhàinne
a’ toirt beòthalachd don bhàs.

Iain Mac a' Ghobhainn, from Dreuchd An Fhigheadair, ed. by Crìsdean MhicGhilleBhàin


To My Mother


Herring you were cleaving
In Yarmouth, far from me,
That fierce salt sun leaving
The ocean, sharply turning
To blood on a knife’s edge
And that tang so strong
That it choked your speech
And your lips stung.

And I, up north, apart
Greedy for brave new words;
My Gaelic in its tidy charts,
My Latin a scatter of seabirds
That I map from my chair.
My coffee is strong and black:
The pages catch the sea air.
The sails take up their slack.

Guilt clouds my heart
To present and past worlds.
I would not like to start,
Like you, when the dawn unfurls;
To expertly cleave and tear
At each fish, without words,
With that savage sea roar
Drenching my skin with blood,

Though I do that in my way.
My hands too are bloody
As I grasp what the sea gifts me;
Silver fish slack-jawed with poetry.
I roll the watertight barrels away
Keeping only what is necessary.
Salt strips from frippery
As I lift life out from decay.

Iain Crichton Smith, from The Weaver's Task: a Gaelic Samplered. by Christopher Whyte, trans. by Tracey Herd

Eriskay - A Poem of Remote Lives



A Poem of Remote Lives

Poor Werner’s film of Eriskay
begins, again, inside my head:
a twenty-minute history
of moments less inhabited.
I let that grey world float away.

Facing America, it waits
for nothing in particular;
for you perhaps. I watch the streets
under my window darken, far
from Eriskay and its defeats.

All round me, tenements light up.
Glasgow is full of Christmas trees.
Once more, I fill a well-used cup
with tea, letting the liquid rise
up to the chipped ceramic lip.

Once more I sit, dragging a pen
over a white unyielding page.
At last a word comes out, and then
another. So much pointless rage
whispers my inner acumen.

The poem grows like crotal, scrip
by scrap on rocks of metaphor.
An hour and you will be asleep
I guess. Somewhere behind my door
yours lies, in wastes of numbered sheep.

Somewhere outside this room, your life
will carry on, after the ink
has dried; the poem come to grief
or saved itself. Again, I think
of Eriskay; that I would give

it to you for safekeeping but
can’t quite – my image of the place
I mean. I picture it, afloat
out there off Europe’s western face.
Perhaps we are not less remote.

Stewart Sanderson, as featured in The Island Review 


On Eriskay

Eighty years ago a camera pans
slowly across a Hebridean bay
imprisoning the place in its dark lens;
saving the moment for another day
to wonder at. Steeped in opacity
somewhere behind the lens a watchful man
steadies the shot. He rescues what he can.

Out of the world comes rock; comes water, still
in its incessant movement. People come
a little later, breaking from the whole
on wings of thought. The burden of a name
follows soon after, and is not quite the same
the world over. Into the film a voice
comes now, our best redemption and our vice.

The commentary drifts through crotal, rope;
from wool to waulking songs while Eriskay,
uncomprehending in its hopeless sleep,
its sleepless hopefulness, says nothing. Grey
and lonely, it replies to these R.P.
pronouncements on itself with rustling grass,
sheep cries, white breakers crashing as they pass.

Only occasionally will a wave
of muted speech be audible beneath
the island’s background sough. When from the grave
of withered mouths it falters into breath
for seconds at a time, I lay my wreath
of nearly understanding. Càit an robh
mo ghaol?* They had no word for yes or no.

Bha i air Èirisgeigh* – but let it go.

Stewart Sanderson, as featured in The Island Review 

*Càit an robh mo ghaol – Where was my love?
*Bha i air Èirisgeigh – She was on Eriskay.

Hearadh

Pelagic heresies of soil
accumulate between the rocks
like bones, out of the littoral,
under a wreath of kittiwakes.

Wild flowers, like forbidden thoughts
occurring to a rain-slick cleft,
refute this island's weather-wrought
resistance to a world of gifts.

Stewart Sanderson

Love-making in St Kilda

When a man makes love to a St Kildan woman,
her moans and sighs are like the cries of birds –
a cooing and screaming that seems scarcely human
but has been fashioned never to disturb
those who might mistake the sounds their passion makes
for flocks circling Village Bay at night.
Scanning skies for wings when morning breaks,
neighbours wake unaware that soaring flight
had taken place in Main Streets walls
as a man and woman coupled to break free
from an island's bonds and strictures, all
that conspired to tie them down. Gravity
was shed along with trousers, skirt and shawl
as they touched the heights the birds could reach
with their bodies' power and beauty, rise and fall,
arms charged to wings by the tumultuous air they breathed.

Donald S. Murray, pub. in The Dark Horse

Sounds

Sometimes here
it’s hard to tell
the sound of the wind
from the sound of the waves
or the sound of the waves
from the sound of the rain
or the sound of the wind
and the waves and the rain
from the sound of my breath.

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

Closing the Circle

I didn't see the breaker till the last second, my attention entirely focused on a dark wall of water rapidly steepening to my left. Angling the bow away from the cliffs and turning into the wave, only an instinctive glance behind registered the greater threat. As the first wave passed under the bow it collided immediately with the second, rebounding from the cliffs. White-water cascaded over my shoulders as the hull surfed, carving one way and then another. I let out a whoop, part relief and part sheer joy - Sumburgh Head, whose mist-shrouded cliffs rose in muted charcoal tones above the clapotis, was proving to be everything it had promised.
 
- writer and photographer Will Herman, the rest of the article and his photographs can be found here.

Am Bàrd


Murdo Macfarlane, the Melbost Bard (15 Feb 1901- 7 Nov 1982) Murchadh MacPhàrlain, Bàrd Mhealboist

The Highlands Swelling Blue

He who first met the Highlands swelling blue
Will love each peak that shows a kindred hue,
Hail in each crag a friend's familiar face,
And clasp the mountain in his mind's embrace.
Long have I roamed through lands which are not mine.
Adored the Alp and loved the Apennine,
Revered Parnassus and beheld the steep
Jove's Ida and Olympus crown the deep.
But t'was not all long ages' lore, nor all
Their nature held me in their thrilling thrall;
The infant rapture still survived the boy,
And Loch-na-gar with Ida look'd o'er Troy.
Mix'd Celtic memories with Phrygian mount,
And Highland linns with Castalie's clear fount.
Forgive me, Homer's universal shade,
Forgive me, Phoebus, that my fancy stray'd;
The north and nature taught me to adore
Your scenes sublime, from those beloved before.

George Gordon, Lord Byron

from Lochaber for Ever

In all thy moods I love thee,
    In sunshine and in storm;
Lochaber of the towering bens,
    Outlined in rugged form.
Here proud Ben Nevis, snowy crowned,
    Rests throned amidst the clouds;
There Lochy's deep and silvery wave,
    A royal city shrouds;
Whose waters witnessed the escape
Of coward Campbell's dastard shape,
        Disgrace eternal reap:
Whilst fair glen Nevis' rocks resound,
With "Pibroch Donald Dubh" renowned,
        From Inverlochy's keep.
Grey ruined walls, in latter years,
    That saw the great Montrose,
MacDonell's, Cameron's men led forth,
    To victory 'gainst their foes.
Oh! Lochaber, dear Lochaber,
    The rich red afterglow
Of fame that rests upon thy shield,
    Unbroken records show.
"O, Lochabair, mo Lochabair fhein gu bràth." ...

In all thy moods I love thee,
    But I think I love thee best,
When the moon is rising slowly
    Behind Beinn Chlinaig's crest;
To list the plaintive owlet calling,
    When the woods are very still,
The gentle plash of waters falling,
    Ringing, rhyming, down the hill;
So rich with flowers the river braes,
Whose honeyed perfume scents the ways,
        Sweet lingering on the air.
Wild purple bloom the heather shows,
O'er hanging rocks the rowan grows,
        Where scarce a foot may dare:
Enough it is among thy braes,
    To dream, to breath, to live;
With the soul's repose of trustfulness,
    Whate'er the future give;
Across the hazy distance,
    Thy children look and long,
For thy spell is found resistless,
    And their hearts beat true and strong.
"O, Lochabair, mo Lochabair fhein gu bràth."

("O, Lochaber, my own Lochaber for ever.")


Alice Clare Macdonell of Keppoch, Bardess to the Clan Donald Society