r2vyln3rdioj14u-rld0ska where mountains meet the sea: October 2009

this frieze of mountains

Glaciers, grinding West, gouged out
these valleys, rasping the brown sandstone,
and left, on the hard rock below — the
ruffled foreland —
this frieze of mountains, filed
on the blue air — Stac Polly,
Cul Beag, Cul Mor, Suilven,
Canisp — a frieze and
a litany.

Who owns this landscape?
has owning anything to do with love?
For it and I have a love-affair, so nearly human
we even have quarrels. —
When I intrude too confidently
it rebuffs me with a wind like a hand
or puts in my way
a quaking bog or a loch
where no loch should be. Or I turn stonily
away, refusing to notice
the rouged rocks, the mascara
under a dripping ledge, even
the tossed, the stony limbs waiting.

I can't pretend
it gets sick for me in my absence,
though I get
sick for it. Yet I love it
with special gratitude, since
it sends me no letters, is never
jealous and, expecting nothing
from me, gets nothing but
cigarette packets and footprints.

Who owns this landscape? —
The millionaire who bought it or
the poacher staggering downhill in the early morning
with a deer on his back?

Who possesses this landscape? —
The man who bought it or
I who am possessed by it?

False questions, for
this landscape is
and intractable in any terms
that are human.
It is docile only to the weather
and its indefatigable lieutenants —
wind, water and frost.
The wind whets the high ridges
and stunts silver birches and alders.
Rain falling down meets
springs gushing up —
they gather and carry down to the Minch
tons of sour soil, making bald
the bony scalp of Cul Mor. And frost
thrusts his hand in cracks and, clenching his fist,
bursts open the sandstone plates,
the armour of Suilven:
he bleeds stones down chutes and screes,
smelling of gunpowder.

Or has it come to this,
that this dying landscape belongs
to the dead, the crofters and fighters
and fishermen whose larochs
sink into the bracken
by Loch Assynt and Loch Crocach? —
to men trampled under the hoofs of sheep
and driven by deer to
the ends of the earth — to men whose loyalty
was so great it accepted their own betrayal
by their own chiefs and whose descendants now
are kept in their place
by English businessmen and the indifference
of a remote and ignorant government....

Norman MacCaig, extract from A Man in Assynt


with thanks to Neil

Often have I seen them come together,

two old friends, two crofters,
who after a brief murmured greeting
will stand wordlessly together,
side by side, not facing each other,
and look out on the land whose
ways and memories unite them,
breathe in the air, and the scent of
tobacco and damp and lamb scour,
in the certain knowledge that talk
would hamper that expansive communion,
break in on their golden awareness
of all there is between them.

Meg Bateman

The Exile

He came in the mist of a cold winter's morning
Down from his horse and he knocked on the door
The eyes that looked out they were darkened by terror
He could see on his face the ill tidings he bore

It is not my will but the will of the master
Your thatch will be burned if you be not away
By sundown this evening with all your possessions
To find a new home ere the breaking of day

For these are my orders, the stones must be scattered
The white coated sheep now must rule in the Glen
No room now for pity for mothers or children
The lusting of gold is the target of men

But where can we go, those who've never known other
Than the Glens of our birth neath the high mountain snow
To cross the wild ocean would tear at our half boots
But fate has decreed it, it must be so

Across the wild sea we must go for our lives now
To build a new home on the far distant shore
But ever and ever the heartbeats are Highland
And to sigh for the Glens that will see us no more

But fate is not heartless and new hearts are kindly
A fragment of Scotland will ever remain
Though oceans divide us our children will span them
And stand in the thyme and the heather again

But fate is not heartless and new hearts are kindly
A fragment of Scotland will ever remain
Though oceans divide us our children will span them
And stand in the thyme and the heather again