r2vyln3rdioj14u-rld0ska where mountains meet the sea: 2014

Hogmanay

Murdo gave the cock meal
damped with whisky. It stood
on tiptoe, crowed eight times
and fell flat on its beak.

Later, Murdo, after the fifth verse
of The Isle of Mull,
fell, glass in hand,
flat on his back - doing in six hours
what the cock had done
in two minutes.

I was there. And now I see
the cock crowing with Murdo's face
and Murdo's wings flapping
as down he went.
It was a long way home.

Norman MacCaig, from The Poems of Norman MacCaig, ed. by Ewen McCaig

The Year of the Whale

The old go, one by one, like guttered flames.
    This past winter
        Tammag the bee-man has taken his cold blank mask
             To the honeycomb under the hill,
  Corston who ploughed out the moor
        Unyoked and gone; and I ask,
    Is Heddle lame, that in youth could dance and saunter
       A way to the chastest bed?
The kirkyard is full of their names
              Chiselled in stone. Only myself and Yule
                  In the ale-house now, speak of the great whale year.

This one and that provoked the taurine waves
    With an arrogant pass,
        Or probing deep through the snow-burdened hill
           Resurrected his flock,
                Or passed from fiddles to ditch
        By way of the quart and the gill,
    All night lay tranced with corn, but stirred to face
                     The brutal stations of bread;
While those who tended their lives
        Like sacred lamps, chary of oil and wick,
            Died in the fury of one careless match.

Off Scabra Head the lookout sighted a school
    At the first light.
        A meagre year it was, limpets and crows
            And brief mottled grain.
               Everything that could float
        Circled the school. Ploughs
    Wounded those wallowing lumps of thunder and night.
                The women crouched and prayed.
Then whale by whale
        Blundering on the rock with its red stain
           Crammed our winter cupboards with oil and meat.


George Mackay Brown, from The Year of the Whale

Boxing Day in Nairn



visit Nairn here and here

Nollaig Chridheil agus Bliadhna Mhath Ùr dhuibh uile!



Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all!

Duan Nollaig (A Gaelic Christmas)

Yule in the Northern Isles

Processional at the Winter Solstice

He has gone down into darkness at the wrecked end of the year
And is lying, gaberlunzie, in the needled nest of frost.
The arctic thrushes call for him although he cannot hear,

And the worm too understands him in the chilled grip of its dark,
And the ptarmigan in blizzards where no thought is worth a crumb,
And treecreepers in shivering puffs in Wellingtonias’ bark.

Shop windows glint in city lights like ice and sky, but still
No tinsel gifts can touch him, freed to silence like a stone’s;
His face is white as paper’s white in miles-high midnight chill.

He lies as plain as frost-dust where those starving thrushes call,
And his lime and ray-struck armoury could hardly be less small
On the anvil of beginnings in the sun’s gate on the wall.

Gerry Cambridge, from Notes for Lighting a Fire

Setting Out

The gravestones still weigh the same.
No-one has altered the dates.

No-one asks why I've come back
again. To see not graves but

that wedge in the river-bank
where the green boat leaned. My years

at home had boulders on them.
The keel never touched water.

My years tugged at weight
no longer there. The ribs now

gave their atoms slowly back.
The boat is no longer boat.

Its ghosts set out at high tide.
Its wake is a coiling script

whose fluency the words trapped
on granite could well envy.

Robin Fulton Macpherson, from Grenzflug

protecting our wild places



Slate

There is no beginning. We saw Lewis
laid down, when there was not much but thunder
and volcanic fires; watched long seas plunder
faults; laughed as Staffa cooled. Drumlins blue as
bruises were grated off like nutmegs; bens,
and a great glen, gave a rough back we like
to think the ages must streak, surely strike,
seldom stroke, but raised and shaken, with tens
of thousands of rains, blizzards, sea-poundings
shouldered off into night and memory.
Memory of men! That was to come. Great
in their empty hunger these surroundings
threw walls to the sky, the sorry glory
of a rainbow. Their heels kicked flint, chalk, slate.

Edwin Morgan, from Sonnets from Scotland

Scalpay: Last of the Fishermen



"Far nach bi an-o'g cha bhi an sean - If there is no young, there will be no old"
David Morrison, Scalpay fisherman

"My name is Ruth and I was born and raised on the Island of Scalpay off Harris when the fishing industry was a large part of the Island life. My father is a fisherman which he has been from an early age. From my early memories I can remember many boats heading off early to get their daily catch, and my uncle's gang were out for many days at a time. Times have changed now, there are only a few boats going out with the same fishermen on board. The younger generation don’t choose this way of life anymore as it is hard and times are changing. Each year the amount of boats going out to sea is falling, which will soon leave only a handful and probably going only for pleasure rather than a way of a living."
 
words and translation by Ruth Morrison, daughter
film by Johan Hallberg-Campbell, nephew

Islay


Too messy for Nessie

There’s a terrible mess
On the shores of Loch Ness
Where the monster’s been chucking her bones.
There’s bonnets and sporrans
All tattered and torn
And a pile of chewed-up mobile phones.

There’s socks and there’s shoes
And bits of canoes
And they’ve turned a bit slimy and green.
There’s flippers and goggles
And venture scouts’ woggles
And the fins from a small submarine.

There’s camera gear
Piled up over years
Rusting away on the shores
And there once lived a man
On the shores in a van
Now all that is left are the doors.

Now you might think Nessie
Is terribly messy
With her rubbish and piles of old bones.
So stop trying to watch her
And stop trying to catch her
It’s her place, just leave her alone.

Donald Nelson, from The Thing that Mattered Most: Scottish poems for children (ed. by Julie Johnstone)

Highland Shooting Lodge

Crouched up beneath a crowd of Grampian hills,
this old house waits to hear the report of guns
crisping the Autumn air, for its rooms again
to warm to the jokes of August-trampling men
roughed by the grasp and snap of salmon gills,
the twisted necks of grouse. But nobody comes.

Only, at times, a shapeless horde of cloud
that shifts about the rocky peaks, creeps down
to lick at gutters soured with rotting leaves,
or rub a shapeless back against cold eaves,
then vanish, thin as breath; the drifting shroud
of everything that men once thought they owned.

Maurice Lindsay, from Collected poems 1940-1990

Munlochy

The valley shines
gold from sea to hill, tree to sky
in afternoon sun, good sun, though the evening chill
promises frost, morning mist.

Anne MacLeod, from Standing by Thistles

Lios Mhor

As strangers
we came to
the island of broch,
of Culdee haven, of
Norseman’s
lonely castle,
of the high
churchman’s
palace. But,
green isle in
Gaelic deep,
your
limestone
teeth were
pushed from
sea to air by
the same
force that
split the
earth from
Shetland

This the line my
heart defaults to you
along, links Scotland,
Norway north to
Ireland west, to
Sodoroy beyond –
and here we bring our
children home –
where Somerled hid,
half-breed of Gael
and Norsemen, here
too I hid among the
undergrowth of
youth with deer, and
my imagination
mountain-real

Green isle, the
time-tides swell
around you;
Glensanda’s hills are
scarred by weeping
quarry-sores while
you yourself smooth
out, eye of the great
ravine, that Nevis to
Cruachan, Morven to
Jura, welcomed any
sea-bound stranger
landing in a coracle,
hopefully, down at
your gentle shores

The hand of the saint
which is missing a
finger points to the
heavens above, and
then to the earth at
his feet – these
strangers bring
mysteries, they build
up enclosures against
ghostly Fianna who’d
strike off the
newcomer’s cross-
bearing arm.

The weaver loops
from age to age, a
picture-memory
looms the threads of
one into the other.
Flight is possible here
without a plane, until
the Phantom swoops
the glen, buzzing
and the white-tailed
eagle lifts from the
kirk roof, shrieking,
‘ Here thunder
moves!’ The silence
returns

All that the
noises were,
is gone. The
stranger
children go
back on the
ferry, away
from the
crofthouse
sinking
slowly in an
unfarmed
bogland.
Wet green
isle, see how
the stillness
goes with us
now,
rippling
outwards till
among the
echoes, it
finds a
narrow
mountain
pass, or tidal
seaward
channel to
the world


Robert Alan Jamieson, from Dream State, (ed. by Donny O’Rourke)

On Jura

He stopped to step around something he could not miss,
the ruffled disc of colour, an orange pool,
red soil and water, bleeding through the path,
the torniquet around the island’s fragile neck
from lost Tarbert to the sea.

A pale sun warmed his stare
over glassy water, silver and grey,
and an arc of black rocks, as if fire had razed the bay.
And he loved her now as he had back then,
before what they found had been mislaid.

He struggled, shredded, over wild rocks
and sharp inlets to the closed bothy door.
Two women, home for a week, warned him away
out into the wild of the west, disconsolate.
A frigid night, a stone sky and a granite floor.

Cold beans, hard breath and a crimson morning land,
the strait ahead, as flat and sharp as a peeled tin lid
rolled back, a fume of salt and loss
and the distance to Islay
wide as the breadth between stone stars.

In the wind at Ardlussa, the car shook in the storm
and coins broke in the red telephone box.
A soft murmuring radio,
and in the morning, the chime of frost,
A rusty island, the exhaust and the cost.

Wild goats, stinking and pie-eyed, snuffled at the tyres
near the standing stone, the frozen pillar of sky.
And the red grass, the red bleeding hills
bled on the redhead island in the copper sea.
And the head in the hood was cold, damp, and free.

Philip Miller

Scotland the World Over



Hame

(St Andrew's Day under the Southern Cross)

GOD bless our land, our Scotland,
    Grey glen an' misty brae,
The blue heights o' the Coolins,
    The green haughs yont the Spey,
The weary wastes on Solway,
    Snell winds blaw owre them a' —
But aye it's Hame, lad,
Yours an' mine, lad,
    Shielin' or ha'.
       
        It's Hame, it's Hame for ever,
            Let good or ill betide!
        The croon o' some dear river,
            The blink o' ae braeside.

God bless our land; it's yonder –
    Far in the cold North Sea:
But 'neath the old Saint's glamour
    It's calling you an' me:
Your feet tread Libyan deserts,
    Mine press the wattle's bloom,
But to-night we stand together
    Among the broom.
       
        It's Hame, it's Hame for ever,
            Let shore or sea divide!
        The croon o' some dear river,
            The blink o' ae braeside.

God bless our land. We dream o't —
    The days aye brakin' fine
On the lang, lane glints o' heather
    In the glens we kent langsyne.

Ay, we are Reubens, rovers,
    'Neath mony an alien star,
But flaunt the blue flag o'er us,
    Pipe up the " Braes o' Mar,"
And steppe and nullah vanish,
    And pomp and pelf and fame —
It's gloamin' — on a lown hillside,
An' lads, . . . We're . . . Hame.

Mary Symon

Happy St Andrew's Day

Patriot

My only country
is six feet high
and whether I love it or not
I’ll die
for its independence.

Norman MacCaig

A Recipe for Whisky

Wring the Scottish rain clouds dry;
Take sleet, the driving snow, the hail;
Winter twilight; the summer's sun slowed down
to pearl-sheen dusk on hillsides, city-roofs,
on lochs at midnight.
And, most of all, take the years that have already run
to dust, the dust we spill behind us…

All this, distill. And cask. And wait.
The senselessness of human things resolves
to who we are – our present fate.
Let's taste, let's savour and enjoy.
Let's share once more.
Another glass for absent friends. Pour
until the bottle's done.

Here's life! Here's courage to go on!

Ron Butlin, from Without a Backward Glance: New and Selected Poems

Landscape and I

Landscape and I get on together well.
Though I'm the talkative one, still he can tell
His symptoms of being to me, the way a shell
Murmurs of oceans.

Loch Rannoch lapses dimpling in the sun.
Its hieroglyphs of light fade one by one
But re-create themselves, their message done,
For ever and ever.

That sprinkling lark jerked upward in the blue
Will daze to nowhere but leave himself in true
Translation - hear his song cascading through
His disappearance.

The hawk knows all about it, shaking there
An empty glove on steep chutes of the air
Till his yellow foot cramps on a squeal, to tear
Smooth fur, smooth feather.

This means, of course, Schiehallion in my mind
Is more than mountain. In it he leaves behind
A meaning, an idea, like a hind
Couched in a corrie.

So then I'll woo the mountain till I know
The meaning of the meaning, no less. Oh
There's a Schiehallion anywhere you go.
The thing is, climb it.

Norman MacCaig

Stone

I

A long peninsula of solid rock,
upholstered every year in threadbare green.
Stones everywhere, ambiguous and burgeoning.
In Sanna ramparts of them
march around our crofts
but whether to keep cattle out or other stones
no man can say.
And at Kilchoan there were three houses
cropped from one field.
That was when I was a boy.
The masons left the pebbles
and there’s a castle now, waiting to be harvested.
God was short of earth when He made Ardnamurchan.

Alasdair Maclean, from From the Wilderness: poems

Wild West


Return to Scalpay

The ferry wades across the kyle. I drive
The car ashore
On to a trim road. A car on Scalpay?
Yes, and a road where never was one before.
The ferrymen's Gaelic wonders who I am
(Not knowing I know it), this man back from the dead.
Who takes the blue-black road (no traffic jam)
From by Craig Lexie over to Bay Head.

A man bows in the North wind, shaping up
His lazybeds.
And through the salt air vagrant peat smells waver
From houses where no houses should be. The sheds
At the curing station have been newly tarred.
Aunt Julia's house has vanished. The Red Well
Has been bulldozed away. But sharp and hard
The church still stands, barring the road to Hell.

A chugging prawn boat slides round Cuddy Point
Where in gale
I spread my batwing jacket and jumped farther
Than I've jumped since. There's where I used to sail
Boats looped from rushes. On the jetty there
I caught eels, cut their heads off and watched them slew
Slow through the water. Ah - Cape Finisterre
I called the point, to show how much I knew.

While Hamish sketches, a crofter tells me that
The Scalpay folk,
Though very intelligent, are not Spinozas...
We walk the Out End road (no need to invoke
That troublemaker, Memory, she's everywhere)
To Laggandoan, greeted all the way -
My city eyeballs prickle; it's hard to bear
With such affection and such gaiety.

Scalpay revisited? - more than Scalpay. I
Have no defence
For half my thought and half my blood is Scalpay.
Against that pure, hardheaded innocence
That shows love without shame, weeps without shame,
Whose every thought is hospitality -
Edinburgh, Edinburgh, you're dark years away.

Scuttering snowflakes riddling the hard wind
Are almost spent
When we reach Johann's house. She fills the doorway,
Sixty years of size and astonishment,
Then laughs and cries and laughs, as she always did
And will (easy glum, easy glow, a friend would say) ...
Scones, oatcakes, herrings from under a bubbling lid.
Then she comes with us to put us on our way.

Hugging my arm in her stronger one, she says,
Fancy me
Walking this road beside my darling Norman!
And what is there to say? ... We look back and see
Her monumental against the flying sky
And I am filled with love and praise and shame
Knowing that I have been, and knowing why,
Diminished and enlarged. Are they the same?

Norman MacCaig

Saga Biorn Ùr



English version here

Pish

Privilege or necessity of age
this twice or thrice nightly quitting
warm pit for a slash in the dark?

Not that automatic
nocturnal quest to the loo and back
I woke to hear my father make,
   heavy tread past my room humming
   childlike under his breath
        Oh Jeezy-beezy loves me
        the Bible tells me so
and wondered that he went so often ...

Years tell not in the mind but in the bladder.
It's a reminder
who's in charge here
as one unzips the tent and stumbles
turf thrust wet between toes,

      to sway  stop  stand
      upright in the night
                        releasing
      streams of oneself back to earth.

I find myself
   upright in late middle-age
     a mast stuck into the ground
bracing the billowing
     spinnaker of night
as the dark hull of this island
      sails forth with constellated sails …

Cockleshell image, I know!
    Couped by the first critical wave
but wonderful to float within
for the duration of a pish.

Damp soles dried on palms,
back in my pit,
first offices of the night performed,
I smiled at the dark and sank.

Andrew Greig, from Found at Sea

The Tear in the Sack

A nocturnal bird, say a nightjar,
cocking its head in the silence
of a few deflowering trees,
witnesses more than we do
the parallels.
            Its twin perspective:
seeing with one eye the sack-
grain spilt on the roadway dirt,
and with the other, the scattered stars,
their chance positioning in the dark.

Niall Campbell, from The Salt Book of Younger Poets, (ed. by Roddy Lumsden & Eloise Stonborough)

Moorings

In a salt ring of moonlight

The dinghy nods at nothing.

It paws the bright water

And scatters its own shadow

In a false net of light.

A ruined chain lies reptile,

Tied to the ground by grasses.

Two oars, wet with sweet water

Filched from the air, are slanted

From a wrecked lobster creel.

The cork that can't be travels -

Nose of a dog otter.

It's piped at, screamed at, sworn at

By an elegant oystercatcher

On furious orange legs.

With a sort of idle swaying

the tide breathes in. Harsh seaweed

Uncrackles to its kissing;

The skin of the water glistens;

Rich fat swims on the brine.

And all night in his stable

The dinghy paws bright water,

Restless steeplechaser

Longing to clear the hurdles

That ring the Point of Stoer.


Norman MacCaig, from The Poems of Norman MacCaig, (ed. by Ewen MacCaig)

When the Whales Beached

Dear, on that day of spades,
engraving lines and inlets in the sand,

so that we could begin the slow
unmooring of those black shapes to the waves,

it was hard to think of anything
but how soon after my grandmother

had followed her husband earthwards. Love,
and yet so much more than. The quiet

unionship of sometimes being the one
to lead, sometimes to follow. And these

who softly climbed the aching stair
of shore together and there, stalled.

How we stood by as if we’d nothing
to say, when, love, I did, I do.

Niall Campbell, from Moontide

Sometimes

In
all
the
rush
and
hurry
of
our
lives
we
need
so
much
just
now
and
then
to
find
an
                                 island


Kenneth Steven, from The Thing that Mattered Most: Scottish poems for children (ed. by Julie Johnstone)

Loss

The sound of horses’ hooves in market square
recalls the riding out to mark the bounds,
the summer rites and battles fought elsewhere
for king and country. And burial grounds
on ancient sites commemorate the loss
of young men felled, of women’s grief
for those so loved who nevermore would cross
ripe fields at harvest time nor bind a sheaf.
Now in the market square goes out the call
to fight with honour someone else’s war.
Chaotic aftermath as ruins fall,
such human waste amidst the rubble for
a dubious peace. Wary of attack
the soldiers know that some will not come back.

Dorcas Symms

Summit of Corrie Etchachan

But in the climbing ecstasy of thought,
Ere consummation, ere the final peak,
Come hours like this. Behind, the long defile,
The steep rock-path, alongside which, from under
Snow-caves, sharp-corniced, tumble the ice-cold waters.
And now, here, at the corrie’s summit, no peak,
No vision of the blue world, far, unattainable,
But this grey plateau, rock-strewn, vast, silent,
The dark loch, the toiling crags, the snow;
A mountain shut within itself, yet a world,
Immensity. So may the mind achieve,
Toiling, no vision of the infinite,
But a vast, dark and inscrutable sense
Of its own terror, its own glory and power.

Nan Shepherd, from In the Cairngorms

The Hill Burns

So without sediment
Run the clear burns of my country,
Fiercely pure,
Transparent as light
Gathered into its own unity,
Lucent and without colour;
Or green,
Like clear deeps of air,
Light massed upon itself,
Like the green pinions,
Cleaving the trouble of approaching night,
Shining in their own lucency,
Of the great angels that guarded the Mountain;
Or amber so clear
It might have oozed from the crystal trunk
Of the tree Paradisal,
Symbol of life,
That grows in the presence of God eternally.
And these pure waters
Leap from the adamantine rocks,
The granites and schists
Of my dark and stubborn country.
From gaunt heights they tumble,
Harsh and desolate lands,
The plateau of Braeriach
Where even in July
The cataracts of wind
Crash in the corries with the boom of seas in anger;
And Corrie Etchachan
Down whose precipitous
Narrow defile
Thunder the fragments of rock
Broken by winter storms
From their aboriginal place;
And Muich Dhui’s summit,
Rock defiant against frost and the old grinding of ice,
Wet with the cold fury of blinding cloud,
Through which the snow-fields loom up, like ghosts from a world of eternal annihilation,
And far below, where the dark waters of Etchachan are wont to glint,
An unfathomable void.
Out of these mountains,
Out of the defiant torment of Plutonic rock,
Out of fire, terror, blackness and upheaval,
Leap the clear burns,
Living water,
Like some pure essence of being,
Invisible in itself,
Seen only by its movement.

Nan Shepherd, from In the Cairngorms

Canada Geese

Out of the haar, in flight,
in formation, in position, each eye
on the white rump in front, each aware
of the white bar on a face away to the side.
Direct, speedy – the flock is two waving lines
passing between mountains, over salt water,
following the coast, a creamy shoreline
broadening on to marshes, tidal islands
until – ahead and below – something familiar,
another flock resting on a sand bar.
Down they go.


Down, level with the hills.
Down, level with the road.
Down, level with the shore.
Skimming over water the lead bird
working hardest, the wind from his wings lifting
the following bird, then the next until
they are all floating on air broken by the birds in front.


They lift to cross an island. Come down again
on the other side. Up ahead, white-barred heads
turn on long necks. Take care! Take care!
crying from the bar, and from the air the flight
calls back, We’re here! We’re here! The sky
between sand bar and flight filled with voice.
Take care! We’re here! Take care! We’re here!


Spreading their wings, turning them downwards,
they stretch out webbed feet. Everthing now,
every part of them, is catching the air,
slowing them, dropping them.
Take care! Take care!
In they come as though they must scatter
the geese on the sand like marbles, but now
their dropped wings lift them and bring them
down again, slower now, one after the other,
feet planing across the water, all together


hhhiiiiiiiisssssssshhhhhhhhhhh!!!


to sit down on it, glide along the surface and paddle out
onto the sand, to become a feathery conference
of webs, wings, necks and beaks, all crying together.
We’re here! We’re here!

Robert Davidson

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

Fulmar


Pabail

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



Bayble

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

Ebony


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

Arrival

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

For the Opening of the Scottish Parliament, 9 October 2004

Open the doors! Light of the day, shine in; light of the mind, shine out!
We have a building which is more than a building.
There is a commerce between inner and outer, between brightness and shadow,
      between the world and those who think about the world.
Is it not a mystery? The parts cohere, they come together like petals of a flower,
      yet they also send their tongues outward to feel and taste the teeming earth.
Did you want classic columns and predictable pediments? A growl of old Gothic
      grandeur? A blissfully boring box?
Not here, no thanks! No icon, no IKEA, no iceberg, but curves and caverns, nooks
      and niches, huddles and heavens, syncopations and surprises. Leave
      symmetry to the cemetery.
But bring together slate and stainless steel, black granite and grey granite,
      seasoned oak and sycamore, concrete blond and smooth as silk – the mix is
      almost alive – it breathes and beckons – imperial marble it is not!


Come down the Mile, into the heart of the city, past the kirk of St Giles and the
      closes and wynds of the noted ghosts of history who drank their claret and
      fell down the steep tenements stairs into the arms of link-boys but who
      wrote and talked the starry Enlightenment of their days –
And before them the auld makars who tickled a Scottish king's ear with melody
      and ribaldry and frank advice –
And when you are there, down there, in the midst of things, not set upon an hill
      with your nose in the air,
This is where you know your parliament should be
And this is where it is, just here.


What do the people want of the place? They want it to be filled with thinking
       persons as open and adventurous as its architecture.
A nest of fearties is what they do not want.
A symposium of procrastinators is what they do not want.
A phalanx of forelock-tuggers is what they do not want.
And perhaps above all the droopy mantra of 'it wizny me' is what they do not
       want.
Dear friends, dear lawgivers, dear parliamentarians, you are picking up a thread of
       pride and self-esteem that has been almost but not quite, oh no not quite,
       not ever broken or forgotten.
When you convene you will be reconvening, with a sense of not wholly the power,
       not yet wholly the power, but a good sense of what was once in the honour
       of your grasp.
All right. Forget, or don't forget, the past. Trumpets and robes are fine, but in the
       present and the future you will need something more.
What is it? We, the people, cannot tell you yet, but you will know about it when
      we do tell you.
We give you our consent to govern, don't pocket it and ride away.
We give you our deepest dearest wish to govern well, don't say we have no
      mandate to be so bold.
We give you this great building, don't let your work and hope be other than great
      when you enter and begin.
So now begin. Open the doors and begin.

Edwin Morgan

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

The Big Music



The hills only come back the same: I don’t mind, and all the flat moorland and the sky. I don’t mind they say, and the water says it too, those black falls that are rimmed with peat, and the mountains in the distance to the west say it, and to the north . . . As though the whole empty wasted lovely space is calling back at him in the silence that is around him, to this man out here in the midst of it, in the midst of all these hills and all the air. That his presence means nothing, that he could walk for miles into these same hills, in bad weather or in fine, could fall down and not get up again, could go crying into the peat with music for his thoughts maybe, and ideas for a tune, but none of it according him a place here, amongst the grasses and the water and the sky . . . Still it would come back to him the same in the silence, in the fineness of the air . . . I don’t mind, I don’t mind, I don’t mind.

Is what there is to begin with, a few words and the scrap of a tune put down for the back of the book in some attempt to catch the opening of the thing, how it might start. With this image of a man, born 83 years ago down out of these same hills, and how he might think now how the land doesn’t mind him, never has. Here he is walking in up the strath towards that far bend in the river and the loudest note could sound in his head and him follow it with a sequence and still this country, his country, would keep its own stillness and only give back to him the louder quiet, like the name of the tune itself could be I don’t mind, is what he’ll call it, ‘Lament for Himself’.

Kirsty Gunn, an extract from The Big Music

Aunt Julia

Aunt Julia spoke Gaelic
very loud and very fast.
I could not answer her —
I could not understand her.

She wore men's boots
when she wore any.
— I can see her strong foot,
stained with peat,
paddling with the treadle of the spinningwheel
while her right hand drew yarn
marvellously out of the air.

Hers was the only house
where I've lain at night
in the absolute darkness
of a box bed, listening to
crickets being friendly.

She was buckets
and water flouncing into them.
She was winds pouring wetly
round house-ends.
She was brown eggs, black skirts
and a keeper of threepennybits
in a teapot.

Aunt Julia spoke Gaelic
very loud and very fast.
By the time I had learned
a little, she lay
silenced in the absolute black
of a sandy grave
at Luskentyre. But I hear her still, welcoming me
with a seagull's voice
across a hundred yards
of peatscrapes and lazybeds
and getting angry, getting angry
with so many questions
unanswered.

Norman MacCaig, from The Many Days: Selected Poems of Norman MacCaig

Sacrifice/Ìobairt

And this was known as the milk room,
the coldest room in the cool house.
There, on a paint-stained table,
Jugs and bowls and basins of milk
in all the stages of turning,
cream, butter, crowdie.

An absence of sun on the green lino,
the narrow north window
with a view of hill-slope
where the giver of this bounty
               sometimes grazed.

Year on year
they took her calf away
after the first suckling;
she bellowed the loss for days,
through the wall his thin crying,
the birth-right of his soft warm mouth
curdling in this cold room.

Maggie Rabatski, from Holding

Line




each wave writes
its own fine line
a wavescape scribbled on the sand
which is rewritten every day

Pauline Prior-Pitt, an extract from North Uist Sea Poems

An Rathad

’S e rathad geal a bha ruighinn na mara
ri mo chiad chuimhne,
is a’ chairt ga thachais,
a’ chairt ga phronnadh ’s a’ chairt ga ghearradh,
’s tha fàileadh nan each thar na fichead bliadhn’ ud
trom air mo chuinnlean,
gach fallas is eile,
is dealbh ’nam inntinn
air cairt làn todhair is balach ’na shuidh’ innt’,
is leanaidh fàileadh an todhair is fàileadh an fhallais
a chaoidh mi.

Is chì mi mhòinteach air traoghadh,
mar nach fhaic fear-tadhail
a chì dà throigh de riasg sgaoilte ’na mhòine
ri oir an rothaid—
an rathad dubh a bha geal an uair sin.
A’ mhòinteach air seacadh ’s a’ mhòine air a losgadh,
’s an rathad ag èirigh suas fo bheum an tairsgeir.

Is minig a riamh a chunna mi crodh air taod air,
cailleach ga slaodadh ’s bò le cabhag dàir oirr’,
ceum socair ciùin a’ tilleadh am beul na h-oidhche,
is chunna mi laoigh gu tric a’ falbh gu Dròbh air.

Ceum Sàbaid is sadadh ruidhle
a’ pronnadh morghan mìn nan iomadh bliadhna
gus nach criathraich
mi a dhubh bho a gheal,
’s nach lèir dhomh air mòinteach m’ òige
ach srianag fallais a’ brùchdadh bho chneas m’ eòlais.

Ruaraidh MacThòmais, from Dreuchd An Fhigheadair / The Weaver's Task: a Gaelic Sampler, edited and introduced by Crìsdean MhicGhilleBhàin/Christopher Whyte



A White Road

A white road stretches to the shore:
My first memory,
Cartwheels scraping it,
Carts pounding and cutting the long road.
And the smell of horses twenty years back
Across the rough road of the past
Is as strong as the smell of the sweat.
And a picture in my mind
Of a cart full of dung and a boy sitting in it
And the smell of the dung and the smell of the sweat will
always follow me.

And I see the dry, cracked moorland
As a stranger can never see it,
A stranger who only sees two feet of fibre
Spread out as peat by the edge of the white road.

The black road was white then.
The moorland withered, dried, shrunk and the peat burnt.
And the road rising up under the glint of the peat knife.

Often before I saw cows pulled by a rope on the white road,
An old woman being dragged by a cow, hurrying to beat time,
Easy quiet steps returning at nightfall.
And I frequently saw calves on the road going to the fair.

Sabbath steps and a reel’s slinging and spinning
Battering, rushing, crushing, grinding, pounding the fine
Powdery gravel of all those years.
Until I can’t sift
The black from the white —
All I can see on the moorland of my youth
Is a stripe of sweat belching bursting gushing rushing
From the fountain of my knowledge.

Derick S. Thomson, translated by Jackie Kay