r2vyln3rdioj14u-rld0ska where mountains meet the sea: July 2014


I walked with my reason
out beside the sea.
We were together but it was
keeping a little distance from me.

Sorley MacLean, excerpted from The Choice


The only word we have for cianalas
in the sadly inaccurate english language
is homesickness.
How can homesickness compare
to the
finely tuned melancholy
that is cianalas.

The weary way in which we
gauge our loss and longing.

Knowing that in the fullness
of our lives
wild horses,
CalMac winches,
faint promises
threats of marriage
would not drag us back
to the place of our hunger.

Siùsaidh NicNèill

If I were a dreamer

If I were a dreamer
I would be happy
to see the Gaelic world free
from becoming too confined to itself
and free from fear
of being separated from the crown.

If I were a dreamer
I would see Scotland without fear
of being without
I would see a people willing
to be different
to be newly
and yet kind.

If I were a dreamer
I would see England without fear
of being without

And the dreamer often makes
the poet
seldom the soldier.

Màiri Nic Gumaraid

Highland Ceilidh

In the evening the talking was hushed
while Ishbel sang without trembling
a sad sad song of exile

from the island where she was born.
The anguish and the beauty of the song
were one. How can that be?

Then more talk, more laughter,
more singing in that room
full of "the marriage of true minds".

But what I remember, so long after,
are the two other marriages -
of the anguish and the beauty,
of the singer and the song.

Norman MacCaig

The House

(at Ach’ an Dreaghainn – The Field of Thorns)

I found an Oban Times
from 1889, stuck behind the timbers.
It was placed there before
lifting the lintel stone.
He blessed the gate with a rowan.

The wood, stone and plaster,
slate and lime,
I nurture only, it is not mine.
Tell the tax man and landlord
it belongs to the wind.

I plant larch, birch and rowan
for the present and future.
I rebuild the stone wall after the gale,
knowing the gale may win.
For that reason, in the Field of Thorns,
I trim the wild rosebush

Tom Bryan, from Wolfwind

Building Vocabulary

Who would have thought
I'd have to come
so far from home
to find a word that perfectly captures
the voiceless ache
of having left?

A' dol dhachaigh:
Strange that I should
find restfulness
in a language where
you can never be home,
but only going

Cianalas: homesickness, longing, loneliness, melancholy
A’ dol dhachaigh: going home(wards)

Christine Laennec, from Wish I Was Here: A Scottish Multicultural Anthology, ed. by Kevin MacNeil & Alec Finlay

Emigrant Journey

There was the comfort and the all mod-con of home
With its recognisable dangers;
There was the journey,
The endless coming on of the same wave,
The no-land time of ocean and high hopes
Until the icebergs rose
Like crystal palaces...

There was the moving days
And weary nights of train-hours overland,
The trees, the lakes, the straight and rolling plains
Until time stopped in sheer fantasy
Of a pre-dawn winter morning -
Gloved hand swinging the iron-hard handle
Of a frozen water pump
At the edge of a bark-rough cabin;
Above, the sky, moving strange magnificence,
Voile curtains of colour
Changing, shifting imperceptibly;
Below, the star sparkled snow -
A virgin's looking glass
Where spruce trees shot the only shadows
That made no movement -
Silence, immensity of silence,
Oil fires were burning brands
Reaching for chiffon robes
Of an aurora of dancers
Repeating dream sequences...

I tried to wake from unreality
Felt my spine freeze,
heard coyotes howling down the night.

Margaret Gillies-Brown, from An Anthology of Scottish Women Poets, ed. by Catherine Kerrigan
originally published in Far From the Rowan Tree

air falbh leis na h-eòin / away with the birds

Hanna Tuulikki’s Air falbh leis na h-eòin is a body of work exploring the mimesis of birds in Gaelic song. In 2014 it becomes a sited performance and installation, made for the Isle of Canna, as part of Culture 2014. It is created by an inter-disciplinary team of visual artists, musicians, textile artists, dancers, writers, sound recordists, ornithologists, conservationists and anthropologists.
Hanna’s vocal composition, Guth an Eòin | Voice of the Bird sits at the heart of the project. It’s written for a female vocal ensemble, reinterpreting archive, fragmenting and re-weaving extracts of Gaelic songs into an extended soundscape growing out of and responding to landscape. It explores the delicate nature of island-life, the co-existence of history and innovation, the relationships between bird, man and land. - Away With the Birds

A shuttle o soonds

At da time at folk namit da nort end o Eden
a moothfoo o soonds gied frame tae da land:
every bicht, every knowe a wird pictir in Norn.

Dey hed böddies o wirds for da varg o da crofter,
soonds o da crö, da crub an da hill: some lost
on da wind owre da flakki o years.

An a kyist-foo o soonds for aa kinds o sea wark
wi a hoidy-hol for queer luckin wirds
stowed far fae wir hearin ta keep herm awa.

Da Norn is lang gien, but hit’s left a waageng
at keetchins a tongue at can hadd ony haert
can rowe up wir feelings, unreffel wir tochts.

For every haand’s turn still a mird o wird patterns
lik an allover gansey, a wirkin man’s sark –
med ta be worn, no laid up for best.

We man savour wir wirds as dey tirl on da tongue
lik snorie-ben, sneester an skaddyman’s heid
wird laalies fur aabody, no jöst fur bairns.

Fur dey mak da warp in a pattern o livin, while
da weft comes fae places ootbye da Sooth Mooth.
Dey can blend i da waeve wi wir shuttle o soonds.

Da garb o wir language is pitten dagidder
in a wye at maks room fur da new an da auld:
baith pipeline an paet-bank; rap artist an skald

A shuttle of sounds

At the time folk named the north end of Eden
a mouthful of sounds gave a frame to the land:
every inlet, every hillock a word picture in Norn1.

They had baskets of words for the work of the crofter
sounds of the sheepfold, the yard and the hill:
some lost on the wind with the winnow of years.

And a chest-full of sounds for all kinds of sea work
with a secret place for words of good luck
stowed far from our hearing to keep harm away2.

The Norn is long gone, but it’s left an aftertaste
that flavours a tongue that can sustain anyone
can wrap up our feelings, unravel our thoughts.

For every stroke of work still a throng of word patterns
like a Fair Isle sweater, a working man’s shirt –
made to be worn, not laid up for best.

We must savour our words as they spin on the tongue
lik snorie-ben3, sneester4 and skaddyman’s heid5
word playthings for everyone, not just for kids
For they make the warp in a pattern of living, while
the weft comes from places beyond the Sooth Mooth6 .
They can blend in the weave with our shuttle of sounds
The garb of our language is put together
in a way that makes room for the new and the old:
both pipeline and peat-bank; rap artist and skald.

1Norn: original language of Shetland, of the Norse family of languages
2sea words were secret to retain their potency
3snorie-ben: toy made from bone and string, twisted to make a snoring sound
4sneester: private chuckle
5skaddyman’s heid: sea urchin
6‘Sooth Mooth’ is not just the physical entrance to Shetland, but also a description of English and Scots speakers (‘Sooth Moothers’)

Christine De Luca, from Plain Song


Eating Orkney

Gone the salt-washed oyster-shell
of sky, the bonxies’ aerobatic jazz,
bass riff of tractor and ferry.
Gone the chorusline of jiving
thrift, the tide’s cool blues,
the intemperate applause of gulls.
Gone the indigo intermezzi,
Morning’s glimmer keeking
between midnight’s eyelids.

From a Dark Island Beer box,
partans to clean, for tea. I crack
claws, scoop meat, dispose
of still warm dead-man’s fingers,
cut my thumb, lick at the sting
of split skin, backtrack to a boat,
the Northern Lights, in trouble:
from the dark deep its crew
conjuring Harpy, Siren, Valkyr.

Dilys Rose, from Lure


Beyond you America
behind you Stromness
far from me now
the tides changing on you
as I walk the crowded mile
of Byres Road, you curve
in my mind like a film
I would run over your top lip
through an equinoxial autumn
putting words in the mouths
of fishermen & crofters
you speak to me still
a language of salt & gull & wave
Hoy over my shoulders like an uncle

George Gunn, from Dream State: The New Scottish Poets, ed. by Donny O’Rourke


A short film showing the small huts (known in gaelic as Àraidh) used for various purposes, mainly shelter etc, when cutting peat. Filmed on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland near Stornoway November 2010. - Jim Hope

the year of the hut


For Duncan Munro & Mary McNab

We are going through Glen Urquhart
out of our eyes in our enlightened minds
by Milton and Polmaily. That is
Saint Mailie’s Pool. Then

A sign pointing to the right up a hill

B & B

It is a steep twisting forest of a road,
going on for ever in a highland day
in that three-quarters of a mile.
but we arrive at Rychraggan, Slope of the Rock.

Ducks walk across as we arrive at the cottage’s
gable end. We pass through a wrought-iron gate
and go by gravelled path to the front door.
We knock and wait.

A scene glorious as any twelfth day
down the glen
to a glimpse of a rectangle of Loch Ness
with the sun beating out of a cove of blue sky above.

The hills a hazed backcloth for eyes on their unculled
stocks. As our feet a garden enclosed by stone dyke,
richly coloured with a bed of annual flowers,
orange, red, purple, white and green.

And over the wall, to the right, on the moorland,
a rowan tree heavy with berries looks older that its years.
A group of young crows on the wall rise into the sky. They
swoosh and swirl, turning on their many selves,
the sky alive with their triangulated, silhouetted
wings. A shot cracks the silence out of the hill. The crows
float in their space. Down the glen the loch
has moved in its own waves.

At the door Mrs Macdonald stands to welcome us.

Duncan Glen, from Selected New Poems 1987–1996

The Silver Darlings

They had never been so far from land...
Neil Gunn


All afternoon the sun burned your forehead and face,
driving for miles through peatscrapes,
bare rock ridges rising from moorland, driving through rain,
mist trailed past, the sunlight strong from the blue
where the clouds were broken.

We were the last to go through, after
the bath or shower, the tables were pretty in heavy pink covers.
Outside the windrows the jetty slips down to the loch,
and the boat pulls up past the seals,
heads bobbing, water lapping the boat, leaning towards moorings.

Blues come up out of the water, as darker blurs blend
on the hills; the water is exactly H20 and moves
in particular shapes all the time. The air smells of peat. I’m glad
you’re here, and know it’s that
the other way around, as well.

It wouldn’t be if there was any
other way but this. The sea is hushed at dusk,
and in the gloamin when I’ll walk beside you, with you, up
the sloping street with houses on the one side only,
to where the sign this afternoon read ‘Post

Office’: your picture-cards all stamped and ready,
written in your hand. I’ll strain to hear
nothing, clearly there, but welcome, quiet,
welcome, and keep moving, from
the landscape all around us.

Alan Riach, from Clearances

Southwest Harris

This island is discontent as light
glanced under precipitation:
a weather system from south of Islay.
Ireland is there, under Malin Head.

A melting landmass in the dunes of
Seilebost. Toe-Head out as an arm
but insufficient to shield the machair.
Then there are katabatic bursts of wind
against the grain of decent predictions
bringing destroying light
from Clisham and Mullach bho-dheas,
brushing deep below the surfaces
of the Sound of Taransay,
bringing only change.

Ian Stephen, from Providence II

Summer Day on Lewis

(from The Four Seasons)

Seen from the machair’s edge
miles of white sand swathe north.
The light is Greek, I’m told,
The green Atlantic merely
whispers of America.

Two black dots in the distance
move and grow, a couple
strolling towards me across the sand.

We are an infinity apart
which takes eternity to cross.

‘Nice day,’ he says, and she, smiling
offers, ‘what a lovely beach.’

I leave my cosmic survey
To hear myself reply,
‘A little crowded.’

William Oliphant, from The Mating of Dinosaurs

guthan chalanais / callanish voices

seallaibh sinne
dh’èirich às a’ mhòintich
far an do chaidil sinn
tro linntean dìochuimhn’

an-diugh nar sgeinean maola
gearradh an àile

chunnaic aon t-sùil màthair
a’ pasgadh pàiste
ann am fillean seàla

cluinn an guth òg
a’ faicinn cearban,
gob is druim siùbhlach

clach mi a-mhàin,
a sheas ann a sheo
bhon a thogadh mi

dè bha iad a’ cunntas, a dhearbh
tro rèiteachadh àraid chlach
gun èireadh a’ ghealach san aon
àirde, gach tomhas bhliadhna, ‘s
gu ruitheadh i, na dannsa ìseal
thar nan ruighe shìos, ann an
slighe dho-fhaicsinneach dè

tha naidheachd nan linn
anns gach druim dìreach balbh,
dhan aigne earbsach –
clàr-dùthcha sa chlach seo,
faic eilean ‘s a chòrsan eagach,
cnuic is glinn san aghaidh eile,

ged a rachadh tìm na tuaineal
air a’ ghaoith, seasaidh na tha
seo de dhraoidhean fuara, ‘s
na freiceadain àrda nan cip
gorma còinnich, air faire bhuan

callanish voices

observe us
who rose from the moorland
where we had slept
through forgetful centuries

now we are blunt knives
cutting the air

one eye saw a mother
wrapping an infant
in the folds of a shawl

hear the young voice
seeing a shark,
beak and swift back

i’m only a stone
that has stood here
since i was raised

what were they counting, those who proved
through a particular arrangement of stones
that the moon would rise at the same
point each span of years and
that it would run, in a low dance
along that southern ridge , as an
invisible god’s peregrination

the account of centuries is
in every straight silent spine,
to the trusting mind –
there’s a map in this stone,
see an island with its notched coasts,
hills and glens on the other face

and though time should go spinning
on the wind, what’s here of
cold druids will stand, and
the tall sentries in their green
caps of moss, on perpetual watch

Aonghas MacNeacail
from dèanamh gàire ris a’ chloc: dàin ùra agus thaghte / laughing at the clock: new and selected poems