r2vyln3rdioj14u-rld0ska where mountains meet the sea: August 2014

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


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

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


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


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


Morag is 86. She lives alone at the end of a track looking out to sea on her croft on the Isle of Harris, Outer Hebrides, with her three cats and twelve sheep. Morag was born in this house and has lived here her whole life, following five generations of the family who came before her. Cailleach is a portrait of Morag and her simple and peaceful life as she contemplates her next chapter, shares her unique sense of independence and the connection she has to her wild island home.

An Drochaid - The Bridge

"The Bridge" is a contemporary resetting of the powerful Gaelic song "The Misty Island" by 19th century Skye poetess Màiri Mhòr nan Òran. She lamented the exploitation of her homeland but encouraged her fellow crofters to stay strong, be independent and fight for their home. "The thousands who were cleared, deprived of their belongings and their rights...A new springtime is with us, many have come through the winter, All around, new grass is sprouting, the branches are coming back to life, On the Green Isle of the Mists". "Independence" means many things, to many people, in the past...or the future…

Here lies our land

Here lies our land: every airt
Beneath swift clouds, glad glints of sun,
Belonging to none but itself.

We are mere transients, who sing
Its westlin’ winds and fernie braes,
Northern lights and siller tides,

Small folk playing our part.
‘Come all ye’, the country says,
You win me, who take me most to heart.

Kathleen Jamie, commemorative poem for the Rotunda monument on the ancient battleground at Bannockburn

A Westray Prayer

i.m. Mike and Barbara Heasman

Let us now give thanks
for these salt-blown

wind-burned pastures
where outgrass and timothy
shrink from the harrow of the sea

where Scotland at long last
wearies of muttering its own name
where we may begin

to believe we have always known
what someone in his wisdom
must have meant

when he gave us everything
and told us nothing.

John Glenday, from Grain

Canoeing on Loch Veyatie, Late Summer

Slicing the trout-speckled slipsteam,
over the dark silver of Veyatie,
today, a restless and turgid loch –
fifteen fathoms of darken dream.

Angry clouds choke Cul Mor;
tomb mountain on the thunder path,
the West wind troubles the white birch hills,
while green waves gash the bracken shore.

I, pilgrim, midge-eaten, soaked to the bone,
gliding a rain-pocked loch (Ice-Age born),
poet’s road to the true hard North;
below, strange fish move, deep and alone.

Tom Bryan, from Wolfwind

'Poems never written down...'

Poems never written down

pebbles in the ocean’s throat

Lagavulin’s tawny shine

claret’s memories of oak

that never took to shingle beach

or saw its seasoned rings would rhyme

in rosined ships, in reels of mine;

we’re fiddles sunken in their song

from peg to bridge, across the briny

ocean-o to Capricorn

from Uist, garrisoned with sheep

and two-and-twenty (count them) years

asleep in postcards. Out of the blue

a curving swell will hit the shore

from blistered winds in ecstasy

that none survived, or no one knew.

Peter McCarey, from Collected Contraptions


I walk at the land's edge,
turning in my mind
a private predicament.
Today the sea is indigo.
Thirty years an adult –
same mind, same
ridiculous quandaries –
but every time the sea
appears differently: today
a tumultuous dream,
flinging its waves ashore –

Nothing resolved,
I tread back over the moor
– but every time the moor
appears differently: this evening,
tufts of bog-cotton
unbutton themselves in the wind
– and then comes the road
so wearily familiar
the old shining road
that leads everywhere

Kathleen Jamie, from Love poet, carpenter: Michael Longley at seventy, ed. by Robin Robertson


From the War Memorial
we see Lewis entirely.
For this place they died,
the new houses, the smell of seaweed,
the rivers,
an old woman walking about her croft,
the wind on the Atlantic,
a seagull lying dead on a bare headland,
the sea breaking whitely on the long sand,
flowers among the stones,
a minister on a Stornoway street
on a cold wet day.
For this place they died.
Prayers are exhausting
the old sick people.
The wind is beating against the headlands
with its lonely song,
the moor yellow with flowers,
the small elegant lochs
like blue rings, there they used to walk
when they were children.
The loom of the wind on the headlands
with its eternal whine.

Iain Crichton Smith, from 'The Emigrants', in New Collected Poems

Walk away quietly in any direction

and taste the freedom of the mountaineer. Camp out among the grasses and gentians of glacial meadows, in craggy garden nooks full of nature's darlings. Climb the mountains and get their good tidings, Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves. As age comes on, one source of enjoyment after another is closed, but nature's sources never fail.