Archive for April 11th, 2011


A Time to Keep

April 11, 2011

Grape Hyacinth and Bumble Bee

Image Credit: Susannah of  The Streaming Now

“Creation of a word, this place. What word?

The word is streaming across time, holding this place and all planets and all grains of dust in a pattern, a strict equation. I am always trying to imitate the sound and shape and power of the unknowable word.

Dry whisperings: a poem.”

~ from Four Kinds of Poet, George Mackay Brown




April 11, 2011

Photograph: Ian Cowe, original fresnel lens, North Ronaldsay lighthouse, Orkney


My father passed with his penny letters
Through closes opening and shutting like legends
When barbarous with gulls
Hamnavoe’s morning broke

On the salt and tar steps. Herring boats,
Puffing red sails, the tillers
Of cold horizons, leaned
Down the gull-gaunt tide

And threw dark nets on sudden silver harvests.
A stallion at the sweet fountain
Dredged water, and touched
Fire from steel-kissed cobbles.

Hard on noon four bearded merchants
Past the pipe-spitting pier-head strolled,
Holy with greed, chanting
Their slow grave jargon.

A tinker keen like a tartan gull
At cuithe-hung doors. A crofter lass
Trudged through the lavish dung
In a dream of corn-stalks and milk.

In the Arctic Whaler three blue elbows fell,
Regular as waves, from beards spumy with porter,
Till the amber day ebbed out
To its black dregs.

The boats drove furrows homeward, like ploughmen
In blizzards of gulls. Gaelic fisher-girls
Flashed knife and dirge
Over drifts of herring.

And boys with penny wands lured gleams
From tangled veins of the flood. Houses went blind
Up one steep close, for a
Grief by the shrouded nets.

The kirk, in a gale of psalms, went heaving through
A tumult of roofs, freighted for heaven. And lovers
Unblessed by steeples lay under
The buttered bannock of the moon.

He quenched his lantern, leaving the last door.
Because of his gay poverty that kept
my seapink innocence
From the worm and black wind;

And because, under equality’s sun,
All things wear now to a common soiling,
In the fire of images
Gladly I put my hand
To save that day for him.

~ George Mackay Brown


The Bard of Orkney

April 11, 2011
Island Hoy, Orkney Islands, not Scotland

Image Credit: V & G Popp, Vienna, Australia

Last month I mentioned a dream I had about large coloured stones that were coloured like the Bungle Bungles, yet my inner tuition has led me to Orkney and another story: of time, of space, of ancestors, of me. Of things of wood and stone.

These are my dream stones to a T.


 “The first law of story-telling – every man is bound to leave a story better than he found it.”

~ George Mackay Brown (maybe)


Magic has fled the world….

…but not completely. It has taken refuge in the few places remaining where it can still thrive.

Orkney is one such place.

A Popular Tree, Papdale, Orkney Islands

Joseph Turner lived in the 19th century. He was a famous English painter. His paintings were a great success. He was fond of dogs. One day his dog which he loved very much broke a leg. 

The artist was very sorry for the dog and wanted to have it to be well again. He was rich enough to send for the best surgeon in London instead of taking a veterinary.

The surgeon arrived and asked the famous painter what the matter was. Joseph Turner realized that the famous surgeon might get offended if he learned that his patient was a dog. So he decided to praise the surgeon. He told the surgeon that he was a great and famous doctor. He begged the surgeon to help his dog because it was very important for him.

The surgeon felt annoyed but he didn’t show it. He treated the dog carefully and soon it was quite well.

The next week the surgeon asked Turner to come to his place. The artist believed that the surgeon wanted to see him in connection with his dog. Joseph Turner arrived at the appointed time and was shown into the sitting-room. The surgeon met him very warmly and said: “Mr. Turner, I am so glad you’ve come. My door needs painting. I know you are too great a painter for this work, but I beg you to do it. It is so important for me”.  ~ Sourced from The History of England

George Mackay Brown 17 October 1921 ~ 13 April 1996, with Gypsy

Image Credit: Gunnie Moberg, 1990

“Here is a work for poets-
Carve the runes
Then be content with silence”

Recovering from his first attack of tuberculosis in 1941, the young George Mackay Brown wandered out of the sanatorium on to the streets of Kirkwall, and presently stood for the first time in the nave of St Magnus Cathedral.  According to his Autobiography, the experience was intense.  “I can’t remember the details except for the one thought – I would like to be buried in this place.” 

Further Fascination: Scar Viking Boat Burial, Orkneyjar