Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Orcadian Hymn

“The closer I come to knowledge of myself, the more certain I feel I am immortal, and conversely, the more certain I am of my immortality, the more intimately I come to know myself.” – Edwin Muir

The recently discovered ruins in Brodgar, Orkney, thought older and more complex than Stonehenge, remind us of Orkney's mythic status as a lost paradise, one elucidated by its two greatest poets, Edwin Muir and George Mackay Brown.

From Scara Brae to the Ness o' Brogdar
Fairies play and mermaids appear
With the kelpies and the ghillie dhu,
The finfolk of eynhallow and the seal people
While creels are woven, trawlers battened,
Cold winds hold us to the stone
That holds it all, but never mocks
Our unknowing. The holms all come and go, so too
The smoke from which comes forth the scrying face,
Our own, on the other side, smiling through the salt
And icicles on our nostrils. We are free as gulls
But tethered to the buoys, repairing traps and scaling mackerel,
Trying not to let our pity show, as we haul indifferent eyes in sacks
To kitchens eyed by cats, but everybody else with jaws as final
As the rocks before the sea.

The skerries can’t be seen without the white gull screak,
The tides cannot come in without the creak of wheels on docks.
In the caves sentinel witches converse with spirits drowned,
By the churches clean as drums, with gravestones like teeth broken,
Fallen down, laundry roars in the wind, immortality in every edge.

Endure things long enough you learn to see,
There always is an opening for waves,
So it is with our souls, sustained by
Endless drownings, constant hunger, bone-chilled cold
--And the warmth we find from the other side
Joining us for all we have to give:
Undiminished love, an endless stock of faith,
Gratitude that ferments into grace.


Anonymous said...

This is like...the world handing down its oral tradition.

Hannah Stephenson said...

I love Jack's comment here!

I didn't know about these, how cool. And "screak" is probably the best word ever...