Friday, July 24, 2009

Skye, by Alexander Nicolson

Skye is a magical island both for visitors and even more so for those who are born there and have to move away. Alexander Nicolson (who produced a revised version of the Gaelic Bible and a collection of Gaelic proverbs in the latter half of the 19th Century, while also earning his living as a Sheriff in Glasgow) captures some of that in this poem.


My heart is yearning to thee, O Skye!
Dearest of Islands!
There first the sunshine gladdened my eye,
On the sea sparkling;
There doth the dust of my dear ones lie,
In the old graveyard.
Bright are the golden green fields to me,
Here in the Lowlands;
Sweet sings the mavis in the thorn-tree,
Snowy with fragrance:
But oh for a breath of the great North Sea,
Girdling the mountains!
Good is the smell of the brine that laves
Black rock and skerry,
Where the great palm-leaved tangle waves
Down in the green depths,
And round the craggy bluff pierced with caves
Sea-gulls are screaming.
When the sun sinks below Humish Head,
Crowning in glory,
As he goes down to his ocean bed
Studded with islands,
Flushing the Coolin with royal red,
Would I were sailing!
Many a hearth round that friendly shore
Giveth warm welcome;
Charms still are there, as in days of yore,
More than of mountains;
But hearths and faces are seen no more
Once of the brightest.
Many a poor black cottage is there,
Grimy with peat smoke,
Sending up in the soft evening air
Purest blue incense,
While the low music of psalm and prayer
Rises to Heaven.
Kind were the voices I used to hear
Round such a fireside,
Speaking the mother tongue old and dear,
Making the heart beat
With sudden tales of wonder and fear,
Or plaintive singing.
Great were the marvellous stories told
Of Ossian's heroes,
Giants, and witches, and young men bold,
Seeking adventures,
Winning kings' daughters and guarded gold,
Only with valour.
Reared in those dwellings have brave ones been;
Brave ones are still there;
Forth from their darkness on Sunday I've seen
Coming pure linen,
And like the linen the souls were clean
Of them that wore it.
See that thou kindly use them, O man!
To whom God giveth
Stewardship over them, in thy short span
Not for thy pleasure;
Woe be to them who choose for a clan
Four-footed people!
Blessings be with ye, both now and aye
Dear human creatures!
Yours is the love that no gold can buy!
Nor time wither
Peace be to thee and thy children, O Skye!
Dearest of islands.
Meaning of unusual words:
mavis=song thrush
skerry=an isolated rock, covered at high tide

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