Burial Mounds on Canna

Grey
goes the wheatear,
her silent, solitary way,
through the bog asphodel
and the self-heal of summer.

Faint
is the white-haired Gael
by his scattered tomb,
enchanted by the blush
of nightfall in the west.

Wakeful
ever for the prows
of the ravenous Northmen,
should they come again –
inching around the point.

But the people
have gone away
to Glasgow and Nova Scotia,
or they take their ease
in the singing halls of Tir na n’Og.

Strewn
are the bones
of his conquerors,
their burial mounds tumbled –
undermined by rabbits.

Lichen crusted
rune-stones rebuilt
heedlessly into shieling walls,
themselves now crumbled –
overrun by nettles.

Silence
drops a green cloak
along the spine of the island;
the laughter and the whimperings
now tiny whispers beneath the peat.

Stillness –
just a wheatear,
the sighing of rushes,
and the hushed huzzahs
of victorious bracken.

H.Nicholson 2001 revised Jan 2011
(‘Tir na n’Og’ is the paradise of the Gaels)
(Canna, pop 16 – an island in the Inner Hebrides)

(Also posted for the Thursday Poet’s Rally 6-2-11)
(And ABC Wednesday : http://abcwednesday-mrsnesbitt.blogspot.com/p/rules-and-guidelines.html )

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11 Responses to Burial Mounds on Canna

  1. Denise says:

    A moving poem – written from the heart as you explained – or from the soul. Beautiful.
    Denise BC Team

  2. Leonargo says:

    Your poem is very beautifully written and the imagery is just amazing. An odd connection here between “undermined by rabbits” and the killer rabbit in Monty Python’s Holy Grail, its what that made me think of, killer rabbits on the tombs…

  3. This is a real beauty! I have a sense of the humanness in the glory we feel in our exterior, our Creator humbles. We go to dust in the nettles and the rest of the earth eases with us, the same. And this feels just fine because of the beauty of nature. This is what your poem evokes in me. Wow. Thank you.

  4. frayedges says:

    You have captured the emptiness of people long gone beautifully.

  5. mypastmademe says:

    Such lovely words, I have a few favourite lines including: ‘enchanted by the blush of nightfall in the west’. This is haunting somehow. I read a fairytale when little called The Land of Tir Na N’Og, translated (in that book) to The Land of Dreams. Your poem has given me new perspective on a long embedded memory, so I thank you for that too 🙂

  6. Jingle says:

    your words are full of colors and senses,
    very masterful write.

    Happy Rally.

    🙂

  7. Oh this reminds me of the mythology I used to pour over when I was younger. Stunning descriptions allows for a wonderful cinematic picture in my mind

  8. Kelly says:

    very nice tone and mood, love the last two lines, perfect cadence.

  9. vivinfrance says:

    Gorgeous, Harry. I have this one on file from a while back: I have the words “grey goes the wheatear” engraved in my head. Could you find a photo, or better still, an enamel to go with this one?

    • It was written during a fortnight solitary retreat on Canna (pop 16). The empty hills and signs of an earlier population made for a deep experience.
      I felt the presence of those old peoples wherever I walked. And as I walked, the wheatear moved ahead through the asphodels.

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