Twa-times a day sin lang, lang syne,
waves loup an sprauchle atween the craigs
ti wauken the reid jeelies we first misteuk fur stanes.
Oor leukin rides the kelterin waves,
glaggin ti meet roond heids,
earless an luppen-ee’d.
But nae selchs glower back at us the day
nor sweir the strand,
teetin at us owre their shoothers.
Oan the hunt, they birse the deep.
Owre the kyle the hills o Arran rise
heicher than expeckit,
rispit raggit bi the rasp o Kintyre-smiddied
North Atlantic wins.
We lift their mirlins an hove them back,
Mar’lin at their sneithness,
hou weel they fit oor luifs.
Fur us, we say.
Win snecks oor lauchter oot ti sea.
Tummlin gous haud an shreid oor humanism,
oor God is deid.
Aa this exists fur us alane an
haes nae life apairt frae us.
We skiff twa-three stanes mair,
the haiveless rame o shore an tid,
cast ane lest leuk fur selchs,
then wauk the field back up ontil the gait.
Twice a day since once upon a time
waves leap and scramble between the rocks
to resurrect red jellies we first mistook for stones.
Our watching rides the roller coaster waves,
hungering to meet round heads
earless and pop-eyed.
But no seals stare back at us today
nor loll the beach,
peering at us over their shoulders.
Hunting they bewhisker the deep.
Across the sound the hills of Arran rise
higher than expected,
filed ragged by the steel rasp of Kintyre-smithied
North Atlantic winds.
We lift their fragments and send them back,
marvelling at their smoothness,
how well they fit our palms.
For us, we say.
Wind whips our laughter out to sea.
Tumbling gulls seize and shred our humanism,
our God is dead.
All this exists for us alone and
has no life apart from us.
We skim a few more stones,
the senseless repetition of shore and tide,
cast one last look for seals,
then walk the field back up towards the road.
1 Scalpsie is a small bay that lies on the south-western coastline of the island of Bute, which looks out over the Sound of Bute towards the island of Arran and the Kintyre peninsula beyond. The humanism referred to in the poem is the broad European philosophy which ascribes ontological priority to human praxis in the order of Being (the ‘translated kingdoms’ of the poet Norman MacCaig), but which cannot account for the ‘thrawnness’ or stubborn indifference of nature vis-à-vis ourselves. This tension between humanity and wilderness, and the capacity of both the internal and the external wilderness to elude translation, is constitutive of modern Scottish cultural practise and consciously and unconsciously informs the work a wide variety of Scottish writers and artists from Robert Louis Stevenson onwards.