Its rinnins, its hallans, are aa a psaum
sang dowie an dreich;
bairns rin an yowl,
remerkin ane ayebidin caum.
Ither touns there are that mak the sun’s licht swait
in their stourie keekin-glesses, siller tassies,
perfumes gaithert an auld claupins;
i the muithie bauth-hooses,
the lauchter, the waas tirnin green aince mair;
in temples that soup frae the sea.
But this toun, ghaistly, waffin. The strang nor wins,
the coomed nichts wi no a saul abroad,
the lang drum-empie efternuins, the ontreadit sauns,
the echa-haar that smuirs an keeps them;
a sleekit wat slaick o saut i the corners o the mou;
a tremmlin caad furth.
Its outlines, its inner pathways, are all a psalm
sung sad and monotonous;
children run and yell,
punctuating a never-ending quiet.
There are other touns2 that can make the sun’s light sweet,
in their dusty looking-glasses, wine beakers,
perfumes gathered and old caresses;
in the warm bathing-places,
the laughter, the walls turning green once more;
in temples that sip from the sea.
But this toun, ghostly, wavering. The strong north winds,
the over-arching nights with no one there,
the long drum-empty afternoons, the untrodden sands,
the echo-haar3 that clouds and connects them;
a sly wet lick of salt in the corners of the mouth;
a resonance called forth.
1 Skerrabra is the site of a late Neolithic settlement on the mainland of the Orkney isles, which was inhabited between 3200BC and 2200 BCE. The site is an iconic part of Scotland’s national heritage; a resonance of our earliest history.
2 a settlement or household.
3 a cold east coast sea-mist.