The Year of the Whale
The old go, one by one, like guttered flames. This past winter Tammag the bee-man has taken his cold blank mask To the honeycomb under the hill, Corston who ploughed out the moor Unyoked and gone; and I ask, Is Heddle lame, that in youth could dance and saunter A way to the chastest bed? The kirkyard is full of their names Chiselled in stone. Only myself and Yule In the ale-house now, speak of the great whale year. This one and that provoked the taurine waves With an arrogant pass, Or probing deep through the snow-burdened hill Resurrected his flock, Or passed from fiddles to ditch By way of the quart and the gill, All night lay tranced with corn, but stirred to face The brutal stations of bread; While those who tended their lives Like sacred lamps, chary of oil and wick, Died in the fury of one careless match. Off Scabra Head the lookout sighted a school At the first light. A meagre year it was, limpets and crows And brief mottled grain. Everything that could float Circled the school. Ploughs Wounded those wallowing lumps of thunder and night. The women crouched and prayed. Then whale by whale Blundering on the rock with its red stain Crammed our winter cupboards with oil and meat.
from The Year of the Whale (Chatto & Windus, 1965), and included in The Collected Poems of George Mackay Brown (John Murray, 2005)
[from the Scottish Poetry Library here]
Joseph Pearce provides apposite commentary:
In Brown’s poetry and prose, the soil and the soul are in mystical communion, the bread and the breath, shining forth the enduring glory of God in the midst of all that is mortal and mutable.
There is much that I'd like to say at the beginning of this New Year and will no doubt say some of it as the year goes on. But for the moment, I'll leave it at this reminder of permanent things, together with a plea that as Catholics and Scots (or whatever) we do not lose sight of them in the unavoidable yet dangerous seduction of chatter.