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Finally, I have got round to putting “The House of Trees” into format for e-publishing on Smashwords. Please go and have a look. You can download the first 20% for free, and the whole darn thing is only $2.99 in whatever format you would like.

House of Trees cover3a

http://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/Simonhlilly
Book page to sample or purchase The House of Trees: http://smashwords.com/b/302318

Here is the foreword to that book:

“FOREWORD

This long poem was composed in the late autumn of 2012 and through that winter into January 2013. It was conceived on the Isle of Skye, Scotland, during a short visit there. The main themes emerged from elements within that spectacular landscape, and became woven together into an exploration of the nature of freedom. At this time Scotland was again considering whether it would be better off as an independent nation, planning for a referendum in 1214. The history of Scotland, as with most small countries, is full of external pressures and influences. The yearning for freedom is palpable, as much as its strong sense of identity, but seems to be tightly knotted together with nostalgia, pain, suffering, the past and the mythic presence of its Celtic inheritance. My heart opens and relaxes whenever I return to Scotland. Although I was not born there, (and my traceable ancestry is largely rural English and Welsh), I lived and studied in Edinburgh for six years during the 1970’s and 80s, and always look forward to breathing its air again.
Everything we know, every place we cherish, is mythologised and overlain by countless personal coincidences. Significance and resonance colours all our perceptions and memories, often without our conscious knowledge. Poetry is maybe the most precise and accurate means to explore and record these deeper tides of the mind. When we make judgments, when we are asked to decide, it is not the rational mind that pulls the strings. That sensible voice of justification is merely the storyteller that weaves more stubbornly held beliefs and preconceptions into a political statement of policy. The past is not just a record of events. The past maintains itself and evolves through the present. The present, it might be said, is merely the visible tip of the submerged iceberg that is the past. It is in the same way that, amongst traditional cultures, the visible world is conceived as being a reflection, or an elaborate set of clues, to an underlying and much more powerful realm of spiritual beings.
“The House of Trees” is a weaving of these levels of mind: my mind, the mind of the land, the mind of its peoples and the powerful dreams that haunt every pool and rock. The outer always mirrors the inner. To attempt to differentiate the subjective from the objective may be thought by some as the noblest goal of science, a compassionate climb out of foggy ignorance into the clarity of certain knowledge. Indeed, the failure to make the distinction between inner (imagined constructs) and outer (perceived objects) is regarded by some as a sure sign of mental illness in this civilised world. The paradox, the mighty joke, is that both in our most detailed examination of the nature of matter and in our more hesitant exploration of the functioning of the mind the deeper we delve, the less substance we can find. Certainty evaporates like an ice cube in the sun. Each horizon is a dream illusion can never be attained. We yearn, reach for and remember stories that placate or vindicate us, that tell us how we got to where we are, that tell us the roads by which we can go on a little farther.
Simon Hughes Lilly
Exminster, Devon, England. Spring 2013″

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moss cave

11

The tasting of edges

Here is how it is,
How it was:
From the vastness of sleep
A coagulation, a gravitation
Towards the poignant edge.
The bliss of voiceless silence
Shaped and constrained:
Electrical motion, remembering, defining
The surge of emotion, the
Tumble of language, the assertion
Of primacy, constraint, neural nets
To catch and take hold, own,
Possess, reject, disown, demean.

The walls of this house,
Our house,
Sure against the gale,
Black and warmed.

Here’s the truth of it:
This language is not my own,
Not my words, not my syntax,
Not my thoughts, nothing new.
History: the reiteration
Of the forgotten blood
Still roaring changeless
Down the rivers of the years.

Here we are:
Rooted, belonging,
Our right,
A place to return to,
Warm in the soot-blackened darkness
(The winds screaming, battering, squeezing
Sound from tumbling dust).

A silver flash on the black waters,
Leaping fish way beyond the heron’s gaze.
The tawny glen, its tawny sides
Closing in as day’s end darkens.
Where are the fires?
Where are the voices?
The footsteps of those returning home,
The yawns of babes
Turning in belly-filled sleep?

The roaring tide has left.
Its sound diminishes.
The white, wheeling gulls
Are silent specks, the dark horizon.

We are left at a peace
We do not want,
Wordless sorrow for the misplaced.

I’ll tell you of the purest emotion,
Feeling that is free of judging,
Free of qualification.
It is the only language of the heart.
Music, the language without definition,
The summoning of tears and smiles,
Our greatest blessing to the universe.
A song, wordless and unequivocal,
A language universal, sublime,
Fearful, shaking the roots of things,
A net for the Almighty’s scatterings.

(I would barely trust one
Who could not find a tune
With nimble fingers,
Who could not speak verse
As if it were his own heart talking,
Whose words stay cowled behind
Heavy drapes of seemly logic,
Whilst inward, seethes and rails
Against opinion not his own.)

It is not here
In the dream of standing alone.
It is not here
In the upright light of independence.
Uprooted, it is not possible to find a place,
Poor and worthless, it is not possible
To find gold or glory.
It is the same voice
As it ever was:
The clever words well-weighted,
Reasonable.

The rain on the roof,
The wind at the door.
We huddle
Holding the weaving of stories,
The paths telling how we got here,
The choices, the turns, the betrayals.
Cold draughts sweep abandoned corners.

The water does not fight the rock,
It tunes its song and flows around.
It is neither this nor that.
The stepping stones in the flood –
Not the only way to cross.

This house of trees –
It is a house of despair,
A house of howling winds.

This house of trees –
It is a bounty of bright life,
A re-population of delight.

This house of trees –
It is a signal to all
The tyranny of the past has fled.

This house of trees –
It is a plight of bitterness,
An empty, starved gesture of despair.

Delight and despair –
Sunlight and shadows on the hills.
Holding firm is not the way of life.
Freedom and independence, not
A way to understand life.
The making of edges
Is the sound and silence of the tune,
A convolution of anticipation.

Each edge, though,
Neither this, neither that.
We define too closely,
Barter truth for surety
Miss the paradox,
Hold too tightly.

The bright edge is a sword
That severs as the sunlight is a sword
That blinds the sight.

Coming over the hill –
The sharp curtain of the Cuillins,
The still waters of Ord.

Belonging or not belonging:
I borrow my breath
From the exhalation of sparrows
I borrow my sight
From the sparkle of waterfalls
I borrow my heart
From the song of dust and worm
I borrow my words
From the whispers of the dead,
From MacLeod under the sky,
From the white bones, the bleached bones.

I am nothing
But a continuance
Nothing but a path
Made by those gone on before
A house of trees
A house of birdsong
A house of utterance
A forever
Dreaming of a walled instant
Of peace.

BlackCuillins Ord

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036DunveganShore

9 : Hunger

Across the long years
Most falls away forgotten.
Only a few fragments of song
On the scented wind,
A few stinging scars, tight and bitter,
Too highly regarded, dog-ends
Of disastrous choices,
Fit meat only for tales
Not for policies, not for futures.

Where there is gold:
There the cold-eyed, sly-smiled gather.
Where there is strife:
The carrion-eaters swoop in.

The hoodie cries
(Pecking at the eyes and brains of lambs),
Give us our freedom.
Too long have we been hunted,
Hung slack and bloody on barbed wire.

The martens cry
(As they bury into the bellies
Of the flock),
Give us our independence
To feed where we will
The endless, remorseless hunger
That comes summer or winter,
At ice-melt and frost fall.

The wily foxes circle,
Scenting an opportunity of gold,
Warm red crunch
In the dark hay loft.

To be left at peace
To be unhindered and honest,
Not to be slighted nor chivied,
Herded and diminished,
Nor subjected to the slow death
Of parasites,
Their cunning confusions,
Tongues of deceit,
Gold-grabbing fingers.

The freedom to belong
Is born with your each new breath,
Not with long lines of bloodshed,
Not with boundary stones.

Only when the bones crumble,
Where the fat feeds the soil
When the breath sighs, mingling
With the sedges on the loch-side,
Do we wholly belong.

Those who stand here,
And those who have died here:
They have the right to belong,
Like old MacLeod belongs,
Named and pinned under heaven
Until Time wipes even
The slumbering mountain away.

The ocean river squeezed through Sleat,
Fast, eternal,
At last leapt by stone.
The distant shore, desolate, silent
Hands reaching, never meeting.

Where you make your centre
Is where you are.
Where you belong
Your heart alone knows.
There is no language worth speaking
If it is not in kindness.
That it moves, whether fast or slow,
Voice and song
Are our only gifts to the universe.

We are not adversaries who struggle
For small freedoms, for the upper hand.
There is too much to be lost,
There is not enough to go around,
Never a second chance
When the wolves make the choices
Of who and when and where
A sacrifice is required.

From what will you escape?
What fiscal policy,
What redistribution of wealth,
Will free a pinched, aching heart
Filled with fear and debris,
The slurry of history,
The failures of others.

I have tasted a whisky in the hills,
Honey warm and smooth,
That in the city burned black and harsh…..

hawthorn,Ord

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windswept

7

The long song

The song is always: if only.
(Not the song of the trees
Not the song of the falling waters,
Nor the wind that carries the grey storm wrack),

But the song of those huddled about the fires,
Bone thin, crack-voiced.
And the song too
Of the squire and laird,
Dissatisfied with their winnings,
Their great gambled losses.

Only those covered by the hills
Covered by the rath, the dun,
The hawthorn bent and ringing,
Only the eternal dancers
Have found another song,
Abjuring Time,
Disregarding judgement.

They sing of the edges between things,
The instant when one slips into other,
The knife blade of love into hate,
The cry of the oystercatcher
That spins from joy to grief to joy,
And is all and is none of these things.

They know the call of gold,
Have tasted its dust.
They know the answer to freedom,
(What all seek and none understand),
Have left it, found it,
Given it up.
Those in dream need no other dream.

Those who know they are in dream
Delight in twilights,
The subtle glance,
The hesitant dance.

But here, bombastic, needy
Sure of something, the nation stands
Once more calling for something
That cannot be given.

It cannot be given,
This independence, this freedom you seek.
It cannot be offered, it cannot be bargained for,
It cannot be voted in, it cannot be passed in law.

You will never see it, never reach it.
Nor is it a haven, a prize, a reward, a right.

The house of freedom
Is the empty wall by the long shore.
The house of independence
Is a house open to clouds,
A mist of trees within.

falls

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Kyleakin evening

2

 Weavers of the Sidhe

Two came at twilight

From the rath,

Cold with curiosity,

Small as children

But with strange eyes

And smiles too old,

Far too old.

To see who it was

Carried the silence

By the shore

That was not the grey heron’s;

To judge the cry of one

Neither curlew nor oystercatcher;

To weigh the harsh throat

Not of the hooded crow

Nor of the raven.

To find the mote

In sunlit attic,

It’s dance to forgotten harp

Dusted earth, dreamt melody –

Dream nerves tied to sing of rock,

To follow the dancing road.

When they speak

Small blue flames flicker

Upon their tongues.

Their eyes –

Corridors of starlight

From distant galaxies.

Their thin fingers

Cat’s cradling

the centuries.

They are the same

Our ancestors knew:

Changeless,

Dissolving in midday light,

Returning at twilight

With shadows dancing.

They belong to place,

But not to time.

They are the rolling,

Rising, blue distance-

Yearned for,

Unattainable.

032LochDunvegan

3

The Secret Commonwealth

Cast out,

Cast down

From Heaven’s brilliance.

Not falling for the passion of rage,

Nor swayed by the unforgiving violence

Of righteousness,

(The simple, clear lie

of polarities, justice, truth).

Condemned by the Most High

For failing to take sides.

Falling down,

Down

Into twilight.

Neither here nor there,

Backwards or forwards.

It is why they flock to song,

Delight in the poet,

To what moves by its stillness,

What reverberates with passion,

Profound ephemera,

Guileless illusion,

Flash of gold,

Uncertain Reality.

Shot-silk seasons

Rich with the Opposite.

Reflection on reflection,

Echoed echoes.

Not dead, nor living

They are the rolling, rising blue distance,

The accumulation of dream,

Repository of yearning,

Perfume of nostalgia.

The processions, the slow

Dance:

Terrestrial constellations

Caught sight of peripherally,

Oblique,

Canny,

Ambivalent,

Unnerving.

Bane of priests,

Defiers of logic.

Snake language – fast

And sparkling.

A danger to mortal dreamers

Who might fade

Into the world,

Feather roots merging,

Knowing and edges blurred

Into the song of presence.

Perhaps returning,

(if at all)

With a fragment of lament,

An air,

A pavan,

A secret wrenched from time,

Lost within time again,

A wonder,

A treasure,

A mystery unholy,

Disengaging from certainty.

Duirnish sky1

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CillChroisd

So, since our trip to Skye in late October I have been alert for fragments of a long piece called “The House of Trees”. It is an archaeological process: I have seen the overview, the aerial photographs of anomalous markings. I suspect the subject matter, what lurks below the undisturbed ¬†grass, intimations of structure, an outline, a definite definition. Season by season, I return to gaze from different angles ( the low light or high light revealing something or nothing), tentatively trowel away a little soil ( gold being such a flighty treasure, turning to tin can or brass if not approached with delicacy). Gradually an accumulation of relics, lines, phrases, rivers, posies is piling up. So I have decided to display some current finds, unreconstructed, scrubbed, labeled.

The sections so far can be defined thus:

The pivotal images are a small derelict burial chapel beside a moorland road. Initially I was drawn to it by a large twining ivy plant, white and bone-dead, crawling up the roofless walls. But also a small group of yew trees under which a relatively new gravestone had been placed, so that they acted as a living green monument, evergreen in a windswept, wan landscape.

On the other side of the island, on the main road to and from Portree, we passed several times a deserted croft, again roofless, but this one filled with a copse of young trees. It was not in the middle of nowhere, but on the edge of a small village, newer houses just a stone’s throw away.

Both images of time, of mortality, of people living and passing on. The history of Scotland is depressing: bleak repetition of small conflicts, betrayals, squabbles, misunderstandings, bigotry, famines, disasters, displacement, loss, exploitation of the poor by the rich. As such it is not so different from any other nation’s histories. Perhaps Scotland’s historians were less persuaded by a ruling elite to gloss and gild the facts. The small population, the difficult terrain, has meant that lost villages, deserted houses have not been swept away by succeeding generations. The bitter, unthinking inhumanities that so stain a country’s historical development still remain, accusing, daring the passer-by to forget at their peril.

And the rigid, bombastic stupidity of councils, governments and landowners often encourage a wistful nostalgia for something that never was – a free and unified nation.

The romantic, Isle of Skye, (and by God, it is romantic), for example was parcelled up between bellicose clans, each taking possession of one of the peninsulas. MacDonalds, MacLeods, MacGregors and more, all continuing the Celtic Iron Age ( British) tradition of cattle raiding their neighbours, taking hostages, not trusting each other.

And parallel to this, the mythic grandeur of the Highland imagination ( again, a relict from pre-Christian cosmologies). The Second Sight, the Secret Commonwealth of the Fairy Nations, the spirit haunted wilds, the thin veils between Other worlds that pervade the folk history, the music and the sense of place. It is this that first fuels the project. Sitting in silence one evening I had a sense of being watched by the curious non-human eyes of the island’s Good People, and the memorable fancy that they began weaving, implanting, encouraging images, words, ideas. With that came the contrast and similarity between these mythic entities and the nation’s yearning for Independence, Freedom, Self Rule that re-emerges every generation or so ( and to a lesser extent every Saturday night when “Flower of Scotland” gets slurily echoed down the cobbled streets, especially after the traditional thrashing by England of the nearly always lamentable national football team.).

Time is different in mountain country. Each valley, each glen runs at its own speed, collecting its own data, developing its own reasons, its own story. The horizons are small, the world is a house with walls of green and brown slopes. Legend piles up, each place named for the event it remembers. Memory inhabits and flavours.

The city has its own time too, but it is a time shared by all other cities. Its urgencies are not local, it is fed by roads from elsewhere, it feeds also on its inhabitants, who are within its complex alimentary canal, slowly dissolving. Few cities exist within the landscape. They squat upon it, learning to disregard the geography as the years progress. Cities are not self sustaining. They are parasitical, drawing on the goodness from beyond their walls. Without the constant inflow of raw materials and nourishment, cities will quickly collapse in on themselves, self digesting in panic and confusion.

Anyway, here is the first part, as it is at present. (I will post a few other completed sections in the next few days – so far about ten parts).

THE HOUSE OF TREES

Part 1: A Harbouring of Voices

Come tumbling

Like birds for crumbs:

These lines

Bidden and unbidden,

Broken and insistent

Like gulls.

Small as sparrows,

Bright as chaffinches,

Cautious, sidelong, black watchfulness

As of crows.

Woven, twisted, rooted-

A faint echo from the hill.

For here is not the silence of the far North

Nor its diamond thinness of light.

In the dark the bones gather together,

Get up and dance,

Mutter and gesture seeking meaning,

Seeking purpose.

Plaintive, scolding

Finding tongue.

Whose voice

Is the possessor of truth?

It rises and sinks back hidden,

Forming and unforming,

Like a cormorant on slow black waters:

It will be where it was not,

Leaving no ripples of history or intent.

Ripples LochBay

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