Posts Tagged ‘Scotland’

turquoise blues green1

(forest of Caledon)

Green bed
Lie here safe.
Green heart
Rest here whole.
Green jewel
Rest here in light.
Over all and
Over Earth:
Wrapped in clouds
Held, not forgotten.
Endless is the mystery
Of life
Finding itself.
Sun and stars, even,
watch amazed.
Green heart of
All things.

the first of ten pieces attempting to encapsulate numinous landscapes of Scotland and the Western Isles. Landscapes that exist in memory, mind, folklore, as well as geographically. Access points to the Celtic (and pre-Celtic) Otherworlds. As a means to soul healing and the yearn of a return to an unreachable home

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First Signs


The last few days autumn has come with sweeping winds and towering skies. Cold rains between radiant brightness. The birches are yellowing, the hawthorns reddening, the elders turn gold and purple, the swallows have all slipped away. Because it was my habit, a long time ago, to be in the North at the start of autumn, I have felt the pull of the clear cold, the descent of the year, bracken and heather, valley melancholy.

With this sudden,
Southern cold
I would be, again,
In Portree

On a bright morning
Watching the light
Push the small boats
Tethered to the tide

And the gulls
In the upper town calling
From the hills of roofs,
Naming them all :
The clouds and storms
Of coming winter

And with the smell of baking
And the smell of woodsmoke
And the roar of Time,
Shored up by thick walls
And a gathering of smiles.


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The last week or so I have found time and space to push on with a few art-book projects I have been wanting to complete. One is a printed paper copy of “The House of Trees”. It is quite a long poem, but even so a little short for a stand-alone book – at least one that feels like a real book rather than a parish church guidebook! So I have been working out how to interleaf the text pages with image pages. Originally I was thinking of one image page facing each new section of the poem, but practically, because of the varying lengths of the sections, this did not work so well. So I have decided to greatly increase the number of images so that each spread has one image page facing the text page. This has the advantage of consistency, and also of increasing the number of pages to about eighty or ninety – quite a nice thickness! Luckily, I had taken quite a few photographs on the Isle of Skye, upon which the poem is based. On of the most interesting things on Skye was the number of high quality artist’s galleries. I was particularly attracted by several woodcut artists. Woodcut and print are a match made in heaven, so I tried to see if I could get that jewel-like light and dark richness by working with my images.


I have used quite simple techniques (complexity is beyond my computer skills), mainly playing around with contrast and gradients. The end result depends quite a lot on the original colour photos, but I have managed to get some rich, deep tones that remind me of wood engravings, and others that more resemble aquatint etchings. Here are a few that I like. Most of the images I am happy to present as near abstracts, suggestions of landscapes, textures and grains of wood and stone. As they are complementing, rather than illustrating, the text, I want them to set an atmosphere as much as anything else.


You may remember some of the photographs that I used to accompany “The House Of Trees” as I was writing it and posting it here earlier in the year. I have used some of the same images but made many of them more graphic.


I expect I will try printing some of these out for myself on etching -type archive paper, to see haow they fare as objects in their own right.


I hope the juxtaposition of panoramic spaces with close up textural detail will keep the interest of the eye as it moves from page to page.


Somehow the tonal reversals suit the nostalgic, Otherworldly flavour, where mirroring and transformations are a common motif. Also somehow fits in with the eye of memory and metaphysical meditations also….


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So, this is a trial to see whether I have followed the correct procedures……

With any luck you will be able, should you so chose, to listen to the track “Over the Hill, the View” from my CD “Rain”. If so, be prepared for many such annoyances accompanying my future blogs……

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The full length piece can be found here as a blog page as it takes up a bit of space (though does not comprise many words). I have recently been looking at some very old travel writings, mostly taking the form of haibun. This one was composed on a brief visit to the Orkney Islands, north of mainland Scotland, during the midsummer of 1980. I have added a few new linking texts, but apart from that the piece remains as originally composed. Accompanying the text were originally some black and white photographs, but as this was long before the days of digital anything, I will have to do considerable playing around to reintroduce them (once I have located prints or negatives)


Returning to Stromness I cooked an evening meal and then wandered aimlessly along the coast. Although I had to rise early next morning, planning to take a boat to Hoy, I was unable to leave such a beautiful evening. Despite the hour, it was still very light, and a deep silence filled both myself and the land through which I walked. Resonance was everywhere. Great wellings up of deep emotion when I beheld the waves on a small foreshore; the trawler, its mast-light flickering, heading out to sea; the hills and cliffs of Hoy across the water almost melting into the deep stillness of oncoming night; young lambs bleating on the hillside; mother ducks with their young by the shore.

this evening, too, lingers,
unwilling to leave
your summer stillness,
Islands of the far north.

on the shore
wave upon wave
only deepens the silence,
Islands of the far north.


soon to depart,
at last
the tune
of something
framing this land

the stranger
knows a wholeness
to which
he does not belong.

mull kodak2 072

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Sun, becoming burnished, cherry red,
Rolls up that hill,
A golden road to golden day.

This is our land, none better
For our long days,
As days stretch and darkness glistens.
A rich land for rich hearts.

We rise upon our high, green seats,
Our green thrones, rise towards the sky,
Lifting the land, a cloak, a wing, a song.

This vast curve of life:
A shield against all dismay,
A pool, heaven reflecting.

Islands arise from the morning,
Hearth fires radiate into the dusk.
This is our birth,
Rolling up the glorious hills.


I forgot about this one that I scribbled down a few days ago as dawn came up.
The Votadini were a tribe inhabiting South East Scotland up to the Firth of Forth, present day Borders and Lothian regions.
Their territory is characterised by big hilltop enclosures with large walls and banks ,(examples are Eildon Seat, Yeavering Bell and Trepain Law in East Lothian, which was probably their primary seat until it moved to Dun Eidyn (Edinburgh) in the 5th century).
The name probably means ‘fort dwellers’, though has also been interpreted as ‘those of the wide places’. Their name becomes transformed into the Early Medieval British kingdom/confederacy Gododdin ( ‘w’ sounds change to ‘gu’ in many Celtic tongues), well-known for the Welsh/British poem that records the disastrous defeat they suffered at the Battle of Catterick.

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The Giving of Names (continued 5)


A space between the stars.
Dark, we are wrapped, wringed,
Unnamed even,
A smudge in the night,
Inked, marked, shaded.
Climbing from mud
No thoughts of our own,
Blameless we destroy,
Blameless we create.
A shadow of the master,
A wish of the mistress,
A whisper down the dark glen
A breeze turning a cold cheek.
Iron in our word,
Iron in our hand.
Our word is iron, our grip, iron
Cold, certain, untainted.
Our way: a dance, a mesmeric shimmer.
Holding serpents, owl beaked.
Our silent gift a sudden end.
Blue grey the steady eye,
The black red bite of blood,
A howl at the throat, stifled.

We writhe through the night,
Shadow dance and skitter
Inhabiting the corner edge
Breathe on your smooth neck
Assay, test and mark the footfall.

In and out this world
A quick needle sewing new days.
In trance we enter in and out
Flow water-curved, spiral-tuned.

If you do not know our language
If you do not know our ways
If you do not sing the fierce heart’s song,
It will only be fear and endings for you.

Ghosting through dawn’s slice
Nothing but a dream we were
Returning, filtered, fading,
Explained away, laughed off.
It is you are deeply severed,
Surely marked out,
Stripped of doubt,
An offering, a promise.
The sign cannot be mistaken,
It cannot be washed out.
We who were chosen, have judged
And chosen. No backing away.

At dusk it will be the dreams.
At night fall, the voices begin.
The nightjar shall call you,
The fox mark your path.
Delineated, made edge,
An invisible will
You shall move silent,
A hush,
A fireside tale,
A moth’s flicker
A tremor of dust.
There and not there.
Painted warrior.


This arrived late last night. I wasn’t sure which tribe was ‘speaking’, except that it was probably from Scotland. The Picts (Pictii), was what the Romans called these peoples: ‘the Painted ones’, because of their use of body art. Body art was common amongst Celtic and Germanic tribespeople, so the Scottish tribes must have been in a league of their own in this regard. The Selgovae inhabited the Southern Uplands of the Scottish Borders, around the Upper Tweed basin. Their name means ‘hunters’.


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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

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

Here is the foreword to that book:


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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Yew textures



Belonging and separation
These, the truth of all relating.
Belonging and separation,
These, the fabric of all existences.
Belonging and separation:
The biology of being
The song of the heart
The engine of thoughts
The migration of souls
The tide of peoples
The stick and goad of leaders
The yearning of lovers
The fear of death.

Staying in one place:
The rowan, the birch
Taking up, letting go,
Bending to withstand rain,
Rising in springtime.

A blessing to all
A curse to none.
The house of trees
Ever remaining.

I breathe in
The wood of my own making:
The spliced double oak
Of my lungs
Shattering separation,
Drawing in life to life.
Feeding the forest
Of my blood, a red tide
Whispering the twin rivers
Of extension and return.
My own yew and alder,
Heart life, deep-rooted.

A dream of trees,
This world.
A home of trees.
A house of trees,
An open sanctuary,
A boundary of contentment.

The bright tumbling birches-
I breathe their fluid lightning,
Sucked in to my belly.
Spinning, revolving, sweeping away
Sorrow, liquid atonement,
A clarity of spiral song,
A reverberation of pure note.

I breathe in the star snow of rowan,
A descent of clustered frost,
Rock-borne, persistent.
A waterfall descent of night
Shot through with sparks of song.
A tumbled universe
Bridging beginnings and ends.
A resonance of watching silence.

I breathe the resin air of pine,
A seed of taste on the tongue-tip.
Awakened presence, reminder of place.
I breathe out the distant glimmer
Through the centre of my eyes,
Arrow-straight, target-less,
Horizon’s endless pull.

The tree of memory.
The tree of branching thought.

I breathe the sweep of ash,
The straight, silent spear tip of it,
Key to all houses.

I breathe the shattering quiver
Of aspen the whisperer.
A fountain of echoes,
Shaking each nerve tip
With rippled delight.

I breathe without movement
A perfect balance of oak.
Remaining poised,
Certain stitch, well held.

And I breathe a pool of yew,
Contracting, expanding, bubbled time,
A well of silence,
A well of time.

Half here, half elsewhere,
The dancers know that tune
Of leaf and root, galliard of the seasons.
The slow inhalation of moments,
The gnat-cloud of thought
Dispersed and reformed
In new pools of sunlight.

The house of trees:
Allowing the dark,
Allowing the stillness,
Acquiescing to gravity
And the yearning for light.
Placed, established, settled.
Whilst we,
Free to wander
But rootless and unsatisfied,
Busy to hide the doubt of silence,
The insistence of other questions.
Always running away, scurrying.
Better stories
Awaiting beyond.

It is time (surely) to
Attain a place,
An open view,
learning to remain.

Over the hills of Knoydart
The clouds have settled.
Dawn stills the waters
Between Raasay and the deep wood.
Distilled essence,
Liquid morning.
All roads and paths
To elsewhere
Are empty.

The house of trees:
A beginning and an end
Of remembering.

tall trees

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magic wood


The Singing Wood

In the tangled thicket
Blackthorn barbs of thought
With no safe way to turn
Suspended, doubtful, tired,
A bright berry yet –
Container of seed, small hope
Only requiring its portion
Of sun and soil.

A dream of all the islands
Bridged and bounteous
Dangerous Sounds, riptides of recrimination,
Gravestones of sorrow
Mapped, but foresworn.
The few that foolish fought
Squabbling, slaying the hopes
Of all others, forgiven
But no longer exalted.
Each land with its sweet air
Breathing new life into its own
Sweet song, strong language
Not misered, but known by all
Shaped, gloried, delighted in.

The blessings of all required by all.
The gold of happenstance
A fountain of benevolence.
No capercaillie strut, no clash
Of antlered rut – lords only
Of knowledge and kind words.
All requiring all, sustaining all.
In the flash of day between
Long night and long night
The hearth of kindness
The food of companionship.

Islands no longer prisons of belief
Walled by the bones of the slain.
Each a tree: oak, ash, thorn,
Birch, mazzard, distinct, shining,
A singing wood of distinction,
Where roots sustain
Woven tight together
Where branches catch light,
A net of bright breezes dancing.
Where trunks are lithe, given space,
Grow strong,
Sheltered and warmed by all.
Islands of the blessed,
Apple islands,
Shining in sunlit seas.

woods at Tokavaig

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