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Sorley Maclean

Raasay Woods

“Englished by Kenneth Cox” — Previously published in Chapman.

Pine-stems erect
on the braced height;
sporting blue cockades,
the green untrodden sea;
valiant, volatile, flighty,
effortless, undemanding,
the great light-headed wood,
crimson and green, two-ply.

Birch and bracken the ground
of the great green chamber;
ridge and floor
deep-dyed, at peace;
humble bells of the cowslip,
petals yellow on green;
upright posts of the chamber,
the nobly swaying pines.

Bells you gave me,
bells of victory,
bells of merriment,
yellow and green;
cloches clashing,
swaggering braggarts,
helmets agleam
coppery red.

I took your colours
and wound them round me,
I took your banners
yellow and green.
I clothed the frisky
moods indulged me,
clothed them in banners
yellow and red.

I made my way
through manifold weaving,
I set my course
on new-dream-land,
thither and back again,
seeking to win with the
nimbly impetuous
play of my gallantry.

The great wood shimmering,
mettlesome, fresh;
the high greenwood
in multiple motion;
the wood and my wits
white with excitement,
the wood abloom
with continual regeneration.

The wood in the sunshine
joyful and playful,
the wood to each wind
a chance-met sparkler;
the wood in the shadow
resting unflurried,
the wood ahum
with melodious glees.

The wood in the half-light
waking at daybreak
to the belling of stags
that bursts into barks;
the wood doubled over
the prestissimo riffs,
the wood enjoying
the sea’s sport.

You were vocal at evening
with a homely humming
and cool with the dew
that falls in silence;
you burst out in beauty
with a thicket of thrushes
yet always subdued
to the murmur of burns.

In the quiet of the night
fine figures of amber,
through darkening trees
and the glimmering gloaming,
stealthily stole,
cunningly pluriform,
coming and going,
weaving me into your croon.

Helmets you gave me,
green swags,
prickly and
tingling caps
tormenting me with temptation,
high-hung swags
disabling me with their swinging.

A face disturbed the peace of the greenwood,
the warbling of burns and the twisting of streams,
the calm of the stars shining yellow,
sea-gleam, night-wood-glow.

When the moon spilt shining shillings
on the baize of the dark seaboard
I put out in my boat to trace
its genealogical tree.

Sgurr nan Gillean is a dragon
fierce with its row of four sharp
points of rock on the top
but of another clime.

A unicorn is Sgurr nan Gillean
sedate and lovely in white,
the white of sparkling snow,
calm and steady its point,

the spearpoint on the skyline,
the fine white tip of beauty,
the peak of my trouble, the love-thrust
ever dormant over the Clarach.

Greenwood this side of the Clarach,
Raasay wood of the musical laugh,
Raasay wood gentle and calm,
joyful mournful lovely wood.

On either southern slope a graveyard,
a graveyard filled with half of my kin,
silent beside the Sound,
graves of the men of Raasay returned.

Returned to rest in the earth
from the round sky’s solar day,
in the lee of the waves’ surge,
two burial-places of the country’s loins.

Raasay wood,
my darling chatterbox,
my whispering sweetheart,
my sleepy child.

In the wood came a stumble,
in the wet night-wood,
the wood of delicate tendrils,
the shimmering eddying wood.

In the lush undergrowth the snake awoke,
in his slim new multiplex sheath
amidst leafy springs, to prick,
sting, till the cry of pain in the sport.

From the Cuillin it darted,
from hills the hardest
to climb to pleasant tops:
tenderness bruised by a beast.

I saw the three of them fleet,
the three trim goddesses stripped:
I knew Actaeon crushed,
scourged by the three enraged.

I saw the three in the wood,
the three white, slender, nude,
the three met only in glimpse,
in meeting not to be mentioned.

She it was who yielded
kisses not halting the chase
ambiguous in direction,
the man in eager pursuit pursued.

Raasay wood it was
that gave kiss smooth as honey,
a kiss not cloying the clay,
a breast-disquieting kiss.

Their verse has not the rushing
speed that could pace that tempest,
it has not the teeming life
that would pacify the wood.

Raasay wood the gentle,
convivial beside the Clarach,
a division in green on the ground
the Cuillin makes with the waves.

Raasay wood, voluble,
soft-spoken, sweet-talking,
dizzy beside the sea
in sound unslumbering sleep.

It was believed with flesh
with mind and heart
that one thing was perfect,
beautiful, attainable:
a thing neither deterred
by physical hardship
nor tarred by the brush
of time and distraction.

What is the point of giving a girl
love that is like the blue of the sky
rising out of the dawn
to bare itself to the sun?
Though the love were born as perfect
as fortitude in adversity,
without fear, without doubt, without hope,
strict, blood-red, sound;
though the love were born inexpressible
it would be as if it were said
not to be capable of fulfilment
since it could not be expressed.

Why set hope upon
love as swift as a horse and as red as the blood,
why yield to the Cuillin’s art
love ready to struggle against any difficulty?
Why worship nature
since the wood is a part of her?

The Cuillin wall has been seen demolished,
smashed to smithereens in a foul pit,
a simple love seen
not won, lost, unenjoyed.

It is because they rise
out of the torn deeps of grief
that loads are set on heights.

Poor and unsteady the base
where the stout Cuillin stands,
so reason tears
as verse or music is formed.

Oh the wood, oh the wood,
what there is in her dark depths!
Thousands of snakes in her lush leaves:
pleasure broken and bruised,
the anguish continuously painful,
pain unendurable.

Oh the wood, oh the wood!
Face of fine beauty,
eye gently shining,
a jewel alive in the dark.

It is known, the way of the sap,
rising to do its business,
a wine constantly reactivated,
unaware of itself, untaught.

There is no knowing the way
of the crooked twists of the heart,
there is no knowing the hurt
at the end of its ignorant aim.

No knowing, no knowing
the end of any pursuit
or the cunning of the turns
wherein it loses its way.

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