In a little more than 24 hours our Scottish adventure will begin. After soaking up the sights and sounds of Edinburgh and Glasgow for the first week, we will be off to the Outer Islands for 4 weeks of research and reflection. The Outer Hebrides have long been of fascination to poets, mystics, and eccentrics (like archaeologists).
A very dear friend brought the literary history of the Islands to my attention last week with a quote from the first page of Jane Eyre:
Where the Northern Ocean, in vast whirls,
Boils round the naked, melancholy isles
Of farthest Thule; and the Atlantic surge
Pours in among the stormy Hebrides.
(As an aside, this is the cover illustration by Coralie Bickford-Smith for the 2011 Penguin Classic edition of Jane Eyre. She is also the author and illustrator of The Fox and the Star, the winner of the 2015 Waterstone Book Award. It is one of my favorite literary finds of the past year, and not just because I have an insatiable fox fixation.)
The Jane Eyre quote sent me on a quest to find more contemporary literary references to the Hebrides – and what a fruitful search it was! Here is a beautiful reflection on the Islands:
A Poem by Don Paterson
When the day comes, as the day surely must,
when it is asked of you, and you refuse
to take that lover’s wound again, that cup
of emptiness that is our one completion,
I’d say go here, maybe, to our unsung
innermost isle: Kilda’s antithesis,
yet still with its own tiny stubborn anthem,
its yellow milkwort and its stunted kye.
Leaving the motherland by a two-car raft,
the littlest of the fleet, you cross the minch
to find yourself, if anything, now deeper
in her arms than ever — sharing her breath,
watching the red vans sliding silently
between her hills. In such intimate exile,
who’d believe the burn behind the house
the straitened ocean written on the map?
Here, beside the fordable Atlantic,
reborn into a secret candidacy,
the fontanelles reopen one by one
in the palms, then the breastbone and the brow,
aching at the shearwater’s wail, the rowan
that falls beyond all seasons. One morning
you hover on the threshold, knowing for certain
the first touch of the light will finish you.
– “Luing” copyright 2005 by Don Paterson. From
“Landing Light” by Graywolf Press.