Having been passionate about poetry for all my early life, and right through into my twenties, for some reason that passion lapsed. I had written poetry along with my stories from being a child, but that seemed to fall away, and like everything it needs practice and hard work so when I did try to write something, it was awkward and not very good. I came back to poetry again when I began to teach in a school for young people no longer in formal education; surprisingly they loved poetry, and more surprisingly, many of them wrote poems themselves – at home not at school.
I began to read more poetry again, but somehow in the years between, I missed out on many poets I should have known… I’m catching up with a few now, but to be honest, I seem to have slipped back to the sixteenth and seventeenth century. Just today, by chance I came across an extract from a longer poem by Hugh McDiarmid, of whom I had never heard…
I must get into this stone world now.
Ratchel, striae, relationships of tesserae,
Innumerable shades of grey,
And beneath them all a stupendous unity,
Infinite movement visibly defending itself
Against all the assaults of weather and water,
Simultaneously mobilised at full strength
At every point of the universal front,
Always at the pitch of its powers,
The foundation and end of all life.
I try them with the old Norn words – hraun,
Duss, rønis, queedaruns, kollyarum;
They hvarf from me in all directions
Over the hurdifell – klett, millya hellya, hellyina bretta,
Hellyina wheeda, hellyina grø, bakka, ayre, –
And lay my world in kolgref.
I don’t know much about geology but it does fascinate me, and whenever we are out I’m always picking up stones and looking at them, so I was intrigued by that first line in this extract from On a Raised Beach by MacDiarmid. He was born Christopher Murray Grieve in 1892 (the same year as my grandma was born). This extract is full of lovely language, and even if at first you don’t know what all the dialect words mean, you get the idea of them
- ratchel – gravelly stone
- striae – parallel scratches or grooves on the surface of a rock
- tesserae – small pieces of stone used in mosaic work
I love the last six lines, piling on word after word from the forgotten Norn language, like stones piled on top of each other. Norn was a Norse language spoken in the Orkney and Shetland islands, which died away a couple of hundred years ago. remnants still remain…
McDiarmid was a controversial character, both a fascist and a communist apparently! However, I will have to explore his work some more!