Poem #40/52

Here is the 40th poem in my 52-poem sequence (one a week) for 2013, followed by some illumination and reflection:


Through a hole in a polished stoneclachtoll-Bill Smith
it is said the seer saw the future
and here, like his lost gift
a natural arch of this coast
lies broken like a toothless smile.

Was he a witch or a conjurer
a trickster, a travelling salesman?
-who in an age of terrors
peddled the curious possibility
that we might be masters of this cage
only blinded by our fear?

Shrewd judge of geology and menBon-Echo-AJ-Casson
this arch collapsed as he predicted
after centuries, deepening his mystery
and while the people take control at last
of this land and their future

how much further yet recedes the possibility
of our understanding our continuation
like rocks seen beneath the refracting seaswell
stretching in each dimension
beyond this intersection of blood and breath.

While the scientists clamber to describesilver birchesTom-Thomson
with their hammers and dividers
stumbling on the shores of platitudes
reducing us to numbers

I stand and gaze through the gaps in this cliff
squint my eyes, adjust the angle.


This poem is the third part of a quartet called A Highland Coast Quartet (see first here and second here ). Also set in the Lochinver area, this poem focuses on Clachtoll Bay, dominated by a split rock that was once a natural arch. Some time in the 17th century, while the arch still stood, Scotland’s version of Nostradamus, the ‘Brahan Seer’ predicted: ‘The natural arch, or Clach tholl, near Storehead in Assynt, will fall with a crash so loud as to cause the laird of Leadmore’s cattle, twenty miles away, to break their tethers.’ This was fulfilled, 1841, when the laird’s cattle had strayed near the arch, and when it fell the terrifying din made them stampede all the way home, wrecking anything that got in their way.

I’ve written a book about the Brahan Seer, a historical novel, which will be published by the Gaelic publisher Acair in early 2014, in which I explore in depth what it might have been like to have possessed such a gift (or curse) and how it would affect the behaviour of everyone around you. Suffice to say, as history shows us, humanity tends to turn on those who tell the unadulterated truth, sooner or later, Jesus being only the most famous example. Regardless of whether one is willing to believe in the possibility of second sight, it is surely a source of fascination that societies of the past did, and examples from ancient Greece all the way to Shakespeare’s Macbeth demonstrate how issues of fate and causality can be illuminated to profound effect by the enigma of predictions. Moreover, one wonders if in embracing our scientific contemporary mythos, we have not lost something magical in our previous world-view, which gave greater meaning to our lives, which now we so sorely lack.

Clachtoll bay is an incredible place, and we were lucky to stay in a house there built almost on the shoreline itself and witness a real storm in action. The Atlantic can be one angry sea.

For this week’s illustrations, we’re going to go for Tom Thomson’s ‘Silver Birches’ for atmosphere, and AJ Casson’s ‘Bon Echo’ for rugged coastline.

This entry was posted in 52 Poem Sequence, Art, History, Photography, Poetry, Psychology, Travel. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Poem #40/52

  1. Pingback: Poem #41/52 | Douglas Thompson's Blog

  2. Laura says:

    Douglas, I like your poem! Would you mind if the NWH Geopark republished a verse in our North Assynt Pebble Route? Thank you 🙂

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