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GMB portrait by Fred Schley
painted in 1998 from photographs by Gunnie Moberg and Fred Schley
oil on canvas 50 x 60 cms

 

 

 

One afternoon in May I’ve booked
  my passage on a boat
from Scrabster to your Hamnavoe,
  the place you lived and wrote.
The town is looking pretty in
  its light-green, springtime dress;
the skies are blue in tribute to
  the bard that sang Stromness.

That’s a very nice wee plaque they’ve pegged
  upon your old abode;
and not that wee, in fact, as I
  can read it from the road.
It’s not all that impressive though,
  this dreary council house;
it’s funny you were happy to
  personify a mouse.

The owl’s inclined to hoot before it flies,
the dog intent on barking till it dies,
  the bell designed for ringing.
As bows are meant to shoot a thrilling rain,
and arrows find their mark or fall in vain,
  so truth is bent on singing.

There’s a mist around the hilltops now,
  a drizzle in the town;
I kid myself I sense your ghost,
  George Mackay Brown.
You take me down the pier to watch
  the seagulls wheeling free,
then lead me through their yammer to
  the chuckles of the sea.

The owl’s inclined to hoot before it flies,
the dog intent on barking till it dies,
  the bell designed for ringing.
As bows are meant to shoot a thrilling rain,
and arrows find their mark or fall in vain,
  so truth is bent on singing.

 

I sang this for my first-year students last week. They’re in the middle of a course on GMB. It starts with a poem, “The Stranger”, then four stories from A Calendar of Love and two from A Time to Keep and Other Stories. I’ve written an essay about one of the latter.

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