Dark Devil’s Pool, where Spirit of the Tweed
__Conceived the first-born of the Tuede clan;
__Each maiden fair, and muckle braw each man,
__With “Thol and Think” their battle-cry and creed.
They built a keep, a refuge most secure,
__Where sheep and children could be taken in
__When English raiders or some feuding kin
__Despoiled the land from Quarter to Tweedsmuir.
Today, unmortared lichen-crusted stones
__Lie scattered in the heathered Lowland loam.
__A fallen wall etched dimly in the gloam
__Displays the once-proud Border tower’s bones.
Forsaken land; yet Tweed and Pool remain
As witness to the still-proud family name.

 

Poet’s Note

Muckle: large/great a variation of old English Mickle but the preferred word in old Scots.
Braw: strong/handsome old Scots
Thol: a variant of Old English thole Meaning work or endure. The Tweedie family motto, “Thol and Think” sometimes spelled one way and sometimes the other. The poem refers to Drumelzier, the Tweedie’s place of origin. My own family represents the ancestral heirs to Tweedie of Quarter (& Rachen) property located 2-3 miles ENE of Drumelzier. The motto is the same for both branch’s of the family. Tweedie is also spelled Tweedy, Tuede, etc. all the same family.

 

James A. Tweedie is a recently retired pastor living in Long Beach, Washington. He likes to walk on the beach with his wife. He has written and self-published four novels and a collection of short stories. He has several hundred unpublished poems tucked away in drawers.

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19 Responses

  1. James A. Tweedie

    Perhaps the poem will make more sense if I fill in some of the back story. The Tweed River, which flows into the North Sea at Berwick, winds through the south Scottish Lowlands where, at times, it forms the border between England and Scotland. Because of this, the area is also known as the Borders and is famous for its collection of (now ruined) abbeys. Sir Walter Scott built his home (Abbotsford) 40 miles downriver from Drumelzier below Peebles. The Tweedie homeland embraces the upper reaches of the Tweed where, in the area of Tweedsmuir and above, it is more of a brook than a river. The Tweedie legend has it that during one of the early Crusades, the auld Laird of Drumelzier, who was married to a young and comely lass, headed off to the Holy Land. Three years later upon his return he was surprised to find that he was now the father to a one-year old son. “How did this thing happen?” he asked. His wife replied, “I was bathing in the river when the Spirit of the Tweed came upon me after which I found that I was with child.” The husband, either because he was superstitious or simply realized that in his old age he now had an heir, decided to let the matter go. His descendants then took the name Tuede which roughly translates as “from (out of) the Tweed.” The place where the wife supposedly bathed is adjacent to the castle and became known as the Devil’s Pool because of its association with a wizard named Merlin—unrelated to the more famous English wizard of the same name. Also, to correct my typographical error, Quarter & Rachen are located EAST of Drumelzier rather than ENE. I am fully aware that the closing rhyme, “remain/name” is inexact.

    Reply
    • James A Tweedie

      I did it again! Quarter and Rachen are WEST of Drumelzier! (sigh)

      Reply
    • Jack Beaulieu

      It wasn’t until I read your background note that I fully understood that by legend at least, the progenitor of your family line was a spirit (even tho the 1st line says it was)–so of course the Immaculate Conception sprang to mind!

      The wife’s answer to her husband about how the unexpected new addition to their family came about gave me a chuckle.

      When you have the poem published (which I hope you will, since it’s nicely written, has resonance, and even a touch of whimsicality) I think the background note should be included. It helped me and it might help others.

      The imagery in the sestet is vivid. I can see the scene very clearly. Your poem is a polished piece of writing.

      You don’t sound like the devil’s spawn, so I am going to assume the progenitor was no evil spirit. What does it feel like to have such unearthly ancestry? No wonder you call it a “proud family name”!

      Well done.

      Reply
      • James A. Tweedie

        Jack,

        Some of the oldest legal records in the Western world are stored in the Registry House in Edinburgh, Scotland. Parish registers of births, baptisms, weddings, congregational discipline against members, and funerals give rich outlines to family names and lineage. It is the legal records, however, which are most interesting since they mostly involve litigation issues over property disputes or criminal offenses. As a result, most of what we know about our Scottish ancestors focus on the thugs, scoundrels, criminals, bullies and misfits on our family trees.

        Tweedies, among other things, were well known for stealing sheep, something of which our neighbors were also guilty. In addition, English raiders crossed into Scotland and stole and pillaged as they could and, no doubt, Tweedies joined with others in doing the same across the border to the south. Among my ancestors are William Tweedie of Drumelzier and Adam Tweedie of Dreva, two of the twelve people named as participating in the conspiracy and actual murder of David Rizzio, private secretary to Mary Queen of Scots, in Holyrood Palace in 1566. He died of 56 stab wounds. I struggle mightily as to whether I should embrace these folks as part of my “proud family name” or not!

        As for your question, “What does it feel like to have such unearthly ancestry?” It reminds me that it is not a person’s status at birth–neither class, race, nationality, or creed, or, as in my family’s case, illegitimacy–that ultimately defines who they are. To paraphrase Jesus, “It is not what goes into a man that defiles him but what comes out of him.” The proof is in the pudding, so to speak or, more biblically, “You shall know them by their fruit.”

        So, to answer. Insofar as those carrying the “Tweedie” name reflect the goodness, mercy, humility, self-sacrifice and love of both God and neighbor in their lives, I am happy to embrace them as my own. As regards those who do not reflect such things in their lives I can only restate what Charlie Brown was once told by his father, “You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your relatives.”

        And, of course, the skirl of bagpipes sends chills up and down my spine . . . every time!

    • Monty

      Upon my first reading of your offering: I immediately realised that is was a well-crafted piece about which I had not the slightest understanding. I lazily deemed it to be too esoteric to even begin to make sense of; and concluded it may’ve been based around some tale in scottish folklore, to which only scots were privy . . and I simply came away from it.

      Then, a cuppla days later, I noticed your explanatory comment . . and that changed the world for me!
      Only then was I able to see your sonnet for exactly what it is, James – a masterpiece.
      I marvelled at the way in which ya’v been able to relay this gem of a tale in true disciplined poetic style . . and seemingly with personal pride. I hope the poem lives long in your family; and I feel that it deserves to be somehow exposed to the scottish race in general.

      I still maintain that – to the unaware – it’s impenetrably esoteric (which, some may say, rendered your explanation necessary.. if not obligatory); but many would agree that it’s sometimes the duty of a poet/poem to be slightly obscure . . to challenge the reader.

      As an aside: I also found myself wondering if your ancestral family’s tentacles have ever spread to the renowned scottish cloth of the same(ish) name?

      Reply
  2. Joseph Charles MacKenzie

    Great and ancient is the Tweedie heritage so perfectly celebrated in this memorable sonnet!

    Within the first quatrain alone, we are given the wonderful story of the mythical origins of the clan whose strong moral character is outlined in the second. The original use of “Today” to mark the classic volta—where the sestet gives us a lyrical metaphor of time in the “unmortared lichen-crusted stones”—is simply outstanding.

    The couplet serves its venerable function of weaving all the strands of meaning together with a bold rhyme whose final consonants are the inverse mirror reflection each of the other, as if to suggest that the Lowland landscape just described is the mirror of the people Tweedie proudly honours.

    The tone is bright and confident, devoid of modernism’s simpering, “woe-is-me” self-mourning. And yet, all the elements of lyric verse are beautifully represented here.

    This is precisely the kind of sonnet that I believe bears all the marks of classic art, a poem that will endure.

    Reply
    • James A. Tweedie

      Thank you, Joseph. You complimentary comments and exposition are greatly appreciated. I noted the mirrored rhyme at the end myself and, as a sort of private joke, think of it as an accidental Spoonerism.

      Reply
  3. David Paul Behrens

    Looks like Amy stole my comment, or should I say beat me to the punch? This poem is well written and very interesting, especially with the back story you provided.

    Reply
  4. C.B. Anderson

    James,

    I am extremely proud of my Scottish heritage, and I prove it almost every night by tasting a wee dram or so of Scotch malt, which Housman claimed “does more than Milton can to justify God’s ways to man.” The funny thing is, when I was much younger I assumed that my surname was English, but I was corrected by a couple of English ladies who visited The Victory Garden, and who, upon learning my name informed me that it was Scottish. It’s equivalent to MacAndrew, son of Andrew, or, more tellingly, son of St. Andrew, the patron saint of Scotland. Those who don’t know this might be surprised that the crisscrossed British flag is a graphic depiction of St. Andrew’s & St. George’s crosses knitted together. Anyway, your poem sent chills up and down my back, since I tend to react that way when I am reminded of my heritage. It should come as no surprise to you that one of mt all-time favorite films is Braveheart.

    Reply
    • James A. Tweedie

      C.B. See my response to Jack, above. It was written with you in mind as well. And thank you all for your kind comments. I’m glad you enjoyed the poem.

      Reply
      • C.B. Anderson

        Got it!

        It’s funny how the multitude of telling threads entangle us.

    • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

      There is nothing like the great single malts of Scotland! But some of the fine liqueurs are not to be underestimated. My father’s preference among these, the Drambuie of Sky, is also my favorite.

      Of course, there is the Macallan—drink of the gods!

      Cheers to Tweedie and Anderson alike!

      Reply
  5. Jack Beaulieu

    Thanks Jim. Being a bastard myself, I can certainly identify with the Spirit of Tweed’s firstborn, and am glad the elderly cuckold was either superstitious or too old to care, since if he hadn’t been, the poor little bastard might’ve gotten drowned, like many a kitten, and then there’d have been no you! Though I must admit if there’d been no me–well, how could I ever complain?

    Which is to say I’m glad you’re around. I like the sound of you!

    I like your paraphrase of Jesus as well as the original. I might have said “you shall know them by their deeds”–and I do!–but what comes out of them, as opposed to what goes in, is, as you say, indisputably the only defiling part–and often (don’t you agree?) not too aromatic. Less methane in the air is always a plus, I find.

    I’ve never cared much about genealogy, but I thank you for the education about historical records in Edinburgh, which I hadn’t known were some of the oldest in the West or what kinds of things they mostly recorded. I am always grateful to learn new things and to generous teachers.

    Having once been sliced open with a knife by someone who told me, quite convincingly, that he was going to kill me, and as a result having gone through a year–after two initial surgeries–of physical therapy, I share your ambivalence about embracing the murderers in your family tree. The sheep thieves I might be inclined to cut more slack. Thieves are so common. I would struggle less mightily about those. But, come to think of it, I might even find it in my heart to accept the stabbers, since I’ve entertained my own stabber as a guest, several times in fact, since he announced his intent to kill me and my walls and furniture, a few seconds thereafter, were splattered with my blood, although it did take years before I re-opened the door. I never brought charges against him, although I knew his name and lots else about him.

    Where we part company is making acceptance conditional on belief. For me the limit is anger. When people make me too angry I consign them to the realm of ghosts. And since I don’t believe in ghosts, they cease, for me at least, to exist.

    I’m with you though on “goodness, mercy, humility, self-sacrifice.” To me character is everything. Character and thoughtfulness.

    Reply
  6. David Watt

    James, I thoroughly enjoyed the inclusion in your sonnet of the Scots words: muckle, braw, and thol. The combination of richly appropriate vocabulary, sense of history, and fine writing, make this a memorable piece.

    Reply
    • James A. Tweedie

      Thank you for that observation. My familiarity with old Scots is limited to what I have been able to cull from my reading of the poetry of Robert Burns and James Hogg and the novels of George MacDonald, among others, as well as my conversations with so many folks during my student chaplaincy year at Edinburgh’s Western General Hospital back in 1978-79. I was surprised to discover how many people living in small, isolated areas of Scotland (particularly shepherds) still spoke local versions of old Scots as their primary (and in some cases their only) language. Local dialects were so distinct that some were unable to talk with each other without shifting into some form of the Queen’s English. I used braw and muckle with some trepidation being fully aware that someone fluent in the language (such as our own Samuel Gilliland) might catch me in a slip! “Thol/Thole” is, of course, part of my own family’s vocabulary although the word is so archaic that there is no clear consensus on what exactly it originally meant to those who adopted it as the Tweedie motto. Old Scotscdictionaries invariably translate it as “endure.” My family heritage has always understood it to mean “work.” So, in the pursuit of poetic effect (and affect!) I find myself tip-toeing on the verge of ignorance.

      Reply
  7. Joe Spring

    What a great gift to your family line! You should have this engraved on a brass plate for future Tweedies. It holds rich history, well researched, preserved against generations which may not care to look back. “Back in 2018,” they’ll say, “we had a poet in the family. Look what he recorded for us!”

    Reply

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