For Bill Horn

Send up on wings of blood our fathers’ cry,
Though the unhearing dead brook not your sound,
And flesh yet binds us to the groaning ground,
Release your paeans to the boundless sky,

And let your vibratory voices fly
Beyond the veils of earth, above, around!
O plaintive Pipes, endearing Drones, resound!
Raise faithful hearts, though brave men break and die!

From Alba’s moors of mist and placid plains,
Blast out the malice of our songless age,
Blow in the praises of transfigured morn!

Your nine proud notes and time-annulling strains,
Shall not be muted by the ocean’s rage,
Nor the sea’s hum, nor Triton’s distant horn.


Author’s Note: The “Ode to the Great Highland Pipes” honors the American pipe major Bill Horn who established the High Desert Pipes and Drums in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1994. In 1997, the band made its first appearance at the World Pipe Band Championships in Glasgow. Just two years later in 1999, the High Desert Pipes and Drums became the first U.S. pipe band to win the Championship for Grade IV.


Joseph Charles MacKenzie is a traditional lyric poet, First Place winner of the Scottish International Poetry Competition (Long Poem Section). His poetry has appeared in The New York Times, The Scotsman (Edinburgh), The Independent (London), US News and World Report, Google News, and many other outlets. He writes primarily for the Society of Classical Poets (New York). 


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29 Responses

  1. The Society

    A rousing poem! Happy St. Patrick’s Day to Mr. MacKenzie and all!

    • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

      I am greatly indebted to Mr. Mantyk, our erudite young editor, who, by publishing the “Ode to the Great Highland Pipes” on this, the feast of holy Patrick, has honored those brave pipers throughout history who have fallen in the performance of duty.

      O glorious St. Patrick, protect our country, direct the enjoyment of our freedoms ever toward the love of God and the attainment of peace, and inspire faithful poets everywhere!

  2. Sally Cook

    Dear Mr. Makenzie –

    In this poem, you can feel the brisk Highland breeze!

    My father, Donald Cook of the Stuart Clan, would have loved it. I admire its structure, but most of all, the emotion, restrained by form, enhanced by superb use of language. Make this a fine poem;

    Your achievement is a fine mix of strength and honor,. My congratulations!

    • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

      Dear Ms. Cook,

      To my embarrassment, the poem is 18 years overdue, if you read the author’s note. It seems my life’s adventures had to run their course before I could finally make good on an inspiration I first felt in 1999.

      The strength and honor of which you speak is that of the dead. God be with them! So many pipers, so many stories of courage! The pipes were all a soldier had to move him “over the top” in the trenches of the First World War whose many battlefields I have visited in France. The pipes had rallied an entire nation, persecuted in its faith, around a Catholic prince at Culloden. They were at Flodden, the pipes, a source of many of the famous “laments” in the classic repertoire—to speak of “The Flower of Scotland.”

      I feel an overwhelming sense of privilege to have been chosen to bring forth this poem, and to have been given the means, at least temporarily, to do so, means that I do not naturally possess. I lack all kinds of gifts I see in so very many other poets—you have know idea!

      I write this in tears to know that the poem would have pleased your father, a Stuart. In my world, those who go before us are always near. Often I wonder where poetry really comes from. Where does it begin? Does it begin where it shall end?

      Your unworthy servant,

      • Sally Cook

        Dear Mr. Mackenzie –
        Some poems seem to take forever to cure, and you should not feel embarrassed about the length of time it takes to write one. It’s the same with any art. I remember the first time I saw a painting of that kind, a watercolor by Charles Burchfield. I believe it took him decades to paint; in fact it became so large he had to paste on extra paper to accommodate his ida! Later I tried that with some drawings; having not known this was possible or permissible, I learned something, as you also must have in accompanying your poem on its journey.
        I admire your ability to produce epic poetry — my talent lies in other areas, so perhaps that makes me more appreciative of what you do.

        Yes, of course we can, do, and should learn from the dead. Why deliberately handicap oneself by knowing nothing but one’s own personal feelings and responses of a few decades, when there is this vast history of knowledge preceding us@
        You raise a question I often think about — where does poetry come from? I think that each poem is a summing up of a particular experience, the twists and turns of which provide the basis from which the next one comes. Sometimes this can be almost a religious experience, in that it reveals so much of the world to the poet.
        What he does with it is, of course, up to him, and you have done well.
        To me, free verse is not free. Anyone is free to write it of course, but my question would be – why? The best answers I’ve had so far, from observation and explication, are that it expresses “feelings” through the over-use of adjectives. But there is no framework.
        Well, that’s where I stand. Dr. Joseph S. Salemi of Trinacria knows better than anyone what poetry is and can be, and I have learned a lot from him.
        Thank you for reacting to and mentioning my father.

        Sally Cook

      • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

        Dear Ms. Cook,

        Your word “cure” seems a most useful one on so very many levels. I wish I had the ability to make that correspondence between, say, the way I cure my own salmon at home and the way a poem is “cured” through a similar process of time and interactions with poetry’s pantry!

        Your notion of the curing as revelatory is beautiful, simply beautiful to hear, when you state that the experience, almost religious—or perhaps fully so?—”reveals the world to the poet.”

        I thank you for these uplifting contemplations on the nature of our sublime art.

        Oh yes, I agree with you 100% percent about Dr. Joseph Salemi and Trinacria, absolutely!

        All good wishes!

  3. James A. Tweedie


    Having once lived in Edinburgh, preached in Border’s kirks, traveled by train and by car through the Highland’s and being of Scottish heritage (the name Tweedie derives from my family’s origin at the headwaters of the Tweed River, specifically Drumelzier), I have found that the sound of pipe and drum invariably causes my posture to straighten and my pulse to quicken! Reading your poem has rekindled memories of the sounds and smells of Auld Reekie along with the sting of the North Sea breeze blowing up the Firth of Forth and rattling the window of our St. Mary’s Street flat (which hovered above the intersection of High Street and Canongate on the Royal Mile). Lovely memories resurrected by an inspiring poem (at least to a Scot)!

    And a Happy St. Pat’s Day to you as well (along with a tip o’ the hat to St. Columba for bringing the faith from Hibernia to Caledonia)!

    • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

      Dear Mr. Tweedie,

      Great is your patrimony, and beautiful your city of Edinburgh, a place where memory has a kind of mystical priority over present consciousness. How could you be anything other than a poet, with such a background!

      I always commemorate your world, Mr. Tweedy, by never taking Scotch, even when it’s offered me. I wish to remember only how it felt to take it among the Scottish people. For me, there is no other way to take it. You will know my meaning.

      The pipes are the voice of the people. They vibrate though us, and in us. They are behind us and in front of us and at our side. I think our prayers can be wafted into heaven on their sound.

      May yours be the best St. Patrick’s ever!


      • Joe Tessitore

        I read this exchange with a smile on my face and a chill in my bones.
        It doesn’t get ant better than this.
        God bless you both!

  4. James Sale

    Rousing indeed; and I love the ‘nine proud notes’ – a perfect number. My youngest son informs me that he and his fiancee intend to marry sometime soon and do it in the Highlands of Scotland, and although I experienced the pipes recently (over a Burn’s night meal in Christchurch!), I shall truly hear some piping as magnificent as this poem.

    • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

      Dear Mr. Sale,

      Always one of the best readers of poetry—a quality which makes for the writing of great poetry—you have pointed to very important feature. One of the most amazing thing about the pipes is precisely their most outstanding limitation: only nine notes to produce music that has endured and will continue to endure for centuries!

      I am pleased to inform you that I had the great privilege of reciting the Ode to the Great Highland Pipes yesterday, shortly after the poem appeared in the SCP, before the very man in whose honor the verses were composed, Bill Horn. This was in the context of a “Celtic” poetry reading at the annual ShamRock Fest in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

      We also enjoyed the magnificent sound of the High Desert Pipes and Drums throughout the day. We are all of us proud of our pipers and encourage everyone to support their heroic efforts in presenting the unique music of pipes to our world.

      All good wishes!

  5. Morgan

    Mr. MacKenzie, can you provide me with a link to the Scottish International Poetry Competition and the text of your winning poem? I’d like to read it and find the contest and have been unable to locate either by searching the internet myself.

      • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

        Thank you, Mr. Mantyk, for your intervention. In fact, I had won for a sequence of 154 sonnets in Shakespeare’s form. “Dunblane Cathedral,” came two years later. I was honored that the Society of Classical Poets had generously released so long a poem as “Dunblane Cathedral” to the general public and would like to take this time to thank you, once again.
        Yours very truly,

  6. Joseph Charles MacKenzie

    Dear Morgan,

    The Scottish International Poetry Competition has been defunct for many years, due to lack of funding for what had been a formidable international event.

    Once my Inaugural Poem for Donald J. Trump was published in London’s popular daily, The Independent, where the poem was shared over 34,000 times with over a thousand comments censored and reduced to only a few dozen, The Times Literary Supplement put out an interesting piece on my winning the Scottish International Poetry Competition.

    To the demise of the liberal establishment in Britain which attempted to discredit me any way it could, the piece reveals that I was not only a winner of the competition, but that I was also a “memorable” one.

    The piece was published in the Times Literary Supplement, January 17, 2017. It states that, indeed, I had won the great competition in 1994 and even reported the reminiscences of a Scottish editor who was present at the time. The piece also states how unfortunate it was that the “fake news” aspect of the Inaugural Poem had been a reason for notoriety.

    Indeed, the fake news came only from the usual leftist, anti-Catholic haters in the blogosphere who were also unsuccessful in discrediting me by suggesting that the poem had been presented as an “official” poem that would be read from a podium on Capitol Hill at the President’s actual inauguration.

    Given the glaring reality that my poem was never presented as such, either by this publication where it first appeared, or by Scotland’s national newspaper in Edinburgh, The Scotsman, it soon became clear that this tactic wasn’t going to work either. When The New York Times quoted come of my verses in a tangentially related piece, they never suggested that my poem was the “official inauguration poem.” The big mainstream news outlets, to their credit, never presented the work as anything other than a literary production worthy of attention.

    In fact, US News and World Report came to my rescue, clearing up the situation perfectly and even commenting on the power of my verses. Many of the fake news blogs were removed by the bloggers themselves.

    That I was a “memorable” winner of the Scottish Internationals would not be unreasonable to suggest—this for many reasons, I can assure you, including my recitation of Norman MacCaig’s verses in place of my own at the awards ceremony in the Robert Burns Club in Irvine. While Stanley Roger Green thought I should have recited my own poems in keeping with tradition, Ian Crichton Smith lamented that MacCaig was physically very bad off in Edinburgh and that I had done well to honor him. I therefore made a point of visiting Norman MacCaig in Edinburgh and was most graciously introduced by his son.

    Scotland’s most important lyric poet, Samuel Gilliland, was not only present at the awards ceremony, along with his friend and fellow organizer Henry Mair, a very important figure of the Ayrshire writers community, but this former also produced an exquisite poem in my honor which I hope one day to present to the public.

    As for the text for which I had won, it is not available and I have no intention of making it so—as is the case with all my early poetry—as I prefer that readers enjoy my current collection, the “Sonnets for Christ the King”, to appear in a beautiful, deluxe, hardcover edition this coming May. The text can be read along with the 2-CD audiobook performed by British actor Ian Russell from Northern England.
    You may purchase the audiobook here (there are still some copies left):

    I am greatly flattered, Morgan, by your profound interest in my poetry, and would like therefore to assure you of the many poems you will be able to enjoy from my current work in progress, the “Sonnets for Heaven’s Queen,” a Mariological exploration of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s role in the economy of grace via the great Mysteries of the Most Holy Rosary. I hope to publish this long sequence in 2019.

    Please know that I always enjoy questions like yours because they renew interest in my work and allow me share with readers how very powerful classic poetry can be (one of the reasons Mr. Mantyk is one of the most significant editors or our day)—to think that my Inaugural Poem for Donald J. Trump, and even my early works, continue to draw interest.

    And it always puts a smile on my face whenever admirers inquirer about me while giving no clue whatsoever even as to their own identity, not even a last name or an avatar. It’s what makes poetry all the more fun!

    All good wishes!

    • Morgan

      I would be interested to see a link for the Time Literary Supplement article which you mention, even if it is only a preview. I would moreover ask you to reconsider making the earlier poem for which you won public- if this work is no longer relevant to your current project, why keep it on your resume which you append to your poems?

  7. David Watt

    Mr Mackenzie, you have successfully captured the spirit-raising ability of the pipes.
    As the pipes are now played in many diverse countries, an even greater audience may appreciate the rising Drones you so lovingly describe.

    • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

      Oh, Mr. Watt, I must say you have said something very important by making us think about the universality of the pipes—a delicious paradox, because there is no instrument so specifically regional at the same time.

      Even the first line of the sonnet would be more fully understood by your meaning, because, in the First World War, many a brave piper from Canada, India, and elsewhere, courageously performed his duty for the Allies.

      Oh yes ,the drones, they are critical to our understanding of the pipes and I thank God you caught that. My mentor, Samuel Gilliland finds the drones “endearing,” hence my choice of this epithet which serves also to honor my great teacher.

      All good wishes!

  8. Wendy Bourke

    Fantastic imagery is this beautifully constructed, wonderfully rendered piece. For anyone who loves bagpipes – and I do – it is very evocative … I can almost hear those strains.

    • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

      Dear Ms. Bourke,

      Coming from a winner of the Ontario Poetry Society’s Sparkle and Shine contest and also a well anthologized poet (of Vancouver, no less, one of Canada’s capitols of piping) I must tell you how very humbled I find myself by your very kind comment.

      It’s rather how I felt about a villanelle of yours appearing some time ago in this publication—a form I am not remotely comfortable in—a poem which certainly merits the same description of “evocative,” to be sure.

      I wish you all the best in your beautiful world over there!

      All good wishes!

  9. Sam Gilliland

    The union of poetry and music is evergreen. Joseph’s poem honouring the pipes and the piper, takes me back to Glen Coe. As to his standing; I was greatly moved when Joseph recited his winning poem at the Scottish International Awards Ceremony all those years ago. I saw a lady weep and when I asked her why – she said, ‘It is so beautiful’. ‘All the more reason to rejoice’, I replied. ‘Especially here, In the Burns club.’ Incidentally, entries to the S.I.O.P. competition were entirely free; our aim being to promote poetry and poets. Joseph C. MacKenzie continues this fine practice, promoting poetry in the best way possible. Sean Connery helped keep the competition running but, eventually, lack of funds and lack of local council support forced its closure. Many of Scotland’s major poets willingly gave of their time and expertise to present the awards. I thank you, Joseph, for being who you are. Aye & aye, Sam.

    • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

      It is possible I recited one of the 154 sonnets from my sequence at some point during the event—when am I not overflowing with verses, after all? On the official podium, however, I replaced the reading of my own with some of MacCaig’s immortal sonnets from his “Sinai Sort,” one of the treasures of Scottish poetry a copy of which I took along with me on the plane hoping that the great Man of Assynt might be there to sign it.

      I do remember quite a general, albeit genteel, commotion throughout the whole affair, which was so beautifully organized with some of my sonnets being posted on large poster boards. Many were the ceremonies, including the opening of the magnificent vault of the Burns Club and being invited in to touch and even hold in my hands the original Kilmarnock edition of Burns’s “Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect.”

      Even to sign the register of the Burns Club, one of Britain’s oldest if not the oldest, and to see the names of all the great poets who had ever signed it, this was the nec plus ultra for me!

      As for major poets, I met all of them that were there! They all said I need to meet Gilliland because he is a lyric poet, knowing that I am a lyric poet. It was like a galaxy of Scottish stars at the Club! There was even someone from the Scottish National Theatre, people from all over, and Burns’s poetical descendants from his own world of Ayrshire. Ian Chrichton Smith whom I had long admired was so very kind and gracious. I shall never forget him.

      Note to all readers: I would not be the poet I am today was it not for that spectacular event and the opportunity to meet Scotland’s finest both old and young! Best of all was the friend and teacher I retained from the undeserved bargain.

      Indeed, the “Ode to the Great Highland Pipes,” a bardic praise of the pipes in honor of Mr. Horn, but also an Easter poem, owes its success entirely to the influence of Mr. Gilliland’s music which will always be superior to mine. I thank God every single day that Scotland has yet a faithful, living master to whom my apprenticeship, and gratitude, shall continue to the end of all my days.

      All good wishes!


  10. Joseph Charles MacKenzie

    Dear Bonnie,

    I am so very pleased, first of all that, that you have been able to purchase a copy of the audiobook and would love to know what you think of Ian Russell’s performance with his northern English voice.

    As for your question concerning V10 and V11 in the sestet of “Ode to the Great Highland Pipes,” please know that, yes, each and every word is quite deliberate and I am overjoyed that you were able to notice this feature of the sestet! Indeed, the “blasting out” and “blowing in” represent the piper’s blowing out and taking in air, a motion that is essential in keeping the columns of air in the pipes vibrating—absolutely! When I recited the piece last Saturday on the feast of the Holy Apostle of Ireland, I used all the verse techniques I learned from Mme Lecourt in Paris, including a kind of imitation of the pipes themselves using various parts of my voice and other means of projection in the head.

    So, even the repetition of the labial-dental stop “v” in the octave of the sonnet is important in reciting it. Try this for example: Touch your upper teeth to your lower lips and blow some air through. Now, add humming to that with your vocal chords. When you do this, you are actually creating something very similar to the double reed inside the chanter of a bagpipe (with its two “tongues” vibrating against each other—or even a single reed vibrating against the chanter itself) . In recitation, I exaggerate somewhat that vibratory aspect of the bagpipes essential sound through by extending slightly the vocalized sound of the “v” stop.

    As I always say, I write for the voice, not the page.

    Thank you for your kind comment and most astute reading of the sestet!

    All good wishes!

  11. Joseph Charles MacKenzie

    Dear Ms. Gilchrist,

    Thank you for once again mentioning the auditory apparatus of the poem.

    Just as actors in the theatre must know all the parts of the human vocal anatomy responsible for the creation of words, so must the poet understand how these function. This is essential because the human vocal apparatus is an instrument. The poet’s words are a kind of musical notation if you will, for that instrument.

    There is a whole system of alliteration and sounds in the poem, from internal repetitions of sound to the kinds of things you are indicating in the final tercet. So, in recitation, the “sea’s hum” must literally be a hum. I have gone so far, for Triton’s horn, to give extension to all three vocalized parts of the word “horn”—to great effect, judging from the applause received at my performance last Saturday. Generally speaking, your audience will always tell you whether a bold vocal expression works or not. Poetry is for the ear, the ear of the soul, the ear of the heart, and the physical channel of sound we call the ear itself.

    All good wishes!

  12. Joseph Charles MacKenzie

    And please don’t hesitate, Ms. Gilchrist, to look at my other poems in this venue if you wish to deepen your knowledge of how my euphony works. Thank you for your kind interest in this very important topic.

    All good wishes!


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