Poet’s Note: These five sonnets and song are the product of a four-week journey taken in June to Ireland and through west central Scotland and the Inner and Outer Hebrides. Unlike the sonnets, the lyrics to the song were not composed as a formal poem. They are simply what they are—lyrics.

 

 

We Ne’er Again Shall Part (Lyrics)

My feet were kissed by the morning dew
And the sun shone warm on my face.
And the flowered heather I’d gathered for you
Was adorned with silken ribbon and lace.

You had left behind fair Barra Isle,
And your home in Castlebay
To join me walking down the aisle
At the church on Vatersay.

Forever one we will always be,
One love, one life, one heart.
And for all time and eternity,
We never, ne’er again shall part.

The clouds grew dark on our wedding day,
Your hands turned cold as death.
By eventide you had passed away,
And taken your final breath

Forever one we will always be,
One love, one life, one heart.
And when we meet in eternity,
We ne’er again . . .
We ne’er again . . .
We ne’er again shall part.

 

Uragh Stone Circle

County Kerry, Ireland

Beneath a weathered crag and barren hill—
Where mystic mist anoints the moorland rock
And whispered winds caress a heathered rill—
Encircled stones stand vigil o’er the lough.

As old as time, ere memory began
The rooted sentinels have stood erect
To mark the sacred place where mortal man
And nature’s primal powers intersect.

A winter solstice dawn once brought forth prayer
And rhythmic chant to urge the earth toward spring.
Today, a flock of sheep has gathered there,
And bleating is the wordless hymn they sing.

Yet even here and now, as here and then,
The seen and unseen mingle in the glen.

rill: small stream
lough: loch or lake, pronounced lahk

 

Ben Nevis (Photo by James Tweedie)

Glen Nevis

Lochaber, Scotland

Majestic, barren, rock-cropped braes ascend—
Arrayed, green-clad, in heather, gorse, and fern—
As mid-day, misty, dark’ning clouds descend
To cold-embrace each soaring tor and burn.

From heights unseen a torrent cascades free,
Unfettered into deep Ben Nevis’ glen;
Then onwards toward Loch Linnhe and the sea,
Through sodden bog and brackened, stone-strewn fen.

Though hidden from the eyes of those below,
Ben Nevis’ surly brow is sought and found
By those who brave the rain, the sleet, and snow,
To scale the cairn that marks its highest ground.

And there, amidst the cloud, God reaches down
To touch and bless fair Scotland’s Highland crown.

brae: steep hillside
tor: rocky peak
burn: hillside stream

 

 

Black houses (Photo by James A. Tweedie)

Black Houses

(re the “Highland Clearances” circ. 1750-1860)

Isle of Harris and Lewis, Outer Hebrides, Scotland

The stones cry out from scoured and windswept land
Once home to Highland crofters, braw and free,
Who eked a simple life by strength of hand
From machair and the Hebridean sea.

As clan and kin they lived and had their way,
Proud spawn of Viking, Gael, Pict, and Scot,
Till landed lairds and law swept them away—
The Highlands cleared, the crofters left to rot.

Their lives reduced to hunger and despair;
Their homes, abandoned, fell into decay;
The wretched ruins of displaced lives laid bare.
“Black Houses” are what they are called today.

In time, some did return, the wrongs made right.
The cottages that they rebuilt were white.

braw: strong, brave
machair: sandy, ocean-side fertile loam, pronounced, mah-kay or mah-keh
laird: a designation (not a title) peculiar to Scotland, the owner of a large estate

The Unknown Scribe of the 8th Century Book of Kells

Isle of Iona, Inner Hebrides, Scotland

‘Twas love of God that brought him to his knees
In humble service to his risen Lord.
Not men, but Christ alone he sought to please
In full submission to God’s Holy Word.

The Spirit led him to Iona, where
He transcribed scripture and illumed each text
With intricate designs infused with prayer;
Forsaking this world’s kingdoms for the next.

Surrounded by both peace and solitude,
He lived beneath the shadow of the cross.
And by God’s grace, in joy and gratitude,
He counted all but Christ his Lord as loss.

In death, the holy island gave him rest.
But by his life, Iona, too, was blessed.

 

 

The Oban Piper

Argyll & Bute, Scotland

The sound was faint, and yet not far away;
A piper’s chanter practicing a tune.
A youth, perhaps, rehearsing a new lay
At eventide beneath an Oban moon.

No thrum of drone, no windbag to inspire,
The piper skirled the haunting melody
With simple grace, consumed by Celtic fire.
I ken that he was piping it for me.

For somewhere deep within my soul I heard
An echo of forgotten memories—
Surprised, yet blessed, to find such passions stirred
By music carried on a Highland breeze.

The piper’s tune remains with me today;
A gift he never knew he gave away.

lay: song or melody
ken: knew/know

 

 

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.


Views expressed by individual poets and writers on this website and by commenters do not represent the views of the entire Society. The comments section on regular posts is meant to be a place for civil and fruitful discussion. Pseudonyms are discouraged. The individual poet or writer featured in a post has the ability to remove any or all comments by emailing submissions@ classicalpoets.org with the details and under the subject title “Remove Comment.”

12 Responses

  1. C.B. Anderson

    James: Great photos, great poems, some great places to dream about, ad not a bad singing voice.

    Reply
  2. Joe Tessitore

    Beautiful work, Reverend James.
    Pictures painted with words, and photos thrown in to boot!

    Reply
  3. Amy Foreman

    Just lovely, James, all of it. This was a delicious taste of your experience in Scotland, and you are kind to share it with us!

    Reply
  4. James A. Tweedie

    Thank you, each of you, for your positive comments. This was a large, complex submission and I am grateful to Evan both for approving it and for presenting it so well. My hope was to capture the beauty and historical mystique of Ireland and Scotland well enough for others to enjoy a small taste of what was, for me each day, a full-course feast.

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      James – judging by the quality of the photographs you seem to have had more good weather than you are entitled to in SW Ireland and NW Scotland, as you’re seldom able to see the top of Ben Nevis from the bottom or vice versa as you have done. I’ve been able to do it only once over seven ascents. I was half expecting this submission of course, but it still managed to surprise me. I like the photo of the black houses because they are authentic ruins and that is all that is left of any of them today apart from some that have been self-consciously preserved and restored and just look “wrong” in the landscape today. The song and lyrics were delightful and evocative, and reminded me of the Mingulay boat song which I haven’t heard for years (I’ve lost my cassette), so as soon as you produce the CD version please let me know. The whole package was very effectively produced with the fine technically accomplished sonnets that we expect from you, and they certainly transported me 450 miles (and many other SCP members a lot further I hope) to this essentially inimical barren wild desolate landscape we have in the UK so comparatively near to our great cities. I am often reminded (or I keep muttering it in my head) that little Hopkins fragment “What would the world be once bereft of wet and of wildness …” but he only got as far as Inversnaid and never saw the Hebrides. Well done!

      Reply
      • James A. Tweedie

        Peter, I wish I had your words to warm my heart as I entered the clouds and rain at the half-way point on Ben Nevis. Wind and stinging sleet accompanied me to the top where it was snowing with three inches of it, frosty and slick, on the ground. When I tried to take a selfie of myself in front of the cairn my iPhone froze up solid. With my better camera I managed one picture showing my grinning, exhausted face before it also froze shut (until I reached sunlight again an hour later). Does this sound more familiar? This was my third time driving through Glen Coe and the third time I was met with pouring rain and lowered clouds. Does that sound familiar, too? On the other hand, the morning after my ascent I left the Glen Nevis Hostel before 5 am in the hopes of catching a view of Ben Nevis before the clouds settled in again. The picture was taken from the north side of Loch Linnhe just as the first light of dawn touched the top of the mountain. Fifteen minutes later I watched the “clouds descend To cold-embrace each soaring tor and burn!” Even so, I did enjoy more clear, beautiful days on this trip than any Highland traveler has any right to expect.

        I consider myself lucky to have found a soulmate with whom to share a mutual love for poetry and for the “scoured and windswept land” of the Highlands and the Western Isles.

        As for climbing Ben Nevis seven time, I’m impressed! Once was almost one too many times for me!

        All the best.

        PS: As for the song, if your computer has an audio recorder of some sort feel free to record the song and save it in whatever way you want.

  5. David Watt

    James, each poem and lyric succeeds in conveying the timeless beauty of the locations you visited. The photos make a wonderful backdrop to the written compositions.

    Reply
  6. Christina

    James, what a rare feast of beauty! I love these very evocative poems and the lovely photographs that enhance them even more. I find the song strangely haunting and famìliar, and wonder if it is your retelling of a Celtic story about a bride who dies on her wedding day.

    I also enjoyed your description above of your ascent of Ben Nevis, though it brought back vivid and chilly memories of my own ascent of the monster with a school-friend many, many moons ago. We were 16 years old, and were so saturated, cold and exhausted when we got back down to the River Nevis that we hadn’t the strength left to walk 50 yards to the bridge, but just staggered across the river, nearly waist deep in water, and into the hostel.

    Reply
    • James A. Tweedie

      Christina, thank you for sharing your own Ben Nevis story! It sounds as if after your ascent you had the same pair of rubber legs at age 16 that I had at age 68. “Stagger” is a good description of my own descent to the hostel.

      As for the song, the story is original with me, pulled out of thin air as the words and music (the tune is strictly pentatonic except for two notes that were sung incorrectly) wove together in rhyme and meter. If there is a Celtic version of the story I would be interested to hear it. My 98-year old mother described the song as “sad” whereas you used the word “haunting.” I agree with both of you. Indeed, the song brought a tear to my own eye as I sang it for the first time.

      Reply
      • Christina

        No, James, I can’t remember any Celiic tales where death comes right after the wedding, but your song reminded me of airs and tales where death comes just before it. In one the damsel was the daughter of an old seer, living on an island, and from him she inherited powers over evil spirits. On the eve of her wedding her betrothed said that he was crossing to the mainland to bring his friends over for the feast. The seer foresaw that no good would come of it, and the maid begged her lover not to go, as her power over the evil spirits did not extend over water. But he went in spite of her prayers and was drowned with all his friends. The maid promptly died of grief, and unaccountably the old man disappeared!

        Then what could be more weird than the song ‘She moves through the fair’ with her repeated promise to her betrothed that “It will not be long, love, till our wedding day”? But the last time she says it she has clearly come to him as a ghost!

        The ‘Londonderry Air’ is another Irish song of doomed lovers that always used to make me weepy at the bit “….and kneel and say an Ave there for me”, as did Sir Walter Scott’s poem ‘Rosabelle’, especially after I had seen the creepy Roslin Chapel, where Rosabelle should have been buried if the stormy Firth had not claimed her.

        Your song is full of this Celtic mystery, for one is left wondering what illness or fate could have carried the maid off so suddenly, and why. It is beautifully disturbing!

  7. James A Tweedie

    Christina, a fascinating collection of sad tales, and now mine is added to the mix! “Beautifully disturbing!” What a wonderfully descriptive phrase!. I can’t recall ever having read Scott’s “Rosabelle.” I shall do so forthwith. Thank you for taking the time to write such a interesting reply. As to what illness fell so quickly over the doomed bride in my song, I never thought to ask. People died of many things back in the day. Indeed, there is an old country song by Bill Monroe, “I Hear a Sweet Voice Calling,” that tells of a little girl who falls ill on her way home from school and dies at home that evening. Monroe’s song doesn’t say what killed her, either, so that puts me in good company!

    Reply

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