Orkney : Bog Cotton/Sedge continued … La Belle Dame sans Merci – a ballad by John Keats

O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
Alone and palely loitering?
The sedge has withered from the lake,
And no birds sing.

O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
So haggard and so woe-begone?
The squirrel’s granary is full,
And the harvest’s done.

I see a lily on thy brow,
With anguish moist and fever-dew,
And on thy cheeks a fading rose
Fast withereth too.

I met a lady in the meads,
Full beautiful—a faery’s child,
Her hair was long, her foot was light,
And her eyes were wild.

I made a garland for her head,
And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;
She looked at me as she did love,
And made sweet moan

I set her on my pacing steed,
And nothing else saw all day long,
For sidelong would she bend, and sing
A faery’s song.

She found me roots of relish sweet,
And honey wild, and manna-dew,
And sure in language strange she said—
‘I love thee true’.

She took me to her Elfin grot,
And there she wept and sighed full sore,
And there I shut her wild wild eyes
With kisses four.

And there she lullèd me asleep,
And there I dreamed—Ah! woe betide!—
The latest dream I ever dreamt
On the cold hill side.

I saw pale kings and princes too,
Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;
They cried—‘La Belle Dame sans Merci
Hath thee in thrall!’

I saw their starved lips in the gloam,
With horrid warning gapèd wide,
And I awoke and found me here,
On the cold hill’s side.

And this is why I sojourn here,
Alone and palely loitering,
Though the sedge is withered from the lake,
And no birds sing.

Orkney: Tuesday 23rd June St Magnus Fest – Rognvaldr Re-imagined

Over breakfast were regaled with lurid tales of murder most horrid involving “The Monkey Man” and “Black Bob”.  There is a journalist also staying here who seems to know everything and everyone. There is a dark underbelly to island life needless to say.  After breakfast hotfooted it to the Salvation Army Hall in Kirkwall to a reading and lecture on Viking Poetry by poet Ian Crockatt.

Rognvaldr jarl Kali Kolsson became Earl of Orkney in 1135 and also wrote poetry as well as being a much-travelled warrior.  He was the nephew of the murdered St Magnus and was the founder of  the cathedral in his name.  The poems were fantastic and highly stylised using word-forms called kennings which are pairs of sometimes contrasting images created to intensify poetic meaning.  This is to a strict metre and form using a great deal of onomatopoeia and assonance.  Skaldic poetry is one of the most original and elaborate in European literature.  Nice to know that even Beserkers had their sensitive side.


In praise of Auðun the Red, first to board the African-crewed
dromond (merchant ship).

Gekk á drómund døkkvan
– drengr réð snart til fengjar –
upp með oernu kappi
Auðun fyrstr inn rauði.
Þar nǫ́ðu vér þjóðar
– því hefr aldar goð valdit –
– bolr fellr blár á þiljur –
blóði vǫṕ n at rjóða.

How avidly Auðun’s
heart beat for fame. Claiming
all – hell-bent on bounty –
he reddened the dromond.
Christ – irresistible
His cause as the kisses
of blood-lipped blades – leads us.
Black trunks deck the soaked boards.

He laments his wife’s illness, seeks comfort in shaping words.

Akrs verðk opt fyr sjύkri
(ey) fitjar (Þó sitja
(góð er mér en mæra
menbrík) Njörun sika;
“heder fylgrat” hauðri
hauks (tínik svá) minu,
setrs leitandi sύtar
slœgr á hverjύ dœgri.

I brood at her bedside
– I’ve brought lace, necklaces,
bone combs – who lies, limbs and
lips feverish – wishing
back our glad hours hawking
low-isled water-meadows;
I shape grave words – heart-deep,
honed, brief – to imprison grief.

Ian Crockatt

Orkney: Carol – George Mackay Brown

The Creekside Hermit

Fix on one star, at last,
Any star
In the circling star blizzard.
That star will take you
To Death and Birth and Love.

Folded it is now, the dove,
Furled, star-folded.
The black rain falls,
The bitter floods rise still.
What hand
Will take the branch from the dove’s beak?

We stand, three vagrants, at the last door.
A black fist
Lingers, a star, on withered wood.

This poem has been set to music by  Peter Maxwell Davies and I heard it on the radio as part of the Nine Lessons and Carols from Kings College, Cambridge.

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Lift Not the Painted Veil

Lift not the painted veil which those who live
Call Life: though unreal shapes be pictured there,
And it but mimic all we would believe
With colours idly spread,–behind, lurk Fear
And Hope, twin Destinies; who ever weave
Their shadows, o’er the chasm, sightless and drear.
I knew one who had lifted it–he sought,
For his lost heart was tender, things to love,
But found them not, alas! nor was there aught
The world contains, the which he could approve.
Through the unheeding many he did move,
A splendour among shadows, a bright blot
Upon this gloomy scene, a Spirit that strove
For truth, and like the Preacher found it not.

Percy Bysshe Shelley


What the Hell

Just nicked this from BHIKKU next door.   For no reason except I think it is wonderful.  See links to the right.

I said to a gypsy girl
I want to be a gypsy
and have you.

Can you eat bitter herbs with no salt
for an evening meal she said to me,
And then lie down?

I can, I said to her.

Can you lie down she said
without weeping with cold
on the frozen mud?

I can, I said to her.

And on that mud she said to me
can you set fire to my body
and burn it up to ash?

And that too if I can, I said to her.

Can you throw my ashes
into your wine she said to me
and get yourself so drunk you forget me?

No, I cannot do that, I said to her.

You will not make a gypsy, she told me.

– Georgis Pavlopoulos, trans. Peter Levi

Der Lindenbaum

The lime trees are in flower.  My favourite scent, fleeting, evanescent and fugitive.  Encapsulated in the melancholy song from Schubert’s Winterreise song cycle.

05 Winterreise, D. 911, Op. 89_ Der Lindenbaum

Natalie Stuzmann Soprano
Inger Sodergren Piano

English translation below the German.

Words by Wilhelm Muller

Der Lindenbaum

Am Brunnen vor dem Tore
Da steht ein Lindenbaum:
Ich träumt in seinem Schatten
So manchen süßen Traum.

Ich schnitt in seine Rinde
So manches liebe Wort;
Es zog in Freud und Leide
Zu ihm mich immer fort.

Ich mußt auch heute wandern
Vorbei in tiefer Nacht,
Da hab ich noch im Dunkel
Die Augen zugemacht.

Und seine Zweige rauschten,
Als riefen sie mir zu:
Komm her zu mir, Geselle,
Hier findst du deine Ruh!

Die kalten Winde bliesen
Mir grad ins Angesicht,
Der Hut flog mir vom Kopfe,
Ich wendete mich nicht.

Nun bin ich manche Stunde
Entfernt von jenem Ort,
Und immer hör ich´s rauschen:
Du fändest Ruhe dort!

The Linden Tree

At wellside, past the ramparts,
there stands a linden tree.
While sleeping in its shadow,
sweet dreams it sent to me.

And in its bark I chiseled
my messages of love:
My pleasures and my sorrows
were welcomed from above.

Today I had to pass it,
well in the depth of night –
and still, in all the darkness,
my eyes closed to its sight.

Its branches bent and rustled,
as if they called to me:
Come here, come here, companion,
your haven I shall be!

The icy winds were blowing,
straight in my face they ground.
The hat tore off my forehead.
I did not turn around.

Away I walked for hours
whence stands the linden tree,
and still I hear it whisp’ring:
You’ll find your peace with me!