I could blame da wye da sea is smoothed
da stanes; da sylk o touch; da waelin, laevin;
an will da haert be dere whin I come back?
Or I could blame da saandiloo. He wis clear
whit wye ta geng: dis wye noo, nae luikin
owre your shooder. Tide dusna wait;
see da wye da swill o joy is drained.
Dance daday. Damoarn you slip
Or I could blame da hush at fills you
til you’re lik ta burst wi aa da wirds
at could be said but you hadd back.
Hit’s whit happens whan you step
in time, but sense a fault-line vimmerin
trowe you: dis side or dat?
Only da sea can greet an sing at da sam time:
shade an licht: cobalt, ultramarine an dan
da lönabrak – a tize, a frush o whicht.
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2012. Best Scottish Poems is an online publication, consisting of 20 poems chosen by a different editor each year, with comments by the editor and poets. It provides a personal overview of a year of Scottish poetry. The editors in 2012 were Zoë Strachan and Louise Welsh.
Standard English does not contain a word for lönabrak, the surge of sea breaking on the shore. This poem is built on musicality and repetition reminiscent of the coming and going of the waves, the sound of the sea, the lönabrak.
The stimulus for this poem came while walking across a stunning beach in Shetland, near a geological ‘discontinuity’ i.e. where you can set one foot on an ancient rock pediment and the other foot on an even older rock surface. I had laid up one heart-shaped stone on a previous visit, but it had disappeared, perhaps taken by someone else or moved by the sea. So I laid up another one as suggested by the question at the end of this stanza.
The emotional tension in the poem is built around metaphors drawn from the physical world. While the feelings expressed in the poem suggest reticence, the features of the natural world – the rocks, the wear and tear, the seashore birds (ringed plovers tripping along just avoiding the breaking waves) and the tides – are all upbeat and somewhat reproving. The final stanza tries to defuse the tension of the unspoken and infuse the moment with a beauty in ambivalence, as in the wave-break (da lönabrak).
The poem could only be written in my Mother tongue, so close is the relationship of land to language, of heart to homeland. It fell into simple stanzas, the rhythm sustained mainly by very short sounds, mainly monosyllabic words. This contrasts with the slowing towards the end and the rolling ‘r’ sounds of ‘lönabrak’ and the English ‘ultramarine’, reminiscent of Reeves’ watercolours. There is some internal rhyme to help hold it together and the natural onomatopoeic sounds of Shetlandic.
waelin: selecting; saandiloo: ringed plover;
damoarn: tomorrow; hadd: hold;
vimmerin: trembling; greet: cry;
lönabrak: surge of sea breaking on shore;
tize: temptation; frush: splutter; whicht: white