Ati’da plen widdin chappil
at da Noarbie koarnir,
ati’da pierie Metadist kirk,
he likks an stikks
da mukkil kullirt stamps
a ‘Chiesis an’ is mieriekils.
Jun en a’ Him ati’da bow a’da boat
on Galilie – ‘Pæs be still.’
An him choost waakin owir da shien!
He tinks – Quhitna kind a’krættir
kood waak apo da waatir,
kood pæsiefy da storm?
Oh, holie holie holie,
sjörlie Gød’s æin bærn,
næ iddir en ava.
He sings – ‘An I will makk ju
fyshirs a’men, fyshirs a’men,
An thinks – Quhitna mesh a’net
wid du nied fir a shaal a’men?
Ir wid du choost harpoon dim?
Na, hit’s aniddir kjettil d’ir kaatchin,
hit’s jun iddir wy a’spækin
Mestir Milin kaas ‘metafir’.
Hit mann bie a tekkil
fir a metad-fyshin.
Translations of this Poem
Translator: Robert Alan Jamieson
In the plain wooden chapel, at the Norby corner, in the small
he licks and sticks the large coloured stamps of Jesus and his
That picture of Him, in the bow of the boat on Galilee, – ‘Peace, be still.’
And Him just walking over the surface of the water!
He thinks – What kind of creature could walk on water, could calm
O, holy, holy, holy, surely God’s own child, no other.
He sings – ‘And I will make ye fishers of men, fishers of men, fishers
And thinks – What size of net would you need for a shoal of men? Or
would you just harpoon them?
No, it’s another kettle they’re catching, it’s that other way of
speaking Mister Milne calls ‘metaphor’.
It must be the tackle for method-fishing.
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2008. 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 2008 were Rosemary Goring and Alan Taylor.
Only a Shetlander would get the full meaning out of the original version of this poem without first reading its English translation, although there are lines that speak loud and clear without any help: “he likks and stikks da muckkil kullirt stamps a ‘Cheisis an’ is mieriekils.” Metadist Metafir is a luminous sliver of far-northerly life, where Christianity sits lightly on the surface of a community probably more alien to mainland Scotland than Palestine was two thousand years ago. Robert Alan Jamieson’s language and style work together in an evocative, word-perfect double-act. Using an incantatory beat reminiscent of classroom rote, he conveys a child’s willingness to take on new stories and ideas while retaining an innate commonsense and irreverence. If only everyone in Scotland’s history, when faced with the bible, could have treated it with such sceptical respect.
Methodism became popular in Shetland during the 19th century, when evangelising missions swept over the islands, saving souls and preaching temperance. Through this conduit, a more colourful English model crept in to the islands’ religious habits, more joyous than the established Church of Scotland with its emphasis on Calvinist theology, and socially much less dictatorial than the extreme forms of Protestantism in other sea-faring parts of Scotland. The importance of religious belief in communities where loss at sea is a regular fact of existence is no less prominent today. The poem represents a kind coming into awareness of language and the variance between the local tongue and the English of the chapel.