I…do not mean to like Waverley if I can help it – but I fear I must. Jane Austen I admit it, I resisted ─ not for me ─ too old-fashioned, too prolix ─ not my thing. On an impulse I carry the story with me up Selkirk Hill. And now I get its measure ─ it goes at walking pace, or the easy sway in the saddle on a winding drovers’ road. He tells a good tale ─ this sheriff of ours ─ but he tells it broad, meanders like Ettrick Water, returns at intervals to trace a tributary before it joins the flow. He ambles ─ takes his time ─ won’t fit between our busyness and thin walls, the screens and buzzing urgencies that punctuate our days. We must take him as we find him, leave aside what we know now. I fit my pace to his ─ you need long breaths to carry you over these rolling hills of words, the detours, the asides ─ and find I am beguiled against my will. I am the guest of a hospitable mind, well-furnished ─ language is his friend: English, Latin, Scots, Gaelic, Italian, French. Lawyerly, won’t use one word where three will make his meaning plainer, makes no allowance for the less well-read. Confides in his reader, gives us politics, intrigue, rebellion, landscape and song, customs and costumes, friendship, battles, courage and love. Comedy ─ and unspoken horror. His creations interest him ─ he admires spirit, applauds conviction but sees how it can narrow lives. Reads character in the shape of an eyebrow, pokes gentle fun at the pedantic and the drunk. Flora and Donald, Rose and Cosmo, Fergus MacIvor Vich Ian Vohr. They live between the pages of events, of ideals and causes ─ men and women shaped by circumstance, marked by chance encounters. Our hero is no hero, a cork bobbing on the tide of great affairs ─ a dreamer, inconsistent, human. I walk back into town and feel the Shirra’s presence. He might have trodden these same cobbles, glanced at the clock high on the courthouse where he listened to stories, understood desperation, settled disputes, passed judgment. From his plinth above the market place, he could be watching ─ the secret closes, the Kirk o’ the Forest’s tumbled stones, the changing light ─ might see cloud veil the uplands and a quiet rain sweep like history over a town and its people.
About this poem
Tom Murray says ‘How do you separate the writer Sir Walter Scott from the historical figure? No easy task. Jane is a poet that, to paraphrase her poem ‘language is her friend.’ Despite her initial doubts about being able to understand the writer beneath the image, she has taken her undoubted poetic skill and curiosity and travelled deep into the works, and land, that Scott loved to get clues about the man. Scott of course was not the historical figure when writing his poems and stories. Jane says. ‘I have enjoyed the challenge of a subject so different from my usual themes.’