(After Sir William Fettes Douglas 1864 ) What secrets of the unseen are you trying to unravel pointing your wand, urging the dead to speak? You will find no torrent of tongues in the tombs even the moon’s ventriloquists will deceive you; the questions are fading in your ancient books, the answers are not encrypted in your shadow, there is no calculus embalmed on the corpses nor in the whispering ruffle of your cloak. But you have fingered forgotten flesh, then rustled the grave worms to elevate your mind. Is your science in sorcery or are you just a timid monk following the failings of your forefathers? In your cave under the watch of an elder amongst the treasure of your tribunals your spell is silenced by the spirits’ vendetta and the dagger you use will turn against you.
About this poem
The poem is inspired by the painting of the same name by Sir William Fettes Douglas, which resides in the collection of National Galleries Scotland (NGS). The painting is described in the NGS catalogue as a magician, “trying to raise the spirit of a dead man. The bare stone walls, with their strange carvings, are slightly disconcerting, as is the moonlight lighting up the room with a surreal intensity.”