In the heich oors o the nicht
stars strip aff
and douk in the rivers.
Hoolets grein for them,
the wee feathers on their heids
About this poem
This poem was included in the Best of the Best Scottish Poems, published in 2019. To mark the fifteenth anniversary of our annual online anthology Best Scottish Poems, the Library invited broadcaster, journalist and author James Naughtie to edit a ‘Best of the Best’ drawn from each of the annual editions of Best Scottish Poems.
Twenty-seven words in Scots, catching the sight of birds watching the reflection of the stars in a burn. The words sparkle too, with an obvious reflection of MacDiarmid, who’d surely have loved it (though probably secretly). The feeling is deeply poignant, bringing a touch of excitement to a simple scene in only six lines.
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2010. 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 editor in 2010 was Jen Hadfield.
I don’t want to paraphrase this lovely thing: these poems are ampoules cracked to release their volatile. Instead I’ll sneak in a preview of ‘Yin o thae’ which says what I want to about ‘Wee oors’ and its aesthetics of want; dissolving motes of language like ‘the herbs/that turn tae hinny/on the slaiverless tung.’
A hallmark of Ak’abal’s work is his engagement with the natural world: in his poetry, every stone, tree, animal and bird has both voice and meaning, and all things in the universe are connected. A brief exposition of ‘Wee oors’ might read as follows: when in the small hours of the night the stars are reflected in the dark waters of rivers, as if they have gone for a ‘douk’ or a swim/dive, owls (hoolets), watching, yearn (grein) for them, and their head feathers rise like hackles (birse up) as they spy on them. This however only hints at the depth and shades of meaning, both real and metaphorical, that this tiny poem contains.
‘Wee oors’ is taken from the book Drum of Stone, a trilingual selection of Ak’abal’s work with translations in English by Rosemary Burnett and in Scots by James Robertson. It was published in 2010 to mark the poet’s first ever visit to the U.K. and his appearance at the Ullapool and Word (Aberdeen) Book Festivals and at events in Edinburgh and Glasgow.