Week 16: The Wild Geese, by Violet Jacob

The Wild Geese
“O tell me what was on yer road, ye roarin’ norlan’ Wind,
   As ye cam’ blawin’ frae the land that’s niver frae my mind?
My feet they trayvel England, but I’m deein’ for the north­—'”
   “My man, I heard the siller tides rin up the Firth o’ Forth.”

“Aye, Wind, I ken them weel eneuch, and fine they fa’ an’ rise,
   And fain I’d feel the creepin’ mist on yonder shore that lies,
But tell me, ere ye passed them by, what saw ye on the way?”
   “My man, I rocked the rovin’ gulls that sail abune the Tay.”

“But saw ye naethin’, leein’ Wind, afore ye cam’ to Fife?
   There’s muckle lyin’ yont the Tay that’s mair to me nor life.”
“My man, I swept the Angus braes ye hae’na trod for years—”
   “O Wind, forgi’e a hameless loon that canna see for tears!—”

“And far abune the Angus straths I saw the wild geese flee,
   A lang, lang skein o’ beatin’ wings wi’ their heids towards the sea,
And aye their cryin’ voices trailed ahint them on the air—”
   “O Wind, hae maircy, haud yer whisht, for I daurna listen mair!”

Violet Jacob

A poem capturing the desolation of exile that is at the heart of so much of the Celtic experience: one thinks of Irish songs like ‘Spancil Hill’, and Welsh poems of ‘hiraeth’. It has been set to music under the title ‘Norlan Wind’ and performed by, among others, the great Scots ballad-singers Jean Redpath and Archie Fisher; it has a good tune but the words stand well enough on their own.


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