Week 69: Cha Till Maccruimein, by Ewart Alan Mackintosh

With much commemoration of the outbreak of the First World War in the air, I thought it would be timely to remember one of its lesser-known poets, the Scotsman Ewart Alan Mackintosh, killed at the battle of Cambrai in 1917. I think this poem, by its historical telescoping, gives the martial pride of those days its due while undercutting it with a sense of grim foreboding.

Cha Till Maccruimein
(Departure of the 4th Camerons)

The pipes in the streets were playing bravely,
The marching lads went by
With merry hearts and voices singing
My friends marched out to die;
But I was hearing a lonely pibroch
Out of an older war,
‘Farewell, farewell, farewell, MacCrimmon,
MacCrimmon comes no more.’

And every lad in his heart was dreaming
Of honour and wealth to come,
And honour and noble pride were calling
To the tune of the pipes and drum;
But I was hearing a woman singing
On dark Dunvegan shore,
‘In battle or peace, with wealth or honour,
MacCrimmon comes no more.’

And there in front of the men were marching
With feet that made no mark,
The grey old ghosts of the ancient fighters
Come back again from the dark;
And in front of them all MacCrimmon piping
A weary tune and sore,
‘On gathering day, for ever and ever,
MacCrimmon comes no more.’

Ewart Alan Mackintosh (1893-1917)