The Poet, The Poem – George Mackay Brown

The Poet

Therefore he no more troubled the pool of silence
But put on mask and cloak,
Strung a guitar
And moved among the folk.
Dancing they cried,
‘Ah, how our sober islands
Are gay again, since this blind lyrical tramp
Invaded the Fair.’

Under the last dead lamp
When all the dancers and masks had gone inside
His cold stare
Returned to its true task, the interrogation of silence.

George Mackay Brown


Seven scythes leaned at the wall.
Beard upon golden beard
The last barley load
Swayed through the yard.
The girls uncorked the ale.
Fiddle and feet moved together.
Then between stubble and heather
A horseman rode.

George Mackay Brown

George Mackay Brown (1921-1996) is one of the most well-known of Scottish poets. He was born in Stromness in the Orkney Islands, the last child of a poor family. He spent all his life in Stromness apart from time at Edinburgh for education as an adult and apart from a visit to Oxford. He was a sick child suffering from tuberculosis and was not able to enter the war or engage in steady employment. His family had a history of depression.

His poetry is poetry of place and although the Orkneys has a brutal dramatic climate his words are simple, cut to the raw bone without hyperbole – very much his own Orcadian voice – and much respected for bringing notice to this part of Scotland. He was somewhat of a drinker and well known in Stromness throughout his life-time as he walked around town.

Details on Wikipedia –

… and for those that need information on the Orkneys –

Looking at the two poems – ‘The Poet’ … this is a clear definition of himself – I love that first line no more to trouble or be troubled by the pool of silence … so he puts on his mask and coat to go out to the Pub – a different hat from his poetry hat … rejoicing in the Orcadian community life – I hope not to be blinded by alcohol! But when it is closing time, and he last to leave … under the last dead lamp … perhaps going home at dawn … it is time to face the silence again … his calling ‘to interrogate silence’. The cold stare gives hint of a depressive life.

The second poem is simply called ‘Poem’ – He valued the simple pleasures of life and the rural lifestyle of his day – work in the fields and then to the Pub – but between ‘stubble and heather a horseman rode’ … this can be seen as an interruption to this ideal life – an ominous threat to what the future might hold … and on an individual basis one of the free-fun-loving girls might soon be whisked away into married life. As in a good poem it is left to the reader to complete.

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