Document 465

A Small Book of Translations: 17 - Inchcolm

Author(s): Alexander Hutchison

Copyright holder(s): Alexander Hutchison



This morning I saw
on the waters of the firth a diving
bird I never saw before, turning a nimble
loop to enter the wave, and the wonder
of green light filtering down.

What was it like
for the king – Alexander, when the boat
nearly foundered, and all might be tossed
in the swirl of the sea? Did he kick
his boots free? Did he call out by his
birth-right for men to assist him?
And how did they come to land?

None of these
things is reported with surety. But fear,
if he felt it, was followed by gratitude –
the gift of an abbey for the Inch of
St. Colum. "Lord, I was drowning. What
better can I build than this?"

Then chancel
and chapter-house rose on the island.
Stone flourished on stone. Upon the table
slab of the altar five wounds were cut
like stars.

"It is foolish
to shrink from what cannot be avoided." Such
safety was the bread they broke to sustain
them. "Quicquid mali finxerit lingua" –
whatever evil the tongue composes
conscience may overcome.

What warmth
of the spirit must have wound itself
round them – only one social fireplace
beyond that in the kitchen – though something
burned in the wall of the Choir when
Richard the Bishop had his heart interred,
so his ardour became part of the fabric
of the building.

Today we have
come to the natural harbour on the lee
side of the isthmus, climbed iron rungs
to the pier-head, and followed a path
by the narrow neck of land to stand
in the grave-yard, the Relig Oran,
surveying what replaced Colum's
daub and wattle traces.

Kings of Scotland
and Norway, Danes that were slain
at the "bickering" of Kinghorn, all
have their rest here: some at a stiff
price, and some with due reverence.

It is still broad
day when I take the night stair from
the ruins of the Church, and climb with my
sleeping child in my arms to the Dormitory,
talking and singing, though she sleeps,
and sitting for a while in the recess
at one of the windows.

The last day of January,
and the weather being mild, the water will
offer no menace as we make our return, not even
when we pass by Aberdour, crossing the Deep of
that impious Mortimer, long consigned in his shroud
of lead, well short of the island for which
he possessed, by gift of his forebear,
the right of interment.

But now there burns
in my arms a burden lightly borne – her
hair like a cresset or candle in the dark,
her hair like a badge or blazon – my
darling girl.

Within this high-vaulted
chamber I show you to shadows: the dreaming
forms of those who sleep like mist, who looked
in their own way for what holds true beneath
the bewilderment of surfaces.

It was a cold uncertain,
isolate existence; lived besides in a tangle
of dogma, that wrapped in despite: rock,
grass, flesh, sea-thrift and sea-bird.

I hold you here
against distortion; knowing that love
is work, is hard we know as breaking stones,
and desperate distance even when
the breath comes close.

But patience
with yourself, patience with the love
of others is a law worth learning, a thread
of blood I give you as a bond; and the water
of the world to enter and feed there as in
your natural element, taking your place
and composure, folding life around you,
your father's breath like a tide
on the margin of sleep.

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APA Style:

A Small Book of Translations: 17 - Inchcolm. 2024. In The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. Glasgow: University of Glasgow. Retrieved 25 July 2024, from

MLA Style:

"A Small Book of Translations: 17 - Inchcolm." The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. Glasgow: University of Glasgow, 2024. Web. 25 July 2024.

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If your style guide prefers a single bibliography entry for this resource, we recommend:

The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. 2024. Glasgow: University of Glasgow.


Information about Document 465

A Small Book of Translations: 17 - Inchcolm


Text audience

General public
Audience size 1000+

Text details

Method of composition N/A
Year of composition 2004
Word count 597
General description Collection of poems in translation

Text medium

Leaflet/brochure (prospectus)
Magazine (e-zine)

Text publication details

Part of larger text

Text setting

Other Literature in translation/poetry

Text type



Author details

Author id 420
Forenames Alexander
Surname Hutchison
Gender Male
Decade of birth 1940
Educational attainment University
Age left school 17
Occupation Writer / Senior Lecturer
Place of birth Buckie
Region of birth Banff
Birthplace CSD dialect area Bnf
Country of birth Scotland
Place of residence Glasgow
Region of residence Glasgow
Residence CSD dialect area Gsw
Country of residence Scotland
Father's occupation Medical Practitioner
Father's place of birth Spey Bay
Father's region of birth Moray
Father's birthplace CSD dialect area Mry
Father's country of birth Scotland
Mother's occupation School Meals Supervisor
Mother's place of birth Buckie
Mother's region of birth Banff
Mother's birthplace CSD dialect area Bnf
Mother's country of birth Scotland


Language Speak Read Write Understand Circumstances
English Yes Yes Yes Yes Generally/work/home etc.
French Yes Yes No Yes
Italian No Yes No No translation
Latin No Yes No No
Scots Yes Yes Yes Yes Socially/home/writing