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?"
and chapter-house rose on the island.
Stone flourished on stone. Upon the table
slab of the altar five wounds were cut
"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.
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
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.
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.
This work is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
The SCOTS Project and the University of Glasgow do not necessarily endorse, support or recommend the views expressed in this document.
Cite this Document
A Small Book of Translations: 17 - Inchcolm. 2023. In The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. Glasgow: University of Glasgow. Retrieved 3 December 2023, from http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/document/?documentid=465.
"A Small Book of Translations: 17 - Inchcolm." The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. Glasgow: University of Glasgow, 2023. Web. 3 December 2023. http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/document/?documentid=465.
The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech, s.v., "A Small Book of Translations: 17 - Inchcolm," accessed 3 December 2023, http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/document/?documentid=465.
If your style guide prefers a single bibliography entry for this resource, we recommend:
The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. 2023. Glasgow: University of Glasgow. http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk.