>> Loch Lomond
Fingal’s Cave <<
Few themes in Scotia Extremis are as well linked as those we feature this week. While the very nature of the two – one a glacier-scoured water-filled depression, the other a basalt columnar cave formed during a lava flow – places them at virtually opposite physical extremes, they are also both hollows in the earth’s surface. But there’s more. Both Loch Lomond and Fingal’s Cave have been captured in music – the famous song The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond has been recorded by everyone from Runrig to the Benny Goodman Big Band while the latter stirred Mendelssohn to write his 1829 overture The Hebrides, inspired by the otherworldly echoes in the cave. Both have also been captured in paint – the loch by numerous contemporary landscape artists while the cave was portrayed by none other than Turner in 1832. So ‘iconic’ are these two physical features that they have become world famous landmarks of the nation. Few others from anywhere in Scotland can so immediately evoke the country and the rugged nature of its renowned Highland landscape.
by Paula Jennings
In the Paleocene age a thick basalt flow is cooling,
transposing volcanic power to a squeezing force.
Pressure on the horizontal plane is skilfully, tidily
fracturing the vertical, making hexagonal columns.
Nature, loving diversity, has thrown in some polygons
but hexagons dominate with spectacular uniformity,
rearing up around the cave’s mouth. Sea gasps and crashes.
Millennia later, here comes Fingal, the ‘white stranger’,
fictitious hero of a fictitious bard, rowing strongly.
The wave-tips form mischievous question marks
as our pale protagonist makes landfall at nightfall,
here to spend dark hours in the cave of his name.
Perhaps he will hear Pink Floyd’s eerie melody of this place,
all whining glissando, or Mendelssohn’s swirling romance.
By the time daylight brings Iona into view, neatly framed
in the cave’s opening, Fingal is long gone, shimmering
to nothing as dawn dissolves him. The sea is full of glinty points.
by Imtiaz Dharker
I The Knot
At Loch Lomond they are king and queen to me,
laying out their bounty on the brae
after the queasy ride from Glasgow, we
children making sick-stops on the way
until we tumble out at the mouth of water
where light eats shade, and makes us ravenous.
She unties the dishcloth with a flourish later
to set the parathas free, and as she does,
undoes this deep red knot of hurt in the heart.
Today, when scars have been allowed to deepen
around a silence, wrenching our lives apart,
she has come back to us at the loch to open
the tangle of her dying, our mistake,
the high, the low, the road we did not take.
II Chaudhri Sher looks at the Loch
Light shakes out the dishrag sky
and scatters the water with sequins. Look, hen!
says my father, Loch Lomond! as if
it were all his doing, as if he owned it,
laird of Lomond, laird of the language.
He is proud to say hen and even more loch
with an och not an ock, to speak
proper Glaswegian like a true-born Scot,
and he makes the right sound at the back
of the throat because he can say khush
and khwab and khamosh, because the sounds
for happy and dream are the words that swim
in the water for him, so he says it again,
Hen! Look! The loch!
Paula Jennings’ most recent poetry collection is Under a Spell Place (HappenStance Press). She has enjoyed collaborations with visual artists (Farlin, The Written Image) and regularly reads at poetry events and festivals, including StAnza and Dundee Literary Festival. She lives in Anstruther and teaches poetry writing in Fife and Edinburgh.
Imtiaz Dharker is a poet, artist and documentary film-maker. Awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 2014, recipient of the Cholmondeley Award from the Society of Authors and a Council member of the Royal Society of Literature, her latest collection is Over the Moon (Bloodaxe). With Poetry Live! she reads to over 25,000 students a year.