When I Am Old

Hie me to the hill-ground,
the high hill ground of Scotland,
to battle bladed wind-blasts
my forebears fought before me,
to stagger stammer-footed,
across the ancient highlands,
across their schists and drifting bones
across their shifting ruin-stones,
where, witchily, the gray pine crones
still call me to my history.

Leave me there to wayfare
the curlew-plainted wild moor,
to smell the sweet bog-myrtle
beside the peaty burn;
to stumble crumbling scree slopes
that roll with rutting stag roars,
and rediscover drove roads
and moss embossing lost abodes
where blood-fed drovers rested loads
bound south and trudging their return.

Let me find a lone shore
where fishermen lie buried
in graves of wave-flung flotsam
with neither name nor past:
to stand there like a Culdee
as mist-trails move unhurried
on island hills and holms and voes
where headlands creaked with yells of crows
as birlinns swooned in hell-bent blows
that heaved the shore and cleaved the mast.

Bear me to the black shed
where the blacksmith shod the plough-horse
to plod long narrow furrows
that pleat the folding field,
and when my storm approaches,
I'll stand before its raw force
by furnace flames of bygone ways,
and anvils ringing down the days
that forged my soul and bent these bays;
I'm of this land—it's here I'll yield,
to the stubble and seeds of the past.

by John Beaton

Comments (1)

I would call this one of Winter's 'ornate' nostalgic poems, like 'A view of Pasadena From the Hills' or 'The Slow Pacific Swell.' They remind me of Stevens in 'Sea Surface Full of Clouds.' I like the atmospheric sound of these poems, but they also seem a bit too 'artful.' I think that Winters' 'John Sutter' started out in the same mode, but transcended it and became something greater.