Collected Poems of Edward M Robertson
– Edward M Robertson
by Ian Robertson at Smashwords
2017 Edward Robertson
Edition, Licence Notes
you for downloading this free ebook. You are welcome to share it with
your friends. This book may be reproduced, copied and distributed for
non-commercial purposes, provided the book remains in its complete
second volume of The Collected Poems of Edward M Robertson has been
produced so that additional material, discovered while sorting
through his papers, can be made available.
knew Edward will, no doubt, be able to identify with many of the
images and emotions he expresses and will hopefully take pleasure in
exploring these additional poems.
who did not know Edward personally, we hope that reading this small
volume of poetry proves to be a rewarding experience.
In The Borders
ON READING POETRY
(Reply to Edith Sitwell)
Suddenly, as I read your poetry,
the whole world tilts sideways,
and the pretences, defences and confident senses
drop from all people
like plates flying out of the waiter's hand
as the ship strikes rock
and lurches up
Suddenly the feeling of all the
shipwreck of the poised commonsenses
becomes unbearable ....
the little people - and I
one of them -
breaking in pieces, flying crockery,
leaving only the hand
which tried to communicate
thin, brittle words
in accepted restaurant rituals -
the pain unrealised and
the feeling unadmitted.
And I, wrecked on your poetry,
fling myself into the
swelling waves vast empathy.
Better drown in pain loved
than seek safety where there could be
MARCH IN THE BORDERS
The red fields lie
open to the dry March wind -
rolled flat and burdened with seed -
corn, wheat, barley and rye.
They wait for life, rain-awakened.
And always they sweep the eye on, up
to a sea of hills,
wind-tossed and bare -
or suck sight down to
deep-clefted and filled with trees -
a hundred years old or more -
where vision follows the circling bird
down and down into
the blue depths
of a Chinese pattern of peace.
I sit on top of Ruberslaw
and feel myself like a windhover
hang in the air,
but where he sees and clutches with
his eye only the quivering blade
and threads the vole's individual,
all- excluding heart beat
I see all at a rolling endless sweep of the eye.
And while the kite-kestrel
tugs at the taught thread of sight
that draws him down suddenly,
I am made one with all that I see -
give myself to the prey of my eye
to be devoured by it.
Sliding in on slanting rays
of March morning sun
five lapwings came.
There was no calling.
Almost like fingers of
a blind man's hand
exploring a half-forgotten room
they moved about the fields
falling and rising,
rising and falling.
Were they a vanguard
of the returning array of life
unsure if this were in fact
the mating-ground where
once more they would engage
in love's war of self-giving?
Thus to their ears that would hear
the ground moving beneath
the shrilling hail's vituperation
would be in vain.
Again their vibrant gliding wings
gave muted celebration
to unforeseeable victory
in the relentless division of cells
within the stippled shell's
true, irresistible fragility.
This April wind rasps rough and thrusting
jagged as the branches in a flail-torn hedge,
driving out of their pine-top rookery
a cawing cataract of raucous crows.
And yet the frail-born kestrel hovers
hunting along the roadside edge,
fluttering like a chestnut ribbon,
pinned to a pinnacle of tall, still air.
For all that the wind gathers and grows,
charging across the quilted strath,
it is the kestrel's wavering wings
that flail and scatter the wind's wild rushes
where it still holds steady and brings
its eyes to focus down their straight path.
The wind needs no words to communicate
the wildness of the hills
But flings about my head
by touch and sound
its message of wild upland places
Where in the valley I walk with
open-handed eyes not grasping
as the wind gives
more than can be seen
whether of scattering birds -
the wind's slight toy -
or here where faded grasses
shake, slender spears piercing
the eye with delicate joy.
Here is the last true countryman who
across the wide fields;
carries a pick-axe on his face,
head hammering it hard
into the firm ground, then,
with his battered brains,
staggers awkwardly about the furrows.
Yet, in a moment, he
becomes the graceful ballet dancer
of the skies, as spread-winged
he flies upwards
mounting the invisible staircase
of air, to a height, where,
with a twist of the wrist of flight
suddenly he falls off the edge
of the wind, tumbling
sweeps over grasses and swoops
up to a tangle in the tall trees' hair,
his nest, a scribble in the topmost
branches. And there he sits
and smoothes the rumpled wind
with velvet cawing.
Yet he is never 'rook'
but always 'rooks' -
leaves sprouting from one living
a sky-shoal netted with rook calls.
But on the ground again, in meek
ploughman fashion, he follows
the sharp share of his
I sit on top of the triangulation point
on top of Ruberslaw -
a skylark on the highest rung of its
Jacob's ladder of praise.
My eyes pour out rejoicing -
every field, fold, wood and hill
rolling and tumbling about me,
draws out the endless singing of my gaze.
The lark threads up together
the numberless small sounds of Spring
them all in an ecstasy to
God's blue skies.
So my eyes
take all that seems small yet lies
boundless about me
and tie it here
where God's knowing and loving arise.
Rooks ride and slide the wind,
Dolphin its wide waves,
Wing-wide, half-closed, tight aside;
Arrow the air monster,
Puncture the balloon bluster;
Counter-thrust in low flight
Fighting grass-high across the field,
Against the whole force;
Seeping into the cracks of stillness,
Take head on the wind waters
There, look there!
The field-flying lapwing
takes to himself the life dance
of this Spring,
each step of aconite,
the grass vibrating,
the bat's-wing leaf uncurling,
and the large leaping hare.
There, look there!
He scoops up with deliberate, blunt wing
the earth's Spring dance
and flings it wildly up
into the air.
There, look there!
The weak bird,
gigantic in power of poetry,
tosses the vast world madly
about the skies -
his the still and steady point unturning,
all else falling and rolling away from him.
There, look there!
Joy breaks the sad monotony
of man heaved mountains of cities.
Hope flings away
pain's dulling death-throes.
Love gathers up
a crescendo of shrill trivialities
and, blunt-winged, tumbles them
down an endless sky.
How can he ever achieve it?
Hill-high in mid-air,
muscle-minded, locked against the gale,
flickering wings stippled on the sky
as he strives for poise,
wind playing his splayed tail.
How can he, then, hold still,
eye steady as surgeon's hand,
infinitely delicate the dissection,
splitting the vole's whisker
trembling from grass?
This power is not his prize
for he is time's inheritor.
No human span of practice
but a skill of millions of years
makes him achieve this dizzy impossibility.
He swoops, hesitates, drops and feels them,
warm and quivering in his talons,
the ages' miracle,
united prey and predator.
Chained to the earth my mind
flies up with you
gliding the wind's wide acres,
leaf-blown across clouds
swept like a branch down
rivers of air
along the flat strath of sky
hemmed in by billowing
Sharp and fierce your cry
scythes down the dark distances
hiding the rabbit's fear,
a sentry's bayonet
plunging to seek in straw bales
the escaping prisoner,
a Highlandman's dirk rending
and ripping the plaided air
to reach the heart thrust.
Pierce fierce accusing finger of sound
the rabbit's guilt-goaded leaping,
dread-drawn to precipitate
the fatal intersection
of prey and predator.
You do not hang like a kestrel's
strung by its sight to a vole's trembling.
Free over fathoms of air you sweep
surfing up to the wind's foaming crest,
then down to a death-thrust
where the earth cannot chain you.
Bodkin-beaked brawling birds
In a crowd crashing the bird-table party;
the percussion of the aerial orchestra,
with cymbals clashing and castanet’s that clatter,
more eager it seems to fight than feed,
to scatter food than eat it,
in all your manic melee of
grab and stab,
hustle and stuff,
shovel and shove.
Yet, roosting in the tall tree,
you fill the afternoon
with ceaseless chatter,
if not musical, then at least,
in friendly harmony.
You get the feeling
these seagulls positively
enjoy the wind and rain;
not battling against
but playing through them -
surfing the air-waves
(tuned in to them too!)
and twisting into the rain-surf.
But do they perhaps
miss the bite of brine
on their tongues,
drinking a wet saltless air?
Killiecrankie has swallowed the sun an hour ago.
And yet the sky, a vast upturned porcelain bowl
of egg-shell blue, is wet with a thin film of light,
Dripping slowly down;
Splashing in infinitely slow motion clusters
Of faded grass across the field,
Spilling down the dry pale dusty track,
As sounds from the curved curlew's beak
Curl gracefully down like golden leaves
from an Autumn tree.
Slowly the light soaks away into
the trees, the dykes, the ditches.
A toad, little fat fellow, leaps frantically
Out of my way and struggles deep into
A gigantic jungle of grass and rosebay willow-herb.
Overhead a heron sets sail for some
secret pool and a bat
Flickers erratically in and out of sight.
Here is a moment to savour,
As dusk draws out the living night
And Killiecrankie thirstily drinks down the very last
Lingering drops of liquid light.
Crisp, prickly stubble fields swing up
into the Autumn evening sky,
sharp giant cat's paws stretching out
to scratch the moon's cyclopic eye.
Along the field's edge
hedge and tree, black breakers
of a flowing sea of darkness,
toss and swirl up to the hill,
where the light lies still.
The robin sketches a self portrait
on the day's blank page.
He likes it, for a moment, then
rubs it out and tries again
more delicately, 'till he hears
an echoing call, throws down
his crumpled drawing in a rage,
sharpens his pencils to a point
and throws them violently at
the challenge from the hedge, then hurls
himself, a fiery dart, burning
war to the death to wage.
The hedge is emptied by discretion.
He shakes his feathers out,
lightly lets anger fall from him.
Then on his favourite perch resumes
self-portraiture, his Autumn whim.
The rowan stands like a gun
blazing death in the evening,
flames of frail, frayed leaves
spurt and flash,
in fury and force of self-purgation.
The tree spits death,
cleansing itself of dying pitilessly,
withdrawing behind the impregnable bark,
thrusts out victims,
sacrificed to the unrelenting, life-hating frost.
Twisted and tortured the expendable
defenceless victims turn,
gnarl, contort and crumble.
This harsh purging of death
should be an ugly, loathsome sight,
but it is not.
It is a glowing glory of victory,
the helpless martyr's soul
burning more brightly than the flames,
the political prisoner in the labour camp
higher soaring in freedom,
than his trapped guards
and the enmeshed manipulators of power.
Dying, decaying has its own glory of passion,
more startling and depth-knowing
than life's blind green lust.
And now, suddenly, I look up
and see a torn and tangled
set of branches.
The shoals of fish leaves have escaped
and only the tides of wind
wash through them.
As suddenly too a sound reaches down to me
into the box classroom,
out of the toss of bitter wind
in clear searing sky
the call of geese overhead,
spliced and braided together,
in movement of muscle and cry.
Death crawls across the hill
slowly strangling the starved ground;
grows down out of the frosted air
through tips of bracken and marsh grass,
driving the sap back down
into the shoot, the stem,
down into the root, the ground,
where, frozen, found no longer
flowing in liquid life,
it lies rock-hard,
but now death bound.
The hill has become the year's tombstone
and on it bronze bracken
and russet marsh grass
write its epitaph.
Half-sights and half-sounds,
slight smells - apples and damp ground,
leaves lapsing into rich humus;
interweaving counter-point of curlew calls,
owl deep-hollowing out of billowing trees;
bat-wings flailing ripe night air,
winnowing rich grain of insects;
stippling on hedge and bush
bright points of sound;
chestnut trees turning to golden fountains
and spiked green hail;
geans and rowans differently burning
to reds and glowing purple;
shapes of hills and great trees by-the-river
merging, water and land flowing
into darkness half-seen, half-heard
drawing and moulding me
to a new half-knowing.
Go out into a gale-lashed day;
let the wind blow through your mind,
and toss your wild thoughts far away
over tumbling hills.
Take your ragged images that
whip-clap and clash,
caught in the branches of the trees wind-slashing
and let them there go flying free.
Let loose on seagull-wings your wishes
and the gale toss to sky-height
Where the high eagle threads
the eye of the needle of daylight.
And where the sun sheds sky-lark song,
silver, shimmering and bright.
Then let your mind descend,
wind-wide over the
fresh with the wonder of
Even the bird - song was brittle
in the frosty air,
a robin's singing found thin ice
over the wintered garden,
not claiming territory
but affirming it was alive,
its territory the warm mystery of life
impenetrable to the cold clarity
of frozen death.
Beyond the logical analyses of frost,
beyond the notes of song, plotted
on the computer-screen of a Winter sky,
the frail bird's life, flame frosted,
drove back December's harsh reductionism
Here on the hillside
the raiding clans of frost
while on the flat strath
blue mist hangs about
the farms like smoke
from winter's icicles of fire.
But at the valley's end
broad mountains billow
in pink tinted clouds of snow
downing into soft legends
the cruel realities
of winter feuding.
Mid-winter comes -
driven on by packs of wind
rampaging in defenceless hills
where all the black-sheep pine trees
tightly penned, rush, heave in panic;
where the still pool
of hill lochs
beaten brown becomes sheep held,
swirling and leaping round
into a water of dark wool.
Mid-winter comes -
swept on by rivers,
building a muscled-mass from
thrusting aside thin eyesight,
beating the solid piers
of the bridge into
until their counter-thrust
makes stone seem light
and it must skim the water and become
a Catamaran rushing upstream
and out of sight.
Mid-winter comes -
the moon's sharp sickle
scythes the short daylight down,
like grains of light,
spilled from its meagre harvest;
sprinkles the fields of sky ploughed
into darkness - soil of night -
fields yet more cold than dark,
more felt in the eyes
than simply now seen through them,
more shattered ice than bars
The bitter winds that hold us prisoner
in our car, cannot deny us the freedom
of eyesight. From up here on the rising
edge of the Sidlaw Hills our gaze
wanders at will over the
brown-green quilted strath. Snow
dapples the tops of dark distant mountains
like foam cresting gigantic waves.
While nearer at hand tiny houses
huddle in small grey towns.
Look here! beside us, above the roadside verge
a fluttering kestrel hangs, wings
scarcely moving. It seems in this
storm-tossed sea of wind,
to inhabit some island of stillness
that moves untroubled with it,
or to sail a small boat that drifts
only to anchor again fast above
some tussock of quivering grass.
Light, like thin cold soup, is
ladled out into the
beggar's bowl of the frosted valley,
while hills, permanent as the poor,
draw clouds in tatters
round stark limbs.
The misery of winter
digs deep into this place.
Brewing tea to bring cheer
to my shivering flesh
I look out of the kitchen window
and feel the garden's grim greyness
freeze my eyes;
when, suddenly - like laughter
in a prison camp -
a blackbird's song gospels the day.
Tentative, half-remembered phrases
question the finality of dawn's chill prophecy
The singing notes climb
sheer cliffs of frozen air,
reaching at last a peak,
a point of credal affirmation
of a baptismal winter-death
and spring rising.
Briefly the Winter dawn glows
and dies down into dull grey.
Etched on the sky an urgent arrow
of geese divides the still, steely air.
Against the drooping belly of the clouds
the tall stark trees stretch out
dark veins, and now the wind
uncoils and whips away
all hope of warmth,
and certainty of life prolonged.
Coldness intense as hatred
repels the right to live.
How can the midget mouse
the miniature wren,
scuttling amongst the wreckage
of the hedge hope
to keep death at bay?
(“Yet Winter's hate must at last give way to Spring's life-giving
love, and love lasts to eternity”. Anon - quoted by Sheila
Cassidy in "Good Friday People")
The sunshine of those dull days
was the laughter of children playing
in a world, snow covered, of white delight
transformed from green braes,
where slithered and sped bright
plastic sledges bundled with excitement.
And their laughter was a sparkling torrent
flowing freely in a world imprisoned in ice;
glittering and gleaming natural joy
unlocked an inner door,
stirred the dull adult mind
with a wonder that lightens our darkness
when a child plays.
(A rugged promontory in Knapdale, Argyll)
"As we die of a disease, so we live of love, hidden within us."
(La Soif - Gabriel Marcel)
Here, where I stand on the land's thrust of the Keills,
the rock-rent ground, the sea-thrashed shore about me,
the wind, thundering in my ears, hurtles from Jura,
across the battering Sound.
I look at Jura's mountains - massed menace wrenched from
patient miles of moorland;
everything about me is glory and torment,
its contradiction thrust through my being
with this wind's fierce, final questioning.
The rocks (not flat, slab-heavy masses) rise
round me, a thousand spires
pulling against their weight,
reminding me of the small chapel behind me -
stones, useless now, except for memory to penetrate
time, to recreate in thought a living community of worship,
a meeting of men,
there gathered to face full-force the wind out of
the contradiction of their own flesh and spirit,
on that stone slab where was concentred
all the encircling contradiction of this place.
What mad metaphysical system
bodied their belief?
What superstition-sodden faith
drenched their prayers?
What cruel charity
of righteousness and the damned
bent their self-will to care and respect
for each other?
No matter. They held out words
to give their being in return
for Being received.
There on the black menace of Jura
a light, a speck - no more - flickers
and stares, as clouds clear sun from water.
It is in me,
that light that flickers
and yet steadily stares in silence.
Wind out of contradiction cannot extinguish its glare.
For this small flickering light
stills the wind's thunder, melts mountains,
solidifies the sea
This light takes all gleams, glances, dances,
flickering and bright glories,
and binds them in me into
one beam of brightness.
This light unwinds the tangle of light and darkness,
the wavering warfare of joy and pain,
and says, "I stand, not I, but love stands in me.
All is love-living, whether unfolding in peace or
tortured by suffering.
Love in me is an openness, light-leaping
joy-feeling, yet not holding.
Out of the contradiction of rock and sea,
flesh and spirit, suffering and celebration -
out of it all - light, love in me is
reflecting the Being of Light and Love
who made this place."
When man first separated himself from the animal
by the height of a hill,
pulled out of the gravitation of instinct,
and by his first flickering intelligence,
made the unwelcoming wind
took rocks and built on the hill
his own hill
set higher still against
the cruel tongue of the gale -
scandalmongering, harsh tale-telling to the whole
open heavens his weak shivering nakedness -
shut up her mouth with
the ragged dyke of his first hill-dwelling;
then the amazement in the chill first morning sight
of his separateness of hill-height
echoed down his labyrinthine mind,
setting him level with the sun rising
as his mind dawned with re-echoing
life-and-death power to match
the sun's flower of flame.
And in its dying a wonder
projected him to the first space-exploration
throwing his eye-open feeling
wildly reeling about the
shatter of scattered stars,
in awakening ecstasy, as he welcomed night by growing night
the still glowing glory of
who in time from her full womb
gave birth to his worship and dread delight.
Out of the animal jungle,
against the grain of himself,
to make rock and mind,
heaving giddy height and imagination
By these hills he raised himself
to stand above himself,
become more than he was,
set his mind madly mountaineering
on visions and dreams,
made this wild place
the discovery of a human wildness;
mountain-leaping, stretched out
wings of longing,
and became eagle minded,
soared and plunged,
loved and despaired as never
in the blind earth-bound jungle.
To-day I come to this place
of heaving, harsh, unsympathetic rock,
of tormenting rejection of wind,
to set the human jungle
of town-and-earth-bound people
at a distance -
to be a person,
to become in the wind's frantic action,
to be, by the height of a hill,
separate, alone, human -
and, by the soaring sweep of sight, to
waken again the height and depth
of love and despair, to dare
the eagle wings of
dread and delight.
Not the thrusting, eager cry of geese
striving to rise or arrowed
against the wind, but,
from behind the great pine tree,
a mellow, murmuring music of swans
flying in line, low,
wide-winged and slow, with
flowing, round sound,
calling, thirteen in number;
passing overhead, yet not passing
but blessing, and white-clad too
as the newly baptised, washed white
by the obedient blood of the man,
answering love's invitation
to death. All this at that point
where the ground-bound desolation
of prayer, sharing the will-bending
weight of others' pain and frustration,
and the impossible burden
of uncertainty; at that point,
when at last prayer too rose
in flight, winged with the spirit,
uplifted by the crucified affirmation,
there the swans flew straight,
like a saint's will joyfully
answering God's call;
and my heart was touched by
the feather floating breath
of blessing, from thirteen white swans,
answering God's call.
SELF – QUESTIONING
Why are you always mourning?
Tears again at the touch of a word,
A phrase, sight or sound.
What have you lost?
Is it forever the dead mother
Departing into the relentless assimilation
Of the cold, pitiless ground?
Loss it is; the impossibility
Of recovering prisoners time has taken.
But it is more - the sense of the possibility
Of discovery, gaining more ground,
If we could only risk the wave's torment,
The fathomless deeps,
Travel out from the shore.
“Christ turns all our sunsets into dawns”
(Clement of Alexandria - 2nd Century)
This they call 'The evening of life'
implying there a mellowing,
a sheltering, a relieving from the
knife-thrust of competitive self-fulfilment,
which is known as 'Getting On In The World'.
Do they forget that evening is bright
with burnishing clouds into gold,
sword-thrust of dazzling beams of light
sun-setting, glorious glowing red sky
fulfilled, and that life, like light, may seem to die,
but rises always beyond sight's limited horizon?
THE FORCE WITHIN
There is a wildness in my mind, confined
behind the bars of rigid duty which define
the practical precincts of each day. Only the wind
is free to come and go where he must live,
and stars shed silver sparkling tears
into the deep pools of his eyes
where, as he lies,
he looks with longing
at the freedom of the skies.
From time to time his restless tread
thuds like a heart-beat in my head;
his shadow ripples over the bars,
and sighs like birds fly to the stars.
Sometimes I wonder if he is there.
Then, with the breeze, his nostrils stir
and waking, he leaps against his cage
until the wildness of my rage
Or, when the sun draws ecstasy of life around,
a sudden longing for the hills
startles me, stretching against the iron bound
necessity of duty.
I lie awake at night and ask myself
if I took strength, crumbled the bars, let him go free
would he, insane with lust,
imprison himself in my destruction or
would he, with a wild leap of love,
take me his prey -
and set me free?
Centuries of experience have wrinkled
your rock-skulled face.
A dignity lies deep in your
millennial age and,
in the slowness of your year's change,
a gradual grace.
The growing tree is, to you,
a leap of life,
over as quickly as foot returns
to the ground.
Flowers flicker a moment,
smile at the corner of your mouth.
Yet everything about you possesses its
own unborrowed place.
Slowly you gather all growing and dying
to your decay
as time, which you seem to hold timeless,
must have its way,
and you too pass as the swift shadow-clouds
that over you run the wind's wild race.
FOR WILL OGILVIE
“No dark can ever hide this dear loved land from me”
(If I Were Old – William H Ogilvie)
You wrote once about a blind poet
out on the hills seeing by the inner
sun of clear memory all that rolled
and swept in still solid waves
around him. Little did you think
then it was the inner light would dim
within you so that your eyes open and
hill-wandering would be lost into
the mind's darkness; and yet I remember
how, when I came with Christ's own humility
in my hand to feed your sightless
soul with bread and wine of His love,
the smile of years of joy from those
comforting hills wandered still about
the corners of your mouth.
And now this bronze book, set on a lectern
of stones, your face on a medal of bronze
fronting it, I feel your soothing words
spread out over the flowing ground
motionless yet rolling around me,
and know you see the joy within me
for you remembered here, and that
your smile is in this place.
Edward Macallan Robertson graduated from Aberdeen University with a
first-class honours. He followed this up with a B.Litt at Queen's
College, Oxford. He came back up to Scotland in 1960 as Rector of
St. Cuthbert's, Hawick. Prior to his retirement in 1993 he was
Priest-in-Charge at St. Kessog's, Auchterarder and St. James,