Early verse

From the age of 12, I wrote verses in English, but once I learned to write in Gaelic I wrote in that language. Gaelic was the language of the heart and I felt that what I wrote was more authentic in my mother tongue. I looked on poetry as a means of telling the truth about the world as I perceived it. It wasn’t until 1980, when I was 36, that my first collection Eileanan was published by the Celtic Department, University of Glasgow.

I feel this is important for the story I’m going to tell. Let me explain why. Because of the strangeness, and indeed incredible nature, of what happened many years later, and that led to my conversion and to me becoming a Christian, it was important to have evidence of what I believed and how I felt in earlier years. The poetry I wrote then is the evidence.

To my own mind at the time, I wanted the truth about life wherever it led, whether pleasant or unpleasant.  And in my twenties and thirties I wrote verse which showed exactly what I believed. I was a rationalist and an agnostic. I was as far from God as it is possible to be. The following poem depicts what I thought it was like for an unbeliever in the modern world. The foundations of faith had been shaken. Life was ‘without root, without guide.’

Sea Plant

I’m a sea plant / shaken from the shores of the world. / Perhaps

we’ll meet / (there’s a chance, / one among many) / in the middle of

the ocean, / that you were also / raised / in Calvin’s earth, / the pre-

Copernican sky above you.

And the day came / when the stars fell / and the sky broke

asunder, / and you lost your land-made form, / floating / you and

I / forever more / on the cold empty seas / without root, without

guide.  (translated)

This poem hints strongly at what had been lost. The sure Word of God and the solid ground that Calvin believed in has been overwhelmed by advances in science and modern thought. Belief in God and morality itself is all at sea. My parents’ religion is in tatters, or so it seemed to me at the time.

Kensaleyre, Skye

Kensaleyre, Isle of Skye   Photo: Steve Taylor

With love to Eve

And yet also in this early poetry there is a longing for something more. In ‘B’ fheàrr leam’ (I wish) I’m intrigued with the paradoxes of time and eternity:

I wish I had a plane / to take me out from the stars. / I’d see the universe through a telescope / from outside time and space. / I’d understand I was formless / and that light was not needed to see – / How could there be light / in a place without matter? (translated)

And although I couldn’t see a way to truly believe, I was reluctant to believe that the human being was entirely due to the processes of time and chance, as the following verses show. They are from a group of poems called ‘With Love to Eve’:

You were there from everlasting / before the mountains were created / like a flower in God’s eye. // The scientist in vain will say / that time and chance made you / in the hot fire of the world // but the poet well knows // that you were there from the beginning // with your coming destined. // In your great beauty you were / enfolded in the pith of the universe, / a spirit ready to flame // out of the spirit that is. What use is poetry / if all you are is dust? // If all you are is dust / what use is music and poetry, / and what is our life but a scream. (translated)

It would be many years before the incredible events I spoke of earlier were to happen. Meantime, I continued to explore and to question and to doubt.