panorama of ‘Hallaig’ from Dùn Caan

poem-labels, Alec Finlay; photography, Luke Allan  

poem-labels bearing the names of places mentioned in Sorley MacLean's poem 'Hallaig', 
written as mesostics giving the English translation. Luke Allan photographed each label
with its named place in the background from the top of Dùn Caan.

'Time, the deer, is the wood of Hallaig' 

The window is nailed and boarded 
through which I saw the West 
and my love is at the Burn of Hallaig, 
a birch tree, and she has always been 

between Inver and Milk Hollow, 
here and there about Baile-chuiru: 
she is a birch, a hazel, 
a straight, slender young rowan.

In Screapadal of my people 
where Norman and Big Hector were, 
their daughters and their sons are a wood 
going up beside the stream.

Proud tonight the pine cocks 
crowing on the top of Cnoc an Ra, 
straight their backs in the moonlight — 
they are not the wood I love. 

I will wait for the birch wood 
until it comes up by the cairn, 
until the whole ridge from Beinn na Lice 
will be under its shade.

If it does not, I will go down to Hallaig, 
to the Sabbath of the dead, 
where the people are frequenting, 
every single generation gone.

They are still in Hallaig, 
MacLeans and MacLeods, 
all who were there in the time of Mac Gille Chaluim 
the dead have been seen alive. 

The men lying on the green 
at the end of every house that was,
the girls a wood of birches, 
straight their backs, bent their heads.

Between the Leac and Fearns 
the road is under mild moss 
and the girls in silent bands 
go to Clachan as in the beginning,

and return from Clachan 
from Suisnish and the land of the living; 
each one young and light-stepping, 
without the heartbreak of the tale.

From the Burn of Fearns to the raised beach 
that is clear in the mystery of the hills,
there is only the congregation of the girls 
keeping up the endless walk,

coming back to Hallaig in the evening, 
in the dumb living twilight, 
filling the steep slopes, 
their laughter a mist in my ears,

and their beauty a film on my heart 
before the dimness comes on the kyles, 
and when the sun goes down behind Dun Cana 
a vehement bullet will come from the gun of hove;

and will strike the deer that goes dizzily, 
sniffing at the grass-grown ruined homes; 
his eye will freeze in the wood, 
his blood will not be traced while I live.

(Sorley MacLean)


to view the conspectus-guide for Dùn Caan, click here

to return to the map with links to all 14 guides click here

to view the acknowledgements and project information click here

Còmhlan Bheanntan | A Company of Mountains
commissioned by ATLAS, Skye, 2012

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