Literary Pilgrimage: Scotland 1, Highlands

..Scotland is a mountainous country, whose highest peak is Ben Nevis, 4,406 feet high. I saw it shortly after the first snow of the year from Glen Nevis, a valley where highland cattle were grazing. They were all covered with long hair —  so very long that I wondered how they could see at all. Keats climbed the mountain in August 1818, but according to the sonnet he wrote on this occasion, the cloud was so dense that all he could see was “mist and crag”. I did not climb the mountain, but luckily I was able to see Ben Nevis beyond a field of snow, looking somewhat like a pan laid upside down.
..The first poem I recall about the Highlands is Wordsworth’s Solitary Reaper. It is a beautiful poem about a highland lass who sings by herself while reaping in the field. I find the last two lines of the poem full of suggestiveness: “The music in my heart I bore, / Long after it was heard no more.” Wordsworth actually said that he took the last line from a friend’s unpublished tour of Scotland. We do not even know where it was he met this highland lass. Wordsworth enjoyed a tour of Scotland with his sister Dorothy in 1803. According to Dorothy’s Recollections, they met two highland girls, descending the hill towards Loch Lomond. One of them was exceedingly beautiful. So Wordsworth wrote a poem in praise of her, in which he says that he will never forget “the cabin small / The lake, the bay, the waterfall; / And Thee, the Spirit of them all!” I cannot help thinking that this girl is the source of his highland lass.
..I had had the pleasure of seeing Loch Lomond on several occasions. One summer evening, I had a sudden desire to see it again with my wife. My guidebook said we could get there by train. We started out from Glasgow, but soon discovered that the last stretch of line had been removed. We got off at the terminus and looked for a taxi, but there was none. So we went into a fish-and-chips shop in front of the station, where a gentleman spoke to us as we were waiting to be served. When we said we wanted to go to Loch Lomond, he kindly offered to take us there in his car. The fish-and-chips were truly delicious when we ate them by the lake in the slowly-darkening twilight.

..Snow on the mountain,
..Highland cattle with long hair
..Grazing in the glen.

…………….On my highland tour,
…………….The song of the reaper girl
…………….Resounds in my heart.

…………………………….Lingering summer sun,
…………………………….Loch Lomond begins to sleep,
…………………………….The lake of my dreams.

2 Responses to “Literary Pilgrimage: Scotland 1, Highlands”

  1. John Dougill Says:

    I like the haiku here very much because they have a strong sense of atmosphere and resonance. The reaper girl’s song and the image of Loch Lomond linger on somehow in the imagination. The first haiku has a strong enough image certainly with long-haired cattle pictured against the mountain snow, but I wonder if a twist in the last line might have made it more striking: but then that would spoil the pleasing alliteration of grazing in the glen. In fact the more I contemplate the haiku, the more accomplished I find them.

    I’m wondering too about the season … The first one talks of snow on the mountain which suggested to me autumn; the second one appears to be in reaping time, which is late summer is it not; the third talks of summer sun. Could this possibly be August then, or early September, and could snow have already arrived? Snow arrived in Kyoto on Jan. 1 this year: I wonder when it first arrives on Scottish mountains?

  2. I love the last lines of all three haiku, and have responded (in the post above) with a haiqua of my own composed at Loch Lomond. It was obviously a ‘lake of my dreams’, too.

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