The Daith o Time: An improvisation around a legend
That puir tinker, James Macpherson –
“Funcy name fur a hielan kyard!” –
staunds up there, on the plain, cauld stenes,
unner a tow, fa’s loop is hung
like a teem silhouette o th’ heid alow’t.
Jamie, prood hairs tun’gle’t,
glum but gallus, luiks abeen
gin he wis somewey else –
aye, in ‘is heid, like.
On a raid, nae doot,
or charmin lassies fae their maidenheids
afore faain again te fell purpose –
an nene as roch for him te try
as iss teuch tyauve ca’d Daith!
“Nae smilin noo,” they say, “nae fleerin.
He’ll jig in Hell, nae doot, richt seen.”
Alow ‘im, staun e common fowk,
e Banffers, fa hae suffer’t lang.
Gey trickit are they, ene an aa,
Te see the begger catch’t – an deem’t!
Ahin e kyard, e Baillie jaws
Tellin e hale argyment against,
a lang scroll in his ring’it fing’ers,
shiftin – nervous, like – his een
aye movin te the clock,
an back. “Some’ins up,” some say.
“Fit wey dis he gyng on sae lang?”
E fashious crood’s heids fix abeen
on e clock, fa’s fing’er crawls
roon e fat, smug, lairdy face o time –
time, that has aye belangit te the rich
an dark injustice. A licht dawns:
“Maybe e hielan kyard kens fit we dinna?”
“Aye widna be the first time that thon crooks,
That pit o thieves, e Scottis Parlymint,
tuik gilt fae reivers, skellums, rogues
te set ene free, ene like themsels!”
Macpherson begs te play – e crood gyngs wild,
nae te hear ‘is tunes but see ‘im hingit!
They, rais’t wi fear, bawl oot e Baillie,
‘”Git on wi’t man! Fit ails ye here?
Iss hielan rogue’s redd up for slaughter,
sae hing ‘im heigh! An hing ‘im noo!”
But na – the lowsit kyard steps oot,
wi a kenspeckle swagger in ‘is step,
sure o some’in, taks fiddle an bow,
an sterts te play a jig in pertly daunce,
file sodgers wi their bayonets hud us back!
The crood roars oot, wi ragin fit:
“The anelie jig we need fae ye
is fan yer heels kick oot ow’r Hell!”
Yet, on he plays. Nae muckle skill,
but… some’in’s there, te me.
Some’in. Fit is’t? I ask masel.
Yet ithers scorn e very thocht:
“Fit wey play at a time like iss?
It’s jist te hud e dark ‘oor back!”
Ene or twa loons has had eneuch;
They’re scalin up e smug-like clock
Te rax its fing’er heigher still!
Sae noo the hoor is oot and gane
an Time itsel is maistered hale!
The loons saw oot fae yon heigh too’er,
far ben across the Brig, a man
fa rade wi Pardon in ‘is haund
te lowse a murderer fae his fate.
“O hing ‘im noo an hing ‘im hie!”
They cry, aa yearnin in their throats.
e Baillie’s faain back, e sodgers tee:
e crood is maister o the murder scene!
Macpherson, wi’s familiar sneer,
cock o aa middens, een ablaze,
noo smashes doon his fiddle, deem’t!
He shouts some’in. But they dinna hear.
For syne, as ‘twere by common haund,
By michty airm, by nieve o will,
e tow’s teem face, e man’s reid ene,
fast yokit are – the stool’s kick’t free!
Raxin and wriggling on e’ rape,
fell vengeance has its ancient will
nae horse, nor parlymint can cheynge,
the inward lust o man te kill.
But, here’s e chiel ‘at winna ding,
an here, in hert-wrung duil, I speir:
Is’t Jamie, or oor ain guid name
fa dees upon e gallows here?
For murder is a speerit, like.
It swirls aboot like haar at sea.
We mean aa for the best, but, aye,
Queer Fate maks fuils o you an me.
Naebody speirs, fa staunds aroon;
Naebody spicks o justice fine:
Aa thochts are o a dauncin man.
A fiddle broke. A lee in Time.
An Hist’ry’s Maugistrait, The Deil,
‘at faither o aa lees, an mair,
will spick fit’s true, at last, te deem
the crood, fa hingit Time in air.
Yon Jamie wrocht his fiddle’s airt;
e crood wrocht but a lee.
Macpherson dunc’t oot te his deem,
but sae maun you, an me.
© Bruce Gardner, © 2013, 2019
Note: First, this is a legend, much doubted, no doubt to the relief of the Banff people. amongst whose decent ways I once laboured myself. Secondly, I regret the loss of rhyme, a post-1066 technique, which I use as a symbol of moral and religious order, hence the move to rhyme, once a moral and religious judgment is reasserted, at the poem’s end. B.