A Ballad for Harald


Is there no ballad made for Harald,

paying his respects to Haakon

to such excellent effect

that he won a royal daughter

for his bride, and bore her homeward

over the too unruly seas

to perish in a shipwreck off 

the Shetlands, every soul aboard

going to God with dripping hair?



Climbing steeply out of Glen Maye,

the Trout begins to falter. Foreign

voices intervene, chatter

from across the water.

Is anybody there? The sleek

outline of a larger island

comes into view, as though a veil

was lifted. Hence the interference,

the breaking up of Radio 3,

its urbane appreciation 

of the Viennese Romantics,

by snatches of information

like bits of ancient DNA

pulsing and crackling

out of the ancestral west.



What did the Romans ever do for us?

Nothing, really.

Their boats, fastidious, rowed on

to berths more pulchritudinous,

more lucrative.

No time for bumpkin island.

Perhaps they asked, made discreet enquiries.

'No, nothing there worth worrying about.

A dank, misty place

and sluggish folk, tongue-tied and shy.

The seals despair of intelligent conversation.'

On excited beaches, woaded to the IX's,

my aboriginal ancestors might have been waiting

with fresh herrings

or our excellent blaeberries.

Caesar could have had some jam for tea.

David Callin lives on one of Britain's offshore islands but not, regrettably, for tax reasons. His poems have appeared in Orbis, Other Poetry and Envoi among others, and in a number of online magazines, including Message in a Bottle, Snakeskin and Antiphon.

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