John Burnside And R M M Crawford

despite the Atlantic storms. Not that farming was easy. In the isles of the North Atlantic the coming of spring was always uncertain. Summers were doubtful, and when Hekla erupted harvests failed for years, all the way from Iceland to the Hebrides. The warmth of the ocean that gave them their winter pastures, also brought the rain that washed their soils for twelve months in the year, rendering them even poorer in nutrients. The forests that once clad the hillsides soon vanished and with them the thin soils eroded to deserts of stone and gravel. For these farmers their endeavours, their 'registries of blood', as John Burnside eloquently writes, were 'abandoned to the depths, time without end, I with all they might have been, could they have stayed'.

A people whose population has so often risen, then plunged to the verge of extinction and back, does not readily disappear. These folk may at times have 'trailed out through the mist I to try their luck elsewhere', but they still survive. I find Burnside's poem intensely sympathetic as it conjures their hardness and tenacity to the land with their farms, perched between the mountains and the sea—an awe-inspiring model of human resourcefulness and courage in maintaining a light in the darkness of the boreal night.

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