1 September 2023 Susannah

Violet Jacob & The Wild Geese

The Wild Geese

On my recent tour in Scotland, I was properly introduced to the writings of Angus shire novelist and poet Violet Jacob (1863 – 1946) and was lucky enough to hear her beautiful poem The Wild Geese recited by a local woman with a lovely voice and exactly the right accent.

The Wild Geese by Violet Jacob

‘Oh tell me what was on yer road, ye roarin’ norlan’ Wind,
As ye cam’ blawin’ frae the land that’s niver frae my mind?
My feet they traivel England, but I’m deein’ for the north.’
‘My man, I heard the siller tides rin up the Firth o Forth.’
‘Aye, Wind, I ken them weel eneuch, and fine they fa’ and rise,
And fain I’d feel the creepin’ mist on yonder shore that lies,
But tell me, ere ye passed them by, what saw ye on the way?’
‘My man, I rocked the rovin’ gulls that sail abune the Tay.’
‘But saw ye naething, leein’ Wind, afore ye cam’ to Fife?
There’s muckle lyin’ ‘yont the Tay that’s mair to me nor life.’
‘My man, I swept the Angus braes ye hae’na trod for years.’
‘O Wind, forgi’e a hameless loon that canna see for tears!’
‘And far abune the Angus straths I saw the wild geese flee,
A lang, lang skein o’ beatin’ wings, wi’ their heids towards the sea,
And aye their cryin’ voices trailed ahint them on the air –’
‘O Wind, hae maircy, haud yer whisht, for I daurna listen mair!’

Violet Jacob was born Violet Kennedy-Erskine. Her family was aristocratic and she was a descendant of King William IV and his mistress, the actress Dorothea Jordan (see Claire Tomalin’s wonderful book Mrs Jordan’s Profession for more about that couple). She grew up at the House of Dun, near Montrose, which is an elegant Robert Adam-designed house.

Violet married an army man, Arthur Jacob, and travelled with him to India, Egypt and other places. She wrote historical novels and was a wonderful vernacular poet, highly praised by John Buchan and Hugh MacDiarmid.

The Wild Geese was written in 1915, the year before her only son Harry was killed at the Battle of the Somme. The poem takes the form of a conversation between the speaker and the North wind, and is about an intense longing for home and the sadness of exile. The speaker is in England, but is longing for her Scottish homeland. It’s written in the local dialect, but hopefully you will not find it difficult to follow (there is a list of words on this page that may help).

It is estimated that seven hundred thousand geese fly south to the UK every winter, and many of them can be seen and heard in Angus in the north of Scotland.

There’s a sculpture commemorating the poem, and lines from it are engraved on the pavement in Makar’s Court, outside the Writers Centre in Edinburgh.

It’s a poem you have to listen to with a Scottish reader. Here’s a version, though it’s not as superb as the live reading I so enjoyed:

There are several musical versions you can listen to:

or try this link to The Scots Language Centre.

Did you enjoy this poem? Let me know by leaving a comment.

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Featured image- Geese Leaving by Gary Bendig on Unsplash, https://unsplash.com/photos/WPmPsdX2ySw
Body image- Violet Jacob by Henry Harris Brown – http://www.the-athenaeum.org/people/detail.php?ID=8127, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=77602333
Body image- Sculpture photo courtesy of Tripadvisor, https://www.tripadvisor.com/LocationPhotos-g186496-Montrose_Angus_Scotland.html#485349518

Comments (12)

  1. Helen Gentle

    Absolutely beautiful, Susannah.
    I can’t wait to get back to Scotland next year. My heart is calling.
    Thank you.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Isn’t it a lovely. My heart is often calling me to Scotland – such a beautiful country.

  2. Helen

    Beautiful Susannah – and what a joy to discover through you, a ‘new’ poet; to think of the wind in conversation makes such sense to anyone longing for home.
    I gave my mother (who lived in England) some wind chimes and I bought the same for myself – and I told her that always, the wind that blows though her garden, would also blow through mine…the poem reminded me of that. Thank You

    • Susannah Fullerton

      This lovely poem seems to have struck a chord with many. I loved your story of the wind chimes!

  3. I’m currently high in the Himalayas and about to pay my respects at the grave of a Scottish ancestor who was murdered on a remote mountain pass in 1888.
    The Wild Geese could not have fallen into my life at a better time. I intend to recite it at his graveside and the words, written in his spoken vernacular, will comfort my ancestor. The Wild Geese is deeply appropriate, as he died far from his beloved Scotland.
    Thank you Susannah for introducing me to this exquisite poem.
    Jennifer Teh

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Wow, how wonderful to think of you reading at the grave of a Scotsman somewhere in the Himalayas. That’s really lovely. Isn’t it a fantastic poem. I really fell in love with it.

  4. Honey

    Poetry is usually alien to me. But I enjoyed reading this poem and had no trouble understanding it. Surprise! A lovely poem of nostalgia and longing.

    I listened too all of the versions you gave us.

    The meter is seven beats to a line, yet it seemed so natural and i wondered how it could make such an easy song. Then I realized the song added the comfortable eighth beat so it could sound natural.

    You are a wonder and I so appreciate all you do to educate us in the joys of literature and art.

    Thank you.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I fell in love with this poem when I heard it, so I am so glad you enjoyed it too. Yes, it is wonderfully musical, so you can see why various people have wanted to set it to music.
      Thanks for your kind words.

  5. Anne Williams

    I’m the same, I love the accent, having a Scottish grandmother and returning to see the country many years ago was a feeling like being home.
    I do love the poem and long to return one day.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Did you know that the Scottish accent was once voted the world’s sexiest accent? So glad you loved the poem.

  6. Diana Paulin

    I did enjoy this poem, the first time I had heard it. Regarding the Scottish accent, I had Scottish grandparents and it brought back memories.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I am delighted it brought back nice memories. It’s a poem that has to be read by a Scot!

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