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.