The Ballad of the North Minch
From Edinburgh, from Edinburgh
There drove a lady wrapped in fur:
A fox lay black about her throat,
Her feet were dressed in skin of goat,
And curling fleece of unborn sheep
Helped this lady warm to keep,
While Russian sable bonnetted
This lady's mad mysterious head.
There was no wind but falling snow;
None saw her from the Castle go,
No house nor shop on Princes Street
Heard her fire-flecked horses' feet;
No scholar, constable nor lout
Marked the hour when she set out;
No brothel in the winter gloom
Missed her from some shabby room;
No rich man, poor man, beggarman, thief
Betrayed to Scottish unbelief
Her cold departure with his grief.
Yet leave she did from Edinburgh,
All cloaked and warm in glossy fur,
And drove through snow and snow-flecked rains
From street to road to houseless lanes.
Now north or south or east or west,
Which way would suit this lady best
And ease the madness in her breast?
But west or east or south or north
It is not love that drives her forth,
For the hand of iron in her glove
Is stronger than the grip
"I cannot rest in London
Nor sleep upon the Downs,
There's only coal in Newcastle
And other English towns.
There are motor-cars in Glasgow
And fools in grey Dundee,
But the green waves of North Minch
Shall wash the rage from me."
So north and west from Edinburgh
She struck the beasts to carry her,
And lathering along the road
They fled before the flying goad;
Their chestnut sides were bloody-splashed,
Their bulging eyes grew snowflake-lashed,
And tireless in her well-furred grip
She scourged them with the bleeding whip
Across the mountains fodderless
From Edinburgh to
At Inverness she did not stop,
None saw the horses foam and drop,
None saw her flog them to their feet
And drive them on through driving sleet:
They took the hill-tops at a bound,
Their passing waked no restless hound,
They did not pause for gate or glen
But galloping from the world of men
They came at dawn to North Minch shore
And there they fell and moved no more.
"To Stornaway, to Stornaway
O who will carry me?
I have no sailing ship or raft
To cross the cruel sea.
O who will take me in his arms
Across the drowning sea?
I shall not rest till Scotland's west
Lies far to east of
From North Minch waters rose a seal:
His shoulders glistened grey as steel,
He snorted steel-grey bubbles out
From whiskered, water-dripping snout,
And on his head a streaming crown
Of sandy pearls and
"O who is this that calls me
From my kingly rest?
O who is this with violet eye
And madness in her breast?
Why does she stand in kingly furs
All queenly draped and dressed,
With two dead horses at her feet
And rage in her bright
"I have a magic mirror
Which spoke upon my wall
In former times when I was fairest,
Fairest queen of all.
Great princes wooed me then with gold
And sacred jewellery,
And the Tzar of all the Russias
He sent these furs to me.
And slant-eyed lords of Asia
Longed to call me bride,
And kings who saw me loved me
And suffered till they died.
But now my mirror does not speak,
Yet silver-silent on the wall
Tells me that I am no more
The fairest queen of
"O not on any shore
Have I a fairer seen;
To me you are most beautiful
And stately and a queen.
Then come and share my kingdom
And wear my crown with pride,
And you shall have no rival
Upon the running tide."
"O king of sliding waters,
What will you give to me
If I put on your royal crown
Beside the changeful sea?"
"You shall have a coral throne
And pearls of secret hue,
And my own dear sons shall give themselves
To make a cloak for you.
And slowly drifting bergs
Shall mirror you as they pass,
And the sliding waters of the world
Shall be your looking-glass.
And fish and crab and darting prawn
And the great whales and small,
They shall acknowledge you their queen,
The fairest queen of
"O Come and take me in your arms
Across the splendid sea;
There I shall rest upon your breast
Who give a crown to
From North Minch waters sprang the seal:
His flippers grasped her strong as steel,
He crushed her to his soaking chest,
His eyeteeth raked her pearly breast,
Then spinning with his outraged bride
He dove into the North Minch tide,
Down down through depths of water green,
The seal-king and his gasping queen.
He nosed the black fox from her throat,
Her cloak, her shoes of skin of goat,
And from her radiant head he tore
The Russian sable cap she wore,
Then pearly-naked in the sea
He clapped her to him royally.
She did not feel their marrying,
She had no time for wreath or ring,
But covered by her lustful king
This lady drowned and moved no more
Two hundred yards from
North Minch shore.
O many miles from Stornaway
Green cradled in the Minch she lay,
The nacreous waters dressed her well
With inner glow of oyster shell,
And she had waving weeds to wear
And minnows darting through her hair.
He took her to his rocky throne
Where splendidly she sat alone,
While fish and prawn went drifting by
Mirrored in her violet eye;
He called his dearest sons to make
A royal garment for her sake;
They snuggled round her stone retreat,
They hid her breasts, her hands, her feet,
From throat to heel they covered her
With a live bubbling coat of fur,
While on her head they set the crown
Of sandy pearls and seaweed brown,
The only queen beneath the
Soon tiptoe crabs laid bare her bones
And loosed her pearly listening-stones:
Like triple dice they floated clear
In the bone-white hollow of each ear;
And when the lifting shifting tide
Sometimes touched them side by side,
Did they conduct a voice to her
From a quiet room in Edinburgh?
And did that mirror on her wall
Say she was fairest now of