October 5. We are sent a video clip of our new granddaughter, lying on her mat, looking up at her mother, and making greeting sounds. Her huge eyes focus, and her mobile mouth softly and deliberately responds to the person who is her universe. Just one minute and twenty-one seconds. I play it over and again. It is partly that this is, at four weeks, her first conversation. And it is partly that the communication is utterly divorced from the noise in our world being made by Trump, Covid-19 and Brexit. So here, in honour of the moment, is a poem by the Orkney poet George Mackay Brown, written for the daughter of a friend.
A New Child. 11 June 1993
Wait a while, small voyager
On the shore, with seapinks and shells.
Will take a few summers to build
That you must make your voyage in.
You will learn the names.
That golden light is ‘sun’ – ‘moon’
The silver light
That grows and dwindles.
And the beautiful small splinters
That wet stones, ‘rain’.
There is a voyage to make,
A chart to read,
But not yet, not yet.
‘Daisies’ spill from your fingers.
The night daisies are ‘stars’.
The keel is laid, the strakes
Will be set, in time.
A tree is growing
That will be a tall mast
All about you, meantime
The music of humanity,
The dance of creation
Scored on the chart of the voyage.
The stories, legends, poems
Will be woven to make your sail.
You may hear the beautiful tale of Magnus
Who took salt on his lip.
Your good angel
Will be with you on that shore.
Soon, the voyage of EMMA
To Tir-Nan-Og and beyond.
Star of the Sea, shine on her voyage.
*The Collected Poems of George Mackay Brown, ed. Archie Bevan and Brian Murray (John Murray, 2006), pp. 328-9
**The story of St Magnus is told in the Orkneyinga Saga. He gives his name to the cathedral in Kirkness, Orkney, founded in 1137. George Mackay Brown wrote a novel about his life, and later an opera was composed by Peter Maxwell Davies. Emma is the child addressed in the poem. Tir Nan Og is the Land of the Young in Irish Mythology.