Late 1618: as he sat under the Corvine Tree (the ‘Company Tree’), a sycamore which once stood in front of his home, Hawthornden Castle, the poet William Drummond greeted the playwright Ben Johnson who walked from London to Edinburgh, with: ‘Welcome, welcome, Royal Ben!’ Johnson replied, ‘Thank ye, thank ye, Hawthornden!’
The quatrains mirror the tree’s other name: the Four Sisters.
Blow your hardest, winds of the world,
Time’s river tumbles near,
Howl against Hawthornden’s high walls,
Skirling Esk’s steady roar.
By the ruinous tower proud,
Within famed halls austere,
Bards gather weary from hard road
To face the great work sheer.
Scaling the cliffs of effort stark,
Free-climbing heights alone,
The torch of wit alights the dark,
Makes whisper loud mute stone.
From compasses crossroad they come,
For a moon’s wheel they dwell,
Leaving lover, kin, known and home,
In snug, isolate cell.
Entering the caves of the mind
Dungeons of the unsaid,
Wrestling with angels, de’ils, mankind,
Within the page, the bed.
Gather for feasts, for talk, for cheer,
Share the tale and the toil,
By hearth, by platter, they draw near,
In wood, chapel and soil.
Clock ticks, pen scratch, keyboard tap-tap,
The pages stack, files stored.
Amid tomes leaf turns, ink saps.
Day, night, grows the word-hoard.
The black dog lurks and dreams bite deep,
Peace, solitude, turn tide.
Mundane demands stir us from sleep
As the horn gate swings wide.
Copyright (c) Kevan Manwaring 2.12.15