Ramsey Black Rocks

Poetic Asides asked today for a poem involving a sea creature, and for no particular reason, the first thing I thought of were selkies. If you haven’t seen The Secret of Roan Inish, I recommend you do so post haste, but if you can’t, then reading up on selkies via Wikipedia or wherever will do if you’re unfamiliar with them. When I was young, I went on a boat trip with my family off the coast of Wales, where we saw seals on the rocks in the midst of a rainy day. (I got to drive the boat for a little bit too, but the seals blinking at us with what I imagine was amusement left more of an impression, obviously.)

This is like… half a ballad. I was trying to visualize (audialize?) Loreena McKennitt singing it as I wrote.

Ramsey Black Rocks

When the boat set out from Little England,
there was commotion in the sea. White on white
was the summer water, over a bay as brown
as tea. Crystalline rain ringed the prow, the keel,
and the whole world a blind blue-grey,
as the captain called the seals.

We rose and fell with the unfriendly tides
battering our land-selves to sleep. And we dreamed
we walked on the ocean, whose heart was beating
so deep. Then the rocks rose up, the captain
turned the wheel: we slipped the blades of old
dark daggers, full of silent seals.

They’d had a morning haul-out on the heath,
until the sun rippled away. Now they peered at us,
and we peered back, to see the hummocks where
they lay. We envied a thousand inkbirds
sharing their fishy meal: we longed for wings,
long red beaks, the company of seals.

And soon, the captain brought us about,
his seabound trick completed. The whirlpools, then,
the Horse Rock tides: the white on white,
repeated. A prodigal sun reclaimed its day,
dyed the dun sky teal. And long black commas
arrowed the waves like vanishing seals.

I heard a tale once, a long time past,
of wives who cast off their skins. I could believe
in longing now, in a stormbound life
without sins. Beached again, we looked back for
mysteries to steal: when land wishes for drowning,
with closed eyes, it sees the seals.

15 thoughts on “Ramsey Black Rocks

  1. vivinfrance says:

    This is beautiful and exciting. You paint the scene so clearly.

  2. brian says:

    nice, i like the use of color through out as it paints a nice visual…the return to seals at the end of each stanza plays well.as well…nice piece…

  3. claudia says:

    the deep beating heart of the ocean…can hear this in your words joseph..

  4. It was quite a roll on the ocean. Good use of emphasis and repetition. Interesting how you wrapped instead of end rhyming although the usual sense of rhyme was kept. Well done.

  5. nan says:

    This entire poem is transfixing. The last stanza is especially dreamy.

  6. margo roby says:

    Loreena McKennitt indeed. Although I was audialising [sounds good to me, Joseph] through my favourite celtic groups, The Corries, and the Clancy /Makem combination. Your poem suits and as soon as I put it to music and started singing through, the internal rhyme scheme popped out. I was quite startled, but delighted. Now I can’t read the poem without the ballad rhythm!


  7. siubhan says:

    your imagery here is so haunting… it completely fits the theme. there is a very lyrical feel to it. love those last lines

    “when land wishes for drowning,
    with closed eyes, it sees the seals….”


  8. Dreamy and mystical….

    This then begs a double-entente question,
    When confronted with the right-handed left-brain,
    And its superior sociability politic of thought,
    Of what use is the left hand unlateralized right side?

  9. I was in so much hurry to post, that I forgot to mention that the four lines are from Donald Harbour’s poem. In a way his words connect with your poem! It isn’t about left or right. It is about our thought process, how we harness that. You are a master at!!

  10. wayne says:

    indeed nicely painted…..thanks for sharing

  11. Brian: it’s tough to capture exactly the colors I wanted, so I didn’t bother with some of them. But the ones that I did, I did my best.
    Claudia: many thanks, glad you liked it!
    Gay: it wasn’t intentionally like this at first, but the more I wrote, the more the lines just slid themselves into this folk song-y pattern. So I played seal and rolled with it.
    Nan: a little dash of the mythic never hurt anyone. :)
    Margo: maybe I was aiming a little bit high with Loreena. I kept rummaging through a tune or two in my head, but nothing that carried well all the way; if you have suggestions, I’d love to hear!
    Siubhan: thanks very much!
    Gautami: haha, I kind of wondered what to make of those lines. But thank you; I try to force my right brain to do its part, even though I’m right-handed.
    Wayne: glad you enjoyed it!

  12. You have really painted the scene so nicely it is a wonderful poem and so well done glad I read this

  13. rmp says:

    stunningly beautiful. you paint quite a picture with your words. and I admit selkies are definitely a fascinating creature to ponder…I can’t begin to imagine the loss they must feel when the are forced to part their beloved waters.

  14. Sarah: many thanks!
    rmp: I love selkie stories. They’re a trope (like the crane wife and whoever else), but a fascinating trope nonetheless.

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