Excerpt for The Collected Poems of Edward M Robertson - Volume II by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

The Collected Poems


Edward M Robertson

Volume II

(1928 - 2011)

The Collected Poems of Edward M Robertson

Author – Edward M Robertson

Published by Ian Robertson at Smashwords

Copyright 2017 Edward Robertson

Smashwords Edition, Licence Notes

Thank you for downloading this free ebook. You are welcome to share it with your friends. This book may be reproduced, copied and distributed for non-commercial purposes, provided the book remains in its complete original form.

This second volume of The Collected Poems of Edward M Robertson has been produced so that additional material, discovered while sorting through his papers, can be made available.

Those who knew Edward will, no doubt, be able to identify with many of the images and emotions he expresses and will hopefully take pleasure in exploring these additional poems.

For those who did not know Edward personally, we hope that reading this small volume of poetry proves to be a rewarding experience.

Table of Contents

On Reading Poetry

March In The Borders

First Lapwings




From Ruberslaw

Rooks (2)







Autumn Harvest

Autumn Robin

Autumn Rowan

Autumn Reflections

Autumn Dusk

November Gale

Winter Robin


Mid Winter

Winter Winds


Winter Dawn

Children Sledging

The Keills


The Blessing


Old Age

The Force Within


For Will Ogilvie


(Reply to Edith Sitwell)

Suddenly, as I read your poetry,

the whole world tilts sideways,

and the pretences, defences and confident senses

drop from all people

like plates flying out of the waiter's hand

as the ship strikes rock

and lurches up

and down.

Suddenly the feeling of all the

shipwreck of the poised commonsenses

becomes unbearable ....

the little people - and I

one of them -

breaking in pieces, flying crockery,

leaving only the hand


which tried to communicate

thin, brittle words

in accepted restaurant rituals -

the pain unrealised and

the feeling unadmitted.

And I, wrecked on your poetry,

fling myself into the

swelling waves vast empathy.

Better drown in pain loved

than seek safety where there could be

no poetry.


The red fields lie

open to the dry March wind -

rolled flat and burdened with seed -

corn, wheat, barley and rye.

They wait for life, rain-awakened.

And always they sweep the eye on, up

to a sea of hills,

wind-tossed and bare -

or suck sight down to

the valleys

deep-clefted and filled with trees -

a hundred years old or more -

where vision follows the circling bird

down and down into

the blue depths

of a Chinese pattern of peace.

I sit on top of Ruberslaw

and feel myself like a windhover

hang in the air,

but where he sees and clutches with

his eye only the quivering blade

and threads the vole's individual,

all- excluding heart beat

to him,

I see all at a rolling endless sweep of the eye.

And while the kite-kestrel

tugs at the taught thread of sight

that draws him down suddenly,

I am made one with all that I see -

give myself to the prey of my eye

to be devoured by it.


Sliding in on slanting rays

of March morning sun

five lapwings came.

There was no calling.

Almost like fingers of

a blind man's hand

exploring a half-forgotten room

they moved about the fields

falling and rising,

rising and falling.

Were they a vanguard

of the returning array of life

unsure if this were in fact

the mating-ground where

once more they would engage

in love's war of self-giving?

Thus to their ears that would hear

the ground moving beneath

tentative feet,

the shrilling hail's vituperation

would be in vain.

Again their vibrant gliding wings

gave muted celebration

to unforeseeable victory

in the relentless division of cells

within the stippled shell's

true, irresistible fragility.


This April wind rasps rough and thrusting

jagged as the branches in a flail-torn hedge,

driving out of their pine-top rookery

a cawing cataract of raucous crows.

And yet the frail-born kestrel hovers

hunting along the roadside edge,

fluttering like a chestnut ribbon,

pinned to a pinnacle of tall, still air.

For all that the wind gathers and grows,

charging across the quilted strath,

it is the kestrel's wavering wings

that flail and scatter the wind's wild rushes

where it still holds steady and brings

its eyes to focus down their straight path.


The wind needs no words to communicate

the wildness of the hills

But flings about my head

by touch and sound

its message of wild upland places

Where in the valley I walk with

open-handed eyes not grasping

but receiving

as the wind gives

more than can be seen

whether of scattering birds -

the wind's slight toy -

or here where faded grasses

shake, slender spears piercing

the eye with delicate joy.


Here is the last true countryman who

walks hands-in-pockets

across the wide fields;

carries a pick-axe on his face,

head hammering it hard

into the firm ground, then,

with his battered brains,

staggers awkwardly about the furrows.

Yet, in a moment, he

becomes the graceful ballet dancer

of the skies, as spread-winged

he flies upwards

mounting the invisible staircase

of air, to a height, where,

with a twist of the wrist of flight

suddenly he falls off the edge

of the wind, tumbling

down, wing-over-wing,

sweeps over grasses and swoops

up to a tangle in the tall trees' hair,

his nest, a scribble in the topmost

branches.  And there he sits

and smoothes the rumpled wind

with velvet cawing.

Yet he is never 'rook'

but always 'rooks' -

leaves sprouting from one living

invisible rook-tree,

a sky-shoal netted with rook calls.

But on the ground again, in meek

ploughman fashion, he follows

the sharp share of his

air-furrowing beak.


I sit on top of the triangulation point

on top of Ruberslaw -

a skylark on the highest rung of its

Jacob's ladder of praise.

My eyes pour out rejoicing -

every field, fold, wood and hill

rolling and tumbling about me,

draws out the endless singing of my gaze.

The lark threads up together

the numberless small sounds of Spring

and ties

them all in an ecstasy to

God's blue skies.

So my eyes

take all that seems small yet lies

boundless about me

and tie it here


where God's knowing and loving arise.


Rooks ride and slide the wind,

Dolphin its wide waves,

Wing-wide, half-closed, tight aside;

Arrow the air monster,

Puncture the balloon bluster;

Counter-thrust in low flight

Fighting grass-high across the field,

Against the whole force;

Seeping into the cracks of stillness,

Take head on the wind waters

Full flood.


There, look there!

The field-flying lapwing

takes to himself the life dance

of this Spring,

each step of aconite,

the grass vibrating,

the bat's-wing leaf uncurling,

and the large leaping hare.

There, look there!

He scoops up with deliberate, blunt wing

the earth's Spring dance

and flings it wildly up

into the air.

There, look there!

The weak bird,

gigantic in power of poetry,

tosses the vast world madly

about the skies -

his the still and steady point unturning,

all else falling and rolling away from him.

There, look there!

Joy breaks the sad monotony

of man heaved mountains of cities.

Hope flings away

pain's dulling death-throes.

Love gathers up

a crescendo of shrill trivialities

and, blunt-winged, tumbles them

down an endless sky.


How can he ever achieve it?

Hill-high in mid-air,

muscle-minded, locked against the gale,

flickering wings stippled on the sky

as he strives for poise,

wind playing his splayed tail.

How can he, then, hold still,

eye steady as surgeon's hand,

infinitely delicate the dissection,

splitting the vole's whisker

trembling from grass?

This power is not his prize

for he is time's inheritor.

No human span of practice

but a skill of millions of years

makes him achieve this dizzy impossibility.

He swoops, hesitates, drops and feels them,

warm and quivering in his talons,

the ages' miracle,

united prey and predator.


Chained to the earth my mind

flies up with you

gliding the wind's wide acres,

leaf-blown across clouds

lingering lawns

swept like a branch down

rivers of air

along the flat strath of sky

hemmed in by billowing

inverted mountains.

Sharp and fierce your cry

scythes down the dark distances

hiding the rabbit's fear,

a sentry's bayonet

plunging to seek in straw bales

the escaping prisoner,

a Highlandman's dirk rending

and ripping the plaided air

to reach the heart thrust.

Pierce fierce accusing finger of sound

the rabbit's guilt-goaded leaping,

dread-drawn to precipitate

the fatal intersection

of prey and predator.

You do not hang like a kestrel's

feathered kite

strung by its sight to a vole's trembling.

Free over fathoms of air you sweep

surfing up to the wind's foaming crest,

then down to a death-thrust

where the earth cannot chain you.


Bodkin-beaked brawling birds

In a crowd crashing the bird-table party;

the percussion of the aerial orchestra,

with cymbals clashing and castanet’s that clatter,

more eager it seems to fight than feed,

to scatter food than eat it,

in all your manic melee of

grab and stab,

hustle and stuff,

shovel and shove.

Yet, roosting in the tall tree,

you fill the afternoon

with ceaseless chatter,

if not musical, then at least,

in friendly harmony.


You get the feeling

these seagulls positively

enjoy the wind and rain;

not battling against

but playing through them -

surfing the air-waves

(tuned in to them too!)

and twisting into the rain-surf.

But do they perhaps

miss the bite of brine

on their tongues,

drinking a wet saltless air?


Killiecrankie has swallowed the sun an hour ago.

And yet the sky, a vast upturned porcelain bowl

of egg-shell blue, is wet with a thin film of light,

Dripping slowly down;

Splashing in infinitely slow motion clusters

Of faded grass across the field,

Spilling down the dry pale dusty track,

As sounds from the curved curlew's beak

Curl gracefully down like golden leaves

from an Autumn tree.

Slowly the light soaks away into

the trees, the dykes, the ditches.

A toad, little fat fellow, leaps frantically

Out of my way and struggles deep into

A gigantic jungle of grass and rosebay willow-herb.

Overhead a heron sets sail for some

secret pool and a bat

Flickers erratically in and out of sight.

Here is a moment to savour,

As dusk draws out the living night

And Killiecrankie thirstily drinks down the very last

Lingering drops of liquid light.


Crisp, prickly stubble fields swing up

into the Autumn evening sky,

sharp giant cat's paws stretching out

to scratch the moon's cyclopic eye.

Along the field's edge

hedge and tree, black breakers

of a flowing sea of darkness,

toss and swirl up to the hill,

an island

where the light lies still.


The robin sketches a self portrait

on the day's blank page.

He likes it, for a moment, then

rubs it out and tries again

more delicately, 'till he hears

an echoing call, throws down

his crumpled drawing in a rage,

sharpens his pencils to a point

and throws them violently at

the challenge from the hedge, then hurls

himself, a fiery dart, burning

war to the death to wage.

The hedge is emptied by discretion.

He shakes his feathers out,

lightly lets anger fall from him.

Then on his favourite perch resumes

self-portraiture, his Autumn whim.


The rowan stands like a gun

blazing death in the evening,

flames of frail, frayed leaves

spurt and flash,

increasing continuously

in fury and force of self-purgation.

The tree spits death,

cleansing itself of dying pitilessly,

withdrawing behind the impregnable bark,

thrusts out victims,

sacrificed to the unrelenting, life-hating frost.

Twisted and tortured the expendable

defenceless victims turn,

gnarl, contort and crumble.

This harsh purging of death

should be an ugly, loathsome sight,

but it is not.

It is a glowing glory of victory,

the helpless martyr's soul

burning more brightly than the flames,

the political prisoner in  the labour camp

higher soaring in freedom,

than his trapped guards

and the enmeshed manipulators of power.

Dying, decaying has its own glory of passion,

more startling and depth-knowing

than life's blind green lust.


And now, suddenly, I look up

and see a torn and tangled

set of branches.

The shoals of fish leaves have escaped

and only the tides of wind

wash through them.

As suddenly too a sound reaches down to me

into the box classroom,

out of the toss of bitter wind

in clear searing sky

the call of geese overhead,

snaking ropes

spliced and braided together,

in movement of muscle and cry.

Death crawls across the hill

slowly strangling the starved ground;

grows down out of the frosted air

through tips of bracken and marsh grass,

driving the sap back down

into the shoot, the stem,

down into the root, the ground,

where, frozen, found no longer

flowing in liquid life,

it lies rock-hard,

free once,

but now death bound.

The hill has become the year's tombstone

and on it bronze bracken

and russet marsh grass

write its epitaph.


Half-sights and half-sounds,

slight smells - apples and damp ground,

leaves lapsing into rich humus;

interweaving counter-point of curlew calls,

owl deep-hollowing out of billowing trees;

bat-wings flailing ripe night air,

winnowing rich grain of insects;

robins halting-the-heart

stippling on hedge and bush

bright points of sound;

chestnut trees turning to golden fountains

and spiked green hail;

geans and rowans differently burning

to reds and glowing purple;

shapes of hills and great trees by-the-river

merging, water and land flowing

into darkness half-seen, half-heard

drawing and moulding me

to a new half-knowing.


Go out into a gale-lashed day;

let the wind blow through your mind,

and toss your wild thoughts far away

over tumbling hills.

Take your ragged images that

whip-clap and clash,

caught in the branches of the trees wind-slashing

and let them there go flying free.

Let loose on seagull-wings your wishes

and the gale toss to sky-height

your dreams'

Where the high eagle threads

the eye of the needle of daylight.

And where the sun sheds sky-lark song,

silver, shimmering and bright.

Then let your mind descend,

wind-wide over the

opening landscape,

fresh with the wonder of

new sight.


Even the bird - song was brittle

in the frosty air,

a robin's singing found thin ice

over the wintered garden,

not claiming territory

but affirming it was alive,

would live,

its territory the warm mystery of life

impenetrable to the cold clarity

of frozen death.

Beyond the logical analyses of frost,

beyond the notes of song, plotted

on the computer-screen of a Winter sky,

the frail bird's life, flame frosted,

drove back December's harsh reductionism


Here on the hillside

the raiding clans of frost


while on the flat strath

blue mist hangs about

the farms like smoke

from winter's icicles of fire.

But at the valley's end

broad mountains billow

in pink tinted clouds of snow

downing into soft legends

the cruel realities

of winter feuding.


Mid-winter comes -

driven on by packs of wind

rampaging in defenceless hills

where all the black-sheep pine trees

tightly penned, rush, heave in panic;

where the still pool

of hill lochs

beaten brown becomes sheep held,

swirling and leaping round

into a water of dark wool.

Mid-winter comes -

swept on by rivers,

building a muscled-mass from

sinew streams,

thrusting aside thin eyesight,

beating the solid piers

of the bridge into

fierce opposition,

until their counter-thrust

makes stone seem light

and it must skim the water and become

a Catamaran rushing upstream

and out of sight.

Mid-winter comes -

the moon's sharp sickle

scythes the short daylight down,

scattering stars

like grains of light,

spilled from its meagre harvest;

sprinkles the fields of sky ploughed

into darkness - soil of night -

fields yet more cold than dark,

more felt in the eyes

than simply now seen through them,

more shattered ice than bars

of cloud.


The bitter winds that hold us prisoner

in our car, cannot deny us the freedom

of eyesight.  From up here on the rising

edge of the Sidlaw Hills our gaze

wanders at will over the

brown-green quilted strath.  Snow

dapples the tops of dark distant mountains

like foam cresting gigantic waves.

While nearer at hand tiny houses

huddle in small grey towns.

Look here!  beside us, above the roadside verge

a fluttering kestrel hangs, wings

scarcely moving.  It seems in this

storm-tossed sea of wind,

to inhabit some island of stillness

that moves untroubled with it,

or to sail a small boat that drifts

only to anchor again fast above

some tussock of quivering grass.


Light, like thin cold soup, is

ladled out into the

beggar's bowl of the frosted valley,

while hills, permanent as the poor,

draw clouds in tatters

round stark limbs.

The misery of winter

digs deep into this place.

Brewing tea to bring cheer

to my shivering flesh

I look out of the kitchen window

and feel the garden's grim greyness

freeze my eyes;

when, suddenly - like laughter

in a prison camp -

a blackbird's song gospels the day.

Tentative, half-remembered phrases

question the finality of dawn's chill prophecy

of death.

The singing notes climb

numb-fingered up

sheer cliffs of frozen air,

reaching at last a peak,

a point of credal affirmation

of a baptismal winter-death

and spring rising.


Briefly the Winter dawn glows

and dies down into dull grey.

Etched on the sky an urgent arrow

of geese divides the still, steely air.

Against the drooping belly of the clouds

the tall stark trees stretch out

dark veins, and now the wind

uncoils and whips away

all hope of warmth,

and certainty of life prolonged.

Coldness intense as hatred

repels the right to live.

How can the midget mouse

the miniature wren,

scuttling amongst the wreckage

of the hedge hope

to keep death at bay?

(“Yet Winter's hate must at last give way to Spring's life-giving love, and love lasts to eternity”.  Anon - quoted by Sheila Cassidy in "Good Friday People")


The sunshine of those dull days

was the laughter of children playing

in a world, snow covered, of white delight

transformed from green braes,

where slithered and sped bright

plastic sledges bundled with excitement.

And their laughter was a sparkling torrent

flowing freely in a world imprisoned in ice;

glittering and gleaming natural joy

unlocked an inner door,

stirred the dull adult mind

with a wonder that lightens our darkness

when a child plays.


(A rugged promontory in Knapdale, Argyll)

"As we die of a disease, so we live of love, hidden within us."

(La Soif - Gabriel Marcel)

Here, where I stand on the land's thrust of the Keills,

the rock-rent ground, the sea-thrashed shore about me,

the wind, thundering in my ears, hurtles from Jura,

across the battering Sound.

I look at Jura's mountains - massed menace wrenched from

patient miles of moorland;

everything about me is glory and torment,

its contradiction thrust through my being

with this wind's fierce, final questioning.

The rocks (not flat, slab-heavy masses) rise

round me, a thousand spires

pulling against their weight,

reminding me of the small chapel behind me -

stones, useless now, except for memory to penetrate

time, to recreate in thought a living community of worship,

a meeting of men,

there gathered to face full-force the wind out of

the contradiction of their own flesh and spirit,

on that stone slab where was concentred

all the encircling contradiction of this place.

What mad metaphysical system

bodied their belief?

What superstition-sodden faith

drenched their prayers?

What cruel charity

of righteousness and the damned

bent their self-will to care and respect

for each other?

No matter.  They held out words

to give their being in return

for Being received.

There on the black menace of Jura

a light, a speck - no more - flickers

and stares, as clouds clear sun from water.

It is in me,

that light that flickers

and yet steadily stares in silence.

Wind out of contradiction cannot extinguish its glare.

For this small flickering light

stills the wind's thunder, melts mountains,

solidifies the sea

into peacefulness.

This light takes all gleams, glances, dances,

flickering and bright glories,

and binds them in me into

one beam of brightness.

This light unwinds the tangle of light and darkness,

the wavering warfare of joy and pain,

and says, "I stand, not I, but love stands in me.

All is love-living, whether unfolding in peace or

tortured by suffering.

Love in me is an openness, light-leaping

yet still,

joy-feeling, yet not holding.

Out of the contradiction of rock and sea,

flesh and spirit, suffering and celebration -

out of it all - light, love in me is

reflecting the Being of Light and Love

who made this place."


When man first separated himself from the animal

by the height of a hill,

pulled out of the gravitation of instinct,

and by his first flickering intelligence,

made the unwelcoming wind

his neighbour;

took rocks and built on the hill

his own hill

set higher still against

the cruel tongue of the gale -

scandalmongering, harsh tale-telling to the whole

open heavens his weak shivering nakedness -

shut up her mouth with

the ragged dyke of his first hill-dwelling;

then the amazement in the chill first morning sight

of his separateness of hill-height

echoed down his labyrinthine mind,

setting him level with the sun rising


as his mind dawned with re-echoing

life-and-death power to match

the sun's flower of flame.

And in its dying a wonder

projected him to the first space-exploration

of sight,

throwing his eye-open feeling

wildly reeling about the

shatter of scattered stars,

in awakening ecstasy, as he welcomed night by growing  night

the still glowing glory of

pregnant moon,

who in time from her full womb

gave birth to his worship and dread delight.

Out of the animal jungle,

against the grain of himself,

he climbed,

to make rock and mind,

heaving giddy height and imagination

his element.

By these hills he raised himself

to stand above himself,

become more than he was,

set his mind madly mountaineering

on visions and dreams,

made this wild place

the discovery of a human wildness;

mountain-leaping, stretched out

wings of longing,

and became eagle minded,

soared and plunged,

loved and despaired as never

in the blind earth-bound jungle.

To-day I come to this place

of heaving, harsh, unsympathetic rock,

of tormenting rejection of wind,

to set the human jungle

of town-and-earth-bound people

at a distance -

to be a person,

to become in the wind's frantic action,

still -

to be, by the height of a hill,


separate, alone, human -

and, by the soaring sweep of sight, to

waken again the height and depth

of longing,

of love and despair, to dare

the eagle wings of

dread and delight.


Not the thrusting, eager cry of geese

striving to rise or arrowed

against the wind, but,

from behind the great pine tree,

a mellow, murmuring music of swans

flying in line, low,

wide-winged and slow, with

flowing, round sound,

calling, thirteen in number;

passing overhead, yet not passing

but blessing, and white-clad too

as the newly baptised, washed white

by the obedient blood of the man,

answering love's invitation

to death.  All this at that point

where the ground-bound desolation

of prayer, sharing the will-bending

weight of others' pain and frustration,

and the impossible burden

of uncertainty;  at that point,

when at last prayer too rose

in flight, winged with the spirit,

uplifted by the crucified affirmation,

there the swans flew straight,

like a saint's will joyfully

answering God's call;

and my heart was touched by

the feather floating breath

of blessing, from thirteen white swans,

answering God's call.


Why are you always mourning?

Tears again at the touch of a word,

A phrase, sight or sound.

What have you lost?

Is it forever the dead mother

Departing into the relentless assimilation

Of the cold, pitiless ground?

Loss it is; the impossibility

Of recovering prisoners time has taken.

But it is more - the sense of the possibility

Of discovery, gaining more ground,

If we could only risk the wave's torment,

The fathomless deeps,

Travel out from the shore.


“Christ turns all our sunsets into dawns”

(Clement of Alexandria - 2nd Century)

This they call 'The evening of life'

implying there a mellowing,

a sheltering, a relieving from the

knife-thrust of competitive self-fulfilment,

which is known as 'Getting On In The World'.

Do they forget that evening is bright

with burnishing clouds into gold,

sword-thrust of dazzling beams of light

sun-setting, glorious glowing red sky

fulfilled, and that life, like light, may seem to die,

but rises always beyond sight's limited horizon?


There is a wildness in my mind, confined

behind the bars of rigid duty which define

the practical precincts of each day.  Only the wind

is free to come and go where he must live,

and stars shed silver sparkling tears

into the deep pools of his eyes

where, as he lies,

he looks with longing

at the freedom of the skies.

From time to time his restless tread

thuds like a heart-beat in my head;

his shadow ripples over the bars,

and sighs like birds fly to the stars.

Sometimes I wonder if he is there.

Then, with the breeze, his nostrils stir

and waking, he leaps against his cage

until the wildness of my rage

surprises me.

Or, when the sun draws ecstasy of life around,

a sudden longing for the hills

startles me, stretching against the iron bound

necessity of duty.

I lie awake at night and ask myself

if I took strength, crumbled the bars, let him go free

would he, insane with lust,

imprison himself in my destruction or

would he, with a wild leap of love,

take me his prey -

and set me free?


Centuries of experience have wrinkled

your rock-skulled face.

A dignity lies deep in your

millennial age and,

in the slowness of your year's change,

a gradual grace.

The growing tree is, to you,

a leap of life,

over as quickly as foot returns

to the ground.

Flowers flicker a moment,

smile at the corner of your mouth.

Yet everything about you possesses its

own unborrowed place.

Slowly you gather all growing and dying

to your decay

as time, which you seem to hold timeless,

must have its way,

and you too pass as the swift shadow-clouds

that over you run the wind's wild race.


“No dark can ever hide this dear loved land from me”

(If I Were Old – William H Ogilvie)

You wrote once about a blind poet

out on the hills seeing by the inner

sun of clear memory all that rolled

and swept in still solid waves

around him.  Little did you think

then it was the inner light would dim

within you so that your eyes open and

hill-wandering would be lost into

the mind's darkness;  and yet I remember

how, when I came with Christ's own humility

in my hand to feed your sightless

soul with bread and wine of His love,

the smile of years of joy from those

comforting hills wandered still about

the corners of your mouth.

And now this bronze book, set on a lectern

of stones, your face on a medal of bronze

fronting it, I feel your soothing words

spread out over the flowing ground

motionless yet rolling around me,

and know you see the joy within me

for you remembered here, and that

your smile is in this place.


The Rev. Edward Macallan Robertson graduated from Aberdeen University with a first-class honours. He followed this up with a B.Litt at Queen's College, Oxford. He came back up to Scotland in 1960 as Rector of St. Cuthbert's, Hawick. Prior to his retirement in 1993 he was Priest-in-Charge at St. Kessog's, Auchterarder and St. James, Muthill.

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