Day 398 - The Lost Licht (A Perthshire Legend): Alan Sutherland and Ian McLaren

A powerfully moving meditation on grief from songwriter Ian McLaren as he recites Violet Jacob’s poem The Lost Licht (A Perthshire Legend) over Alan Sutherland’s specially composed and highly evocative soundtrack.

"The project to develop a version of the Angus poet Violet Jacob’s poem The Lost Licht (A Perthshire Legend) came about as a result of a few things happening over the last wee while.

Firstly, I had been persuaded to have a wee foray into spoken word as part of the Keep Going Together song project, and, to my surprise, found that I actually enjoyed it.

Secondly, my Sunday routine for as long as I can remember includes tuning into Cerys Mathews 6Music show, where she invites listeners to suggest poems that can be married up with pieces of music, and she has recited some great stuff over the years.

Thirdly, in having a lot of time to ponder grief and grieving in these peculiar times, I had been thinking a lot about this poem.

With this in mind, I approached Alan Sutherland and asked if he could write and perform a piece of music to complement the words of the poem. Quite an open brief, and one he approached with relish.

The poem itself had left its mark on me years earlier. It is a mother’s tale of grieving for her lost child, and I had always found it upsetting and uplifting in equal measure, whilst at the same time, hugely thought-provoking.

While Alan got down to writing the music, I started work on trawling my photo files for photographs of Perthshire graveyards to complement the poem. The only parameter I set myself was that the graveyards should be local places of historical interest, and it was easy to settle on Greyfriars Burial Ground and Kinnoull Churchyard. Whilst both are currently locked down, I had taken many photographs in these locations previously. For the third location, I visited Kilspindie Church, a place very dear to my late mother, who had played the church organ there during World War 2.

The key section for me is the section where the child explains to her grieving mother why her “licht” is lost:

"For ither babes the flame leaps bricht

And fair and braw appears,

But I canna keep my bonnie licht,

For it's droukit wi' your tears!"

I have taken a lot of strength from these words over the last wee while. I know that grief is not a linear thing and I must admit to a certain nervousness about the easing of lockdown.

I am sure that others will also be thoughtful about moving from a period of contemplative solitude into wider social situations which will no doubt bring some emotional challenges.

So if Violet Jacob’s words bring some some kind of solace to people who have experienced similar challenges, that will, in itself, provide me with some comfort.” Ian McLaren

Music written by Alan Sutherland, used with permission.

Poem recited by Ian McLaren.

All photographs and video edit by Ian McLaren.

The Lost Licht (A Perthshire Legend)

Violet Jacob (1863-1946)

The weary, weary days gang by,

The weary nichts they fa',

I mauna rest, I canna lie

Since my ain bairn's awa'.

The soughing o' the springtide breeze

Abune her heid blaws sweet,

There's nests amang the kirkyaird trees

And gowans at her feet.

She gae'd awa' when winds were hie,

When the deein' year was cauld,

An noo the young year seems to me

A waur ane nor the auld.

And, bedded, 'twixt the nicht an' day,

Yest're'en, I couldna bide

For thinkin', thinkin' as I lay

O' the wean that lies outside.

O, mickle licht to me was gie'n

To reach my bairn's abode,

But heaven micht blast a mither's een

And her feet wad find the road.

The kirkyaird loan alang the brae

Was choked wi' brier and whin,

A' i' the dark the stanes were grey

As wraiths when I gae'd in.

The wind cried frae the western airt

Like warlock tongues at strife,

But the hand o' fear hauds aff the he'rt

That's lost its care for life.

I sat me lang upon the green,

A stanethraw frae the kirk,

And syne a licht shone dim between

The shaws o' yew and birk.

'Twas na the wildfire's flame that played

Alang the kirkyaird land,

It was a band o' bairns that gae'd

Wi' lichts in till their hand.

O white they cam', yon babie thrang,

A' silent o'er the sod;

Ye couldna hear their feet amang

The graves, sae saft they trod.

And aye the can'les flickered pale

Below the darkened sky,

But the licht was like a broken trail

When the third wee bairn gae'd by.

For whaur the can'le-flame should be

Was naither blink nor shine -

The bairnie turned its face to me

An' I kent that it was mine.

An' O! my broken he'rt was sair,

I cried, "My ain! my doo'!

For a' thae weans the licht burns fair,

But it winna' burn for you!"

She smiled to me, my little Jean,

Said she, "The dule and pain,

O mither! frae your waefu' een

They strike on me again:

"For ither babes the flame leaps bricht

And fair and braw appears,

But I canna keep my bonnie licht,

For it's droukit wi' your tears!"

There blew across my outstreeked hand

The white mist o' her sark,

But I couldna reach yon babie band

For it faded i' the dark.

My ain, my dear, your licht shall burn

Although my een grow blind,

Although they twa to saut should turn

Wi' the tears that lie behind.

O Jeanie, on my bended knee

I'll pray I may forget,

My grief is a' that's left to me,

But there's something dearer yet!

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