Stobo, by Dawyck


“Today it is me, tomorrow it will be you”.

The two enduring themes of poetry: love and death.

There is no better place to reflect on mortality, my own mortality: a poet passing through, than a garden, especially a garden in the Scottish Borders with its reivers and raiders, poachers and its eldritch folk. There is no better garden in the Borders than Dawyck.

There is a chapel here at Dawyck, which has seven fastigiate yew trees on each of the west, east and north boundaries. There are two at the southern entrance steps, for the chapel sits on the hillside leading up to Scrape. Inside are a handful of markers; these are to a Balfour mother and son and to folk who may have served them. They could be markers for anyone: any Border reiver, even makars; they are so long gone, unremembered except for a handful of words.


In 1508 William Dunbar wrote in A Lament for the Makaris:

I that in heill wes and gladnes,
Am trublit now with gret seiknes,
And feblit with infermite;
Timor mortis conturbat me.

Our plesance heir is all vane glory,
This fals warld is bot transitory,
The flesche is brukle, the Fend is sle;
Timor mortis conturbat me.

The stait of man dois change and vary,
Now sound, now seik, now blith, now sary,
Now dansand mery, now like to dee;
Timor mortis conturbat me.

No stait in erd heir standis sickir;
As with the wynd wavis the wickir,
Wavis this warldis vanite.
Timor mortis conturbat me.

On to the ded gois all estatis,
Princis, prelotis, and potestatis,
Baith riche and pur of al degre;
Timor mortis conturbat me.

In his poem, he names twenty five poets, whose passing he laments and whose passing precedes his own. Of these, nothing of the words of most survives; they are only names.

Among these names is one Stobo: John Reid. John Reid may have walked these hills, five hundred years before me, made marks for the evanescent world, as I do, sitting at the chapel, where even tall stones become hidden at last behind foliage. My words as his, will be lost after five hundred years.

Hodie mihi, Cras tibi.



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