Island
Malcolm King Muriel BĂ©rard

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The texts for Daryl Runswick's Island (2002) were selected by John Rath from a remarkable series of poems, Going to the Island by Miriam Scott (Spout Publications, The Word Hoard, 2000). The island in question is the tiny Ynys Enlli (Bardsey Island) off the coast of North West Wales, long known as 'the island of 20,000 saints'. From the sixth century it was a place of retreat with a
repuation for holiness, a destination for pilgrims
who wished to go out of the world. The journey
there is dangerous, the final sea-crossing
especially so. Miriam Scott stayed on Ynys Enlli
during 1999: her sequence of poems deals with pilgrimage, memory (real, imagined and historical) dreams, ecology, myth and community. This song cycle, with the blessing of the poet, extracts its
own themes and strands. Island is dedicated to
John Rath.

[ 1 ]    The Making of the Island

On the edge of a continent,
slow dance of rock and ocean.
Grey clouds, continents drifting north, that is ocean
parting around them, the Island following.

There are no people yet,
only earth making and remaking.
The seabed heaves and splits. From the world
beneath come waves of lava, basalt
crashing against the continent's mass, making the Island
on which you, or the saints, will stand in clear light,
marvelling.

Will the Island rise around me shining, red living roots
flowing down to the world below seabed?

 

[ 2 ]    Going to the Island

In the soft noon light, the boat rounds the end of the Island.
The arrival begins: the small launch set straight
at rolling swell. Each wave breaks blue water over boat and passengers.

Many drowned to risk that hazardous crossing, to arrive,
soaked, sea sick, tossed undrowned from a boiling sea, to enter stillness.
You know this.

A small cove with a jetty of old rock. A white beach.
A seal's sad eyes watch every step from sea to shore.
A small sandy lane curves up to the village.
A winter journey brought you here.

 

[ 3 ]    The True Face of the Island

Seals stood in the water, watching. Their souls looked out of their eyes.
After a seal hunt one man was marooned.
That night seals dead and living surrounded his rock,
crying through the storm with human voices.
That man saw the true face of the Island.

We were on a towering cliff.
He took me in a strong embrace, blew a long breath into my mouth
and we dived together under the sea.
At the bottom of the sea, a door opened. The seal man showed me my own knife.

"I stuck that knife into a seal, he escaped with it into the water"'

"That seal was my father."

I closed up the lips of his wound with the hands that had given it.

[ 4 ]    Departure

So seasons change, ferociously. A recurring dream brought you here.

Brace yourself on rock like the prow of a ship
wrapped in wind. Reach down and touch the stones.
They remember beginning. Beneath you, the Island
shoulders on, continuing its voyage.

You go back to where you live, uncertain, inspired. You forget.
The Island slips further away: tides, seals, sea-bitten rock.

Far away, unknowing, you feel that pull in the dark,
frightening and attractive. Imagine your last breath. That sigh.
How the chest collapses. How a door opens into the miraculous.

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Recorded at Blackheath Concert Halls, London, 2006.
Engineer Kit Venables. Produced by Daryl Runswick.

All these texts, compositions and recordings are covered by copyright.