Poem introduction

This is an ekphrastic poem that responds to two paintings, one of which is the iconic 'The Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch', attributed to Sir Henry Raeburn. This depicts a rather prim and proper Enlightenment clergyman skating into some rather Romantic looking hills. There is also another painting by Charles Lees of member of the first Scottish skating club practicing their moves by moonlight on the same loch. My poem conflates the two paintings. It also touches on a minor scandal that shook the Scottish art world a while ago when an academic had the temerity to suggest that The Reverend Walker had not been painted by a Scotsman - Raeburn - but by a Frenchman called Danloux who was active in Edinburgh around the same time. It's also a gently satirical poem about the impending ecological apocalypse.

Young Blade

Moonlight becomes blades, blades moon-
light as they lilt and pivot out of shadow
into yellow pool: I make a point and stop:
 
steam breath into air that cracks like ice,
close eyes upon a world that gleams
and scrapes and rasps; 'Look out!'
 
Brown, behatted, a figure grasps
my arm and birls me about; I make a run:
circling to the centre of the loch -
 
cross stroke, chassé, cross over slip - turn
and look back across the white and shining
field: the huddle of 'ingénues'
 
practising their 8s, the cries of 'off!'
and 'change!' the silver scales
of safety ropes slithering from baskets;
 
silence set off by a distant swish.
 
And so I see the scene again: late
afternoon; the little minister, still svelte
but on the verge of portliness, breasting
the ice with a frank and open stroke;
 
his friends, the painters, smiling, betting:
which one could lay down just that shade
of lilac shadow cast by the suburban
Mercury, silhouetted contre jour?
 
Then, the sudden hush as water tensed
at his instruction, trout gazed up at his incisive feet.
I felt that God must be in clarity like this
and listened to the valley echo
 
the striations of his silver blades.
Far out on Duddingston Loch
our true apostle sped with twice the speed
of Christ who walked on waves.
 
I saw him harrow ice with grace of the elect
and scar the transubstantiation
of wintered elements. At once I heard
a tapping from the hills
 
as if a tiny hammer big with work
sought to split this world: the shelf
of ice with all its merry skaters
cracked from side to side then tipped
 
like a sinking ship; loch made
meadow loch as little cows,
aristocratic blades, the Reverend
and his painters clung to trees
 
above a sundered castle, floated off
to villages, new towns, enlightened
schemes and sunken moonlit pastures.
With a sense of real presence
 
he crossed my vision: and I wondered
if it mattered which man would win
the bet: Raeburn or Danloux?
 
Both helped him to untie
the fine pink inkles strapping blade
to boot and walked away with him
 
arm in arm towards the village.
 

from Finger of a Frenchman (Carcanet, 2011), © David Kinloch 2011, used by permission of the author and the publisher.

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Recordings

David Kinloch Downloads

1Dustie-Fute

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2Warmer-Bruder

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3Three Wee Frees

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4To A Bardie

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5Customs

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6Bed

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8I Set Off Upon My Journey to the House of Shaws

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7Braveheart

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9Tremmlin Tree

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10An Encounter

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11Dallam's Fantasy

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12Mary Stuart's Dream

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13Rousseau on Ramsay

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14Young Blade

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15Finger of a Frenchman

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17Snip

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18The Levite's Concubine

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19Virgin

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20First Letter of the Hebrew Women to St Paul

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21Wood

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22Orpheus. Eurydice. Hermes.

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23The Bachelor Stripped Bare by his Brides, Even

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24Pascal to Mvr Appeldoom

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25Visitation

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16Edwin Morgan is eating an orange

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Books by David Kinloch