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Poetry

O for the Wings

By Christine De Luca
Translated from Shetlandic by the author

To the unnamed builder of Woowick dovecote, Orkney

Your dovecote stands, a chapel now;
no crooning coo, no flutter
of frightened wings, nor stink of doves.

Smooth, dark slabs; floor to roof boxed
with stone shelfs like doorless cupboards.
And every stone set so that every ledge
is to the wall and to the building
as every filament is to the feather
and to the dove; every bit a work of art.

Did you build it, in the mind, a library
for books of air, with winged servitors
to reach to topmost shelves; to house
the silence of a thousand vellum scrolls,
the latch raised only by a holy hand?

When at last you laid the final stone
you must have stepped back, upon the seventh day
and, with the searching eye of one who knows
the human heart, you must have seen that what
you’d made, this testament, was good.

English Shetlandic (Original)

To the unnamed builder of Woowick dovecote, Orkney

Your dovecote stands, a chapel now;
no crooning coo, no flutter
of frightened wings, nor stink of doves.

Smooth, dark slabs; floor to roof boxed
with stone shelfs like doorless cupboards.
And every stone set so that every ledge
is to the wall and to the building
as every filament is to the feather
and to the dove; every bit a work of art.

Did you build it, in the mind, a library
for books of air, with winged servitors
to reach to topmost shelves; to house
the silence of a thousand vellum scrolls,
the latch raised only by a holy hand?

When at last you laid the final stone
you must have stepped back, upon the seventh day
and, with the searching eye of one who knows
the human heart, you must have seen that what
you’d made, this testament, was good.

O for da Wings

Tae da unnamed builder o Woodwick doocot, Orkney

Dy doocot staands, a chapel noo;
nae currie-coo, nae flaachter
o gluffit wings, nor guff o doos.

Smooth, dark flags; flör ta röf boxed
wi steyn skelfs lik doorless presses.
An ivery steyn set sae is ivery skelf
is tae da waa an tae da biggin
is ivery filament is tae da fedder
an tae da doo; ivery bit a wirk o art.

Did du bigg hit, i da mind, a library
fur books o air, wi winged servitors
ta rekk ta tapmost skelfs; ta hoose
da silence o a thoosand vellum scrolls,
da sneck raised only bi a holy haand?

Whin at last du laid da hidmist steyn
du man a steppit back, apö da seevent day
an, wi da speirin een o wan at kens
da human haert, du man a seen at whit
du’d med, dis testament, wis göd.

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