Emotions in Dialogue: response to the theme ‘Land & Emotion’

Screen Shot 2015-10-08 at 13.34.58A two-part response for Leticia Fernández-Fontecha’s blog project to accompany her doctoral work on the history of pain in representations of childhood (ouch!), Emotions in Dialogue. I chose the theme ‘Land & Emotion’ and my response ended up split into two halves: a prose poem addressing the matter sort of directly and a longer historical text on the Highland Clearances in eighteenth-century Scotland. The latter incorporates quite a bit of language from documentary accounts of the Clearances, and makes reference to two Early Modern and Medieval prophecies predicting that one day a ‘big sheep’ would overrun the country, making the plough redundant and driving the tenant farmers into the sea – a remarkably accurate prediction of the Clearances several hundred years later, in which small holdings were replaced by pastoral farming and the people living in the remote North West were moved first to the coast and the Western Isles, where they formed the still just about persistent crofting communities, then ultimately in many cases when that livelihood became unsustainable (in some instances dependent on alkali extraction from kelp, overtaken by industrial alternatives c. early 19thC) either choosing to emigrate to North America or being forced aboard empty timber vessels that had shipped lumber from Canada and New England, and forcibly resettled by the Lairds who had moved them to the coast in the first place and didn’t know what to do with them. The main prophecy was issued by The Brahan Seer, or Coinneach Odhar, known as ‘the Scottish Nostrodamus’, supposedly hailing from the parish of Uig on the Isle of Lewis. He lived at Loch Ussie near to Dingwall in Ross-shire and worked as a labourer on the Brahan estate, seat of the Seaforth chieftains, from somewhere around 1675. He predicted that one day ‘the sheep will eat the men’ (tho this was already an established Tudor trope for early enclosure, as in More’s Utopia), as well as North Sea oil (‘a black rain will bring riches to Aberdeen’) and Culloden, where he said: “Oh! Drumossie, thy bleak moor shall, ere many generations have passed away, be stained with the best blood of the Highlands. Glad am I that I will not see the day, for it will be a fearful period; heads will be lopped off by the score, and no mercy shall be shown or quarter given on either side.” Scotland was replete with seers since the Middle Ages, and it seems Odhar was building on an established tradition of prophecy. Thomas the Rhymer, also mentioned, sort of predicted the Clearances in the 12thC and makes an appearance in the Ballads of Walter Scott.

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