Gerry Loose: Eight further poems in ogham script with a note on poetics and translation

Church of the 3 Brethren     Lochgoilhead 

little saint of whitethorn

little quencher of wolf spark

welcome to the burial mounds


dear confessor of blood-red berries

sweet dweller of beehive cell

oaks make good gallow-trees



my heart



Blackwaterfoot, Arran, King’s Cave #1

son: to leave                                                                                                                                            
friend: to stroll among trees                                                                                                             
work: to ride horses                                                                                                                            
killing: to be swift                                                                                                                               
father: to shelter the hunted


Blackwaterfoot, Arran, King’s Cave #2

skinsilver birch                                                                                                                                         
rowan of pillage                                                                                                                                       
heather the udder brusher                                                                                                          
poplar the horse trembler                                                                                                                 
oak of hill & adze                                                                        


Scoonie, Fife

no name for        them

they grow deep within

tree proud bush proud

urgent    they   ’re allies

though    they     groan

shrivel        in the hunt

still bigger than a horse



coltsfoot the apple that suckles                                                                                                           
sun hoof the vine that strangles                                                                                                       
sun horse the yew that sickens



manifold the wheel

honey bees dancing

blush of the dying

breath of horses

wood brands burning

warriors at the breast

trees green leafing

world wheel whirling



begin with honey
& fellowship of trees 
one third of a spear 
& a shroud

return salmon 
return sun 
return spring well 
bees are dying


Mains of Afforsk

beauty’s a boast

& kinship with saplings


with a glow of anger

& warriors’ gear


cherished hazel

& grace disappear


cypher unknown

& wisdom undone




Writes Gerry Loose, qua translator:

     “Ogham is the [rune-like] script used for inscriptions on stone during the fourth to eighth centuries CE, in the earliest known form of Gaelic. It comprises strokes across or to either side of a central stem line and is found on monoliths mainly in Ireland, with a few in Scotland, mostly in Gaelic but some in conjunction with Pictish symbols, which may be in that language …

      Ogham is also called the tree alphabet, since the name of a tree (or plant) has been ascribed to each Gaelic letter thus: beith, luis, nin — birch, herb, ash … and so on. An alphabet végétal

      Whatever the method of reading this script, it is steeped in the secrecy of the literate over the non-literate; it’s always regarded as the property of the high poets, the early medieval fili of Ireland, who would spend many years memorizing 150 varieties of ogham. With the above, it’s possible to see the poetic possibilities, whatever ogham script is used …

      Because the letters on the inscribed stones are sometimes doubled up, I have used this for emphasis. Because, also, not all words in Gaelic have precise English equivalents (for example seanachas has overtones of biography and of tradition and of genealogy and of history and of language), I have moved between phrase oghams to use words I think best work in a given poem. Where these will not do, I have used other, appropriate translations of the Gaelic, the stone, and the landscape itself to make a viable English poem from the ogham.”


N.B. Three additional ogham poems can be found on Poems and Poetics for February 5, 2015. Loose also notes that the titles of the poems posted above are all place names.