by Deborah Leggate -
My grandfather John Henry and my great uncle Andrew Henry were both born in Foula in the 1900's, Shetland. Just recently I discovered a very touching poem that my mother wrote in 1953 when she was just 19 years old, about Shetland. She is now 77 and resides in London but still has very fond memories of Shetland.
Lo! I saw her on the skyline
Like a war ship taking rest,
and I knew this lonely island
was with peace and beauty blest,
In five great steps she mounted,
sharply rising left to right
"till the topmost craggy summit,
wreathed in mists, was hid from sight.
From long hours we had battled
"cross the raging, tossing sea
"till the brave and sturdy boat did
round the pier into the lee.
Now the pearly sky had brightened.
The sun's first rays had shed their light;
and this isle, at night so stark, was
on the morn a wondrous sight.
Sea-birds wheeling, screaming harshly;
up and down as the soared they came.
And the waves, with claps of thunder
"against the cliff-face crashed in vain.
So relentlessly they tried to
force their way across the land.
Time again they fell back, beaten;
rebuffed by so contemptuous hand.
A softly-scented breeze did greet me,
carrying the peat reek keen,
and I knew that I had come home;
where my heart had ever been.
For the last time that I left her
I knew I'd see her face again;
Foula – lovely little island;
always changing; still the same.
And I felt, as I walked joyous
up the rough and rutted lane,
that my hopes and strong convictions
had not, after all, been vain.
It seemed as if the hills were beckoning;
bidding me explore their heights,
which like grand and stalwart sentries,
guard the isle through the day and night.
The grass beneath my feet was springy;
Heather, gorse and moss here grew
and about my head in anger
the bonxie and the allan flew.
Upward, ever steeply upward
I leisurely did make my way
"till far below me in the valley,
Like a map the landscape lay.
Now I'd left the birds behind me.
All was quiet and vey still –
not a sound disturbed the air
upon the summit of the hill.
Yet if I took care to listen;
from out the silence came to me
those little sounds that tend to deepen
such a sweet tranquillity.
Thus I sat in lonely gladness
On this hill called Hannafield
and to the evening's binding spell
I let my mind and senses yield.
The wild call of the birds below me,
watching over their young one's nest;
The sighing among the heather;
the sun's retreat towards the west;
the patient lowing of the cattle;
a dog's sharp bark; a sheep's soft bleat;
and at that moment , there in Foula,
I felt the world was at my feet.
The salt-tanged evening breeze came to me
And wafted on it, peat reek keen;
I knew indeed that I had come home,
Where my heart had ever been.
By Mabel Henry, 1953
For more information about Foula, visit www.foulaheritage.org.uk