Sunlight on a pale green ocean Poems by Henry Marsh

1: Atlantic Beach


On a quiet day

though a mile away

you can hear the island

breathing, the suck

and sigh of waves.


And the listening

like holding your breath

to hear if your child

is asleep.


You imagine the slow

emerald roll,

the spume held

for a moment in the breeze.


When I saw her

running across

the sand-pale floor

I remembered a child

of the sea, another

spirit of place,

conjured for a moment

between the arms

of a white bay.


And the sun her red ball

on the horizon.



2: Corncrake


Ive waited years

for this

you devious



wee magician.

I thought

I saw your neck

and beak



in the rushes.

But your crek

has crept

to the other

side of the fence.




no sway


as you tunnel

through spell-stopped

machair flowers.


I give up.

It seems

youre half

a field away.


like a piece

of old




over the rye

the rusty wings.

The master

lifts and


into invisibility.


3: Spring in South Uist


Persephone, this morning, your thoughts are coiling

like cloud in a winter gulley.

You see, beneath its tattered, russet fleeces

the bedrock, grey

as weathered sheep bone.


Yesterday, I caught in your eye, sunlight

on a pale green ocean

that shimmered in swathes of delicate purple, where busy

sea-birds clamoured

at hints of imperial summer.



4: Evening at Gearraidh Bhailteas


Grey skies bestow

their own graces. In muted

light, purple vetch

and finger-rooted orchid

retire in modesty,

while buttercup and yellow

silverweed are bright,

alternative, emergent

stars. Above the miles

of white, deserted beach,

three gulls pass

in close formation, intent

on their patrol. They break right,

swooping and yammering

over grey rocks. A dozen

oystercatchers dibble

in the wash of the tide. The grey

sea has a closer horizon

than the land. Its gentle arc

is held within the wide arms

of the endless bay. To complete

an improbable perfection,

by the road across the machair,

in a hint of peat-reek

carried on the edge of the wind,

a man is mending a tractor,

singing in Gaelic a song

whose melody follows the contours

of the Uist landscape

close as a limpid burn.



All the poems come from the collection A First Sighting by Henry Marsh (Maclean Dubois 2005),

and are used and reproduced by kind permission of the author.


Henry Marsh 2005