So Many Views of Suilven
Guest blog by Mandy Haggith, Director of Assynt Foundation.
Over the twelve years since the local community has owned Glencanisp Lodge, with its splendid views of Suilven, I have run seventeen retreat weeks for creative writers. Every one of the participants falls in love with the mountain and it has inspired no end of wonderful writing. Even people who have not written poetry since schooldays find themselves coming back from a walk with the words of a new poem ringing in their ears. I tell them that the Assynt landscape is littered with verse – Norman MacCaig found many of the good ones, but there are any amount of new poems out there, waiting for unsuspecting poets to trip over them and bring them home.
MacCaig’s classic poem, ‘Climbing Suilven’ is engraved on a stone at the start of the walk from Inver Kirkaig up the river towards the mountain, just under the bookshop, Achins, where you can buy his collected poems!
I nod and nod to my own shadow and thrust
A mountain down and down.
Between my feet a loch shines in the brown,
Its silver paper crinkled and edged with rust.
My lungs say No;
But down and down this treadmill hill must go.
In ‘Moments Musical in Assynt’, he compares all the mountains to music.
A mountain is a sort of music: theme
And counter theme displaced in air amongst
Their own variations….
He climaxes with this:
I listen with my eyes and see through that
Mellifluous din of shapes my masterpiece
One sandstone chord that holds up time in space –
Sforzando Suilven reared on his ground bass.
One of the regular visitors to the writing retreats has been Colin Will, a poet based in Dunbar who is a Zen Buddhist and much inspired by oriental artistic traditions. We have talked a lot about Suilven as a source of art, and wonder whether as Scotland’s iconic mountain it could ever achieve the global status of Mount Fiji.
There is a classic series of prints by the Japanese artist, Hokkusai, called ’36 Views of Mount Fiji’. Suilven clearly deserves its own similar tribute, and one year we had the perfect opportunity. Colin Will’s 72nd birthday fell during one of the retreats. In the Chinese tradition, 72 is a hugely significant age. Most of us will be familiar with the fact that 12-year cycles are important and each year it’s the year of a different animal, in a cycle of 12 animals. So in the Chinese system our 12th, 24th, 36th, 48th and 60th birthdays are in the year of our birth animal. Our 72nd birthday completes the 6th cycle and is the age at which we become officially a sage.
So to celebrate Colin’s coming-of-age-of-a-sage all of the retreat participants composed poems about Suilven, and I added to it all the poems I have gathered over the years, and we achieved ’72 Views of Suilven’. In fact we had a few spare – it was more like 92 views of Suilven!
Here’s one of my favourites, by John Bolland:
Everything is perfect
Climbing steadily, steadily,
there comes a point when he becomes aware
to gaze back down the steepness of the talus,
across the cnoc and lochan muir
he can still hear the River Inver roaring,
still hear Glen Canisp’s cuckoos clowning in the wood
the peep peep of a buzzard chick beneath the Caistel,
the wind, the trickle of the burn .
And it comes to him that silence is his own.
If this is how poets react to the mountain, I have no doubt that painters, photographers, sculpters, musicians and other artists would produce equivalent riches.
Please share yours with me (firstname.lastname@example.org). One day, our mountain will be on the global map to rival Fuji as a mountainous source of artistic inspiration.
Find out more about the Suilven Path Project here