The Castle – a poem by Edwin Muir

I’ve always felt a close connection to the poetry of Edwin Muir. His themes include loss and betrayal, life and death, and journeys and labyrinths. In 1901 his father lost their farm on Orkney when Edwin was just 14 and the family were forced to move to Glasgow. Within a few years his mother, his father and two brothers were dead. When I walk in Orkney I imagine it as Edwin Muir’s Eden, an idyllic place before the dreadful events which shaped his life. From the ruins of his childhood Edwin Muir built his life to become a widely appreciated poet, the translator of Franz Kafka’s novels and Norton Professor of English at Harvard University. He had a remarkable mind to match his remarkable life.

Looking up at Noltland Castle on Westray I’m reminded of his poem The Castle.

The Castle

All through that summer at ease we lay,
And daily from the turret wall
We watched the mowers in the hay
And the enemy half a mile away.
They seemed no threat to us at all.

For what, we thought, had we to fear
With our arms and provender, load on load,
Our towering battlements, tier on tier,
And friendly allies drawing near
On every leafy summer road.

Our gates were strong, our walls were thick,
So smooth and high, no man could win
A foothold there, no clever trick
Could take us in, have us dead or quick.
Only a bird could have got in.

What could they offer us for bait?
Our captain was brave and we were true…
There was a little private gate,
A little wicked wicket gate.
The wizened warder let them through.

Oh then our maze of tunnelled stone
Grew thin and treacherous as air.
The cause was lost without a groan,
The famous citadel overthrown,
And all its secret galleries bare.

How can this shameful tale be told?
I will maintain until my death
We could do nothing, being sold;
Our only enemy was gold,
And we had no arms to fight it with.

Noltland Castle - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

I still treasure my copy of Edwin Muir’s Selected Poems. Here’s a link:

More Edwin Muir

Meadow Pipit - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the) The Bird by Edwin Muir Meadow Pipit in flight Here's another of my favourite poems by Orcadian poet Edwin Muir. The Bird Adventurous bird walking… read more
Owlfly - Italy - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the) Bewitched We're exploring the scrub and woodland verges and fields of an abandoned farmhouse in Apulia in the south of Italy.… read more
Alone on the rocky shore - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the) Childhood – a poem by Edwin Muir I find Orcadian poet Edwin Muir's poetry so rich in symbols, metaphors and similes that it's a constant joy to… read more
Fledging Swallow - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) 2016 David Bailey (not the) The Late Swallow – a poem by Edwin Muir Orcadian poet Edwin Muir is a favourite of mine. As I watched the Swallows at Einar I remembered his wonderful… read more
The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the) ‘The refugees born for a land unknown’ – a poem by Edwin Muir 'I have fled through land and sea, blank land and sea, Because my house is besieged by murderers And I… read more
The Horses - a poem by Edwin Muir - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the) The Horses – a poem by Edwin Muir One of the first times I heard of Orkney was when I read Edwin Muir's poetry. It was so strong,… read more

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