for the old world

My thoughts return again and again to the old world, to the lands across the sea that my ancestors abandoned long ago. Well, not so long ago in fact, when my father left Germany to immigrate here to the U.S. As for my mother, God rest her blessed soul, she never knew the half of her own heritage. The Scottish, yes. But little did she know how many of her roots were settled in those ancient lands. And in England and Ireland and Germany and France.

I wish sometimes I could share with her all that I have learned. I wish I could take her hand and show her how large her world had been, this woman who dwelt so comfortably between four walls, so long as she could provide for her two sons. So long as she could make a safe and happy home in that small space. Little knowing how eagerly one of her own bairn would seek out the past she had lost.

She is only eight years old now, but when my dearest daughter arises to claim her life in her own voice, with her own hands, I pray she will abandon these walls and seek the world wide to find the life that suits her best. If it means leaving all this behind, my darling princess, then so be it. Create the life you will, and I will always be proud of you for it. For having found your own voice.

As for me, what time remains in this body still, what rhythm yet this heart may beat, what verses this mind may yet compose, I know it will not be here. My father left his home in the old world and hardly looked back to the heritage he had left behind. My mother barely knew hers. I will not die on these shores. I will afar. As far as this life may yet take me. And in the old world, in the company of true love, I pray I will at last find peace.

This, by the way, is the remarkable Julie Fowlis, and these are the words to this song, which I have copied from her website:

Bothan Àirigh am Bràigh Raithneach (A sheiling on the Braes of Rannoch)

Gur e m’ anam is m’ eudail
chaidh an-dè do Ghleann Garadh:
fear na gruaig’ mar an t-òr
is na pòig air bhlas meala.

O hi ò o hu ò, o hi ò o hu ò,
Hi rì ri ò hu eile
O hì ri ri ri ò gheallaibh ò

Is tu as fheàrr don tig deise
de na sheasadh air thalamh;
is tu as fheàrr don tig culaidh
de na chunna mi dh’ fhearaibh.
Is tu as fheàrr don tig osan
is bròg shocrach nam barrall:
còta Lunnainneach dubh-ghorm,
is bidh na crùintean ga cheannach.

An uair a ruigeadh tu ‘n fhèill
is e mo ghèar-sa a thig dhachaigh;
mo chriosan is mo chìre
is mo stìomag chaol cheangail.

Thig mo chrios à Dùn Eideann
is mo bhrèid à Dùn Chailleann,
gheibh sinn crodh as a’ Mhaorainn
agus caoraich à Gallaibh.

Is ann a bhios sinn ‘gan àrach
air àirigh am Bràigh Raithneach.
ann am bòthan an t-sùgraidh
is gur e bu dùnadh dha barrach.

Bhiodh a’ chuthag ‘s an smùdan
a’ gabhail ciùil duinn air chrannaibh;
bhiodh an damh donn ‘s a bhùireadh
gar dùsgadh sa mhadainn.

It was my love and my treasure
who went yesterday to Glengarry,
the man with hair like gold
and kisses that taste of honey.

You suit your clothes
better than any man on earth;
you look better in your garments
than any man I’ve ever seen.

You look better in stockings
and comfortable laced shoes,
a dark blue London coat
that cost many crowns to buy.

When you arrive at the fair,
you’ll bring home my gear,
my small belt and my comb
and my little narrow fastening

My belt will come from Edinburgh
and my marriage head-dress from
we’ll get cattle from the Mearns
and sheep from Caithness.

And we’ll rear them in a sheiling
in Bràigh Raithneach,
in the brush-wood enclosed hut of

The cuckoo will sing
its song to us from the trees,
the brown stag and its roaring
will wake us in the morning.

10 thoughts on “for the old world

  1. …and you are passing your thoughts to your daughter. I love how you paint that peaceful picture of your heart. In this impermanent body that we have, these thoughts are our strength to see beyond the cultural roots of society.
    The song describes you, my dear George. It is a reflection.


    • Your words elicit a universal that goes beyond the local, the social, the cultural. The heart, is it, Pawan? The human heart, as you know, is so very changeable. We express “love” for this and that and so much more, and yet, is that the universal? The very capacity for love? I find the utmost strength in love. And my daughter’s heart is so very kind and open. And expanding. Sometimes I am afraid, thinking that someday, a day I cannot know, I will be gone from her. So I pray that she too finds the utmost strength in love, even if the father who loves her so dearly is gone from her life.


      • I would like to share few lines from a song written by Cole Porter :

        When the little bluebird
        Who has never said a word
        Starts to sing Spring
        When the little bluebell
        At the bottom of the dell
        Starts to ring Ding dong Ding dong
        When the little blue clerk
        In the middle of his work
        Starts a tune to the moon up above
        It is nature that is all
        Simply telling us to fall in love

        And that’s why birds do it, bees do it
        Even educated fleas do it
        Let’s do it, let’s fall in love

        You know George, heart knows love only. And you are just doing that. Our mind is occupied with fears for unknown, but heart can really push our feet to another level of ecstasy that we call little moments. These moments reflect in our surrounding. We enjoy them or we fall in the trap of fundamentals. It is our choice, as you would say.

        …and with this love of yours, she will be more open to not judge but share love without any reasons. That is how we love, without reasons, right George. 🙂
        I write this while breathing on a beach, calm and peace I can see in those waves that are calling my name. Nature writes this. It is our journey of trials and error. 🙂


      • Ah, so true, my friend. So very true. Nature composes so beautifully, does she not? A seemingly endless capacity for beauty and life, generating will and hope in something as simple as a leaf, a blade of grass, a wave on the sea, a grain of sand. In such a world — feeling one with this world — how can we not feel love in ourselves? How could we not wish to share that love with others? Trial and error indeed. And so we learn. Or seek to overcome our learning, and instead, to understand.


      • Beautifully apprehended, George. This is what sharing is, priceless nature of being alive. Yes, in such a world, anything can happen. Nature has more lessons for us to learn and live in harmony. 🙂


  2. Thanks for sharing this beautiful song and your heartfelt words. My husband and I are both of Scottish heritage, but like your mother, we know so little of that world. This inspires me to dig a little deeper.


    • I am very pleased then, Lori, that something I have shared might encourage you two to explore your own heritage. May your journey be one of joy and peace wherever it takes you.


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