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About the Source to Sea Poem

We are delighted to bring you the Nithraid Poem by Gallovidian poet Hugh McMillan. The poem explores the histories, lives and folklore of the Nith, unfoiling from the source to flow into the landscape, people and places of the river. In its steady course from stanza to stanza, the poem captures a vivid and evocative landscape, laden with a dormant history of myth, magic and spirituality, swathed by an exhilarating contemporary perspective of the land through which the river now flows.

Listen to Hugh McMillan recite “Source to Sea”:

Source to Sea by Hugh McMillan

Source to Sea

Loosed from the grip of wet pine a crack,
a fundament of crumple, but from this leak
comes Strathnid: name as old as rock and lost,
Welsh Goddess they suppose. The nymph
playing here in burn light becomes a queen,
births stricts and garths, songs and verse,
Sweet Afton and Cuddle Doon. It moves north,
east, coils through time, in the grim footprint
of soldiers, through scarrings where mythology
meets man in pit and opencast, green now as graves.

The river grows in confidence no wonder, its banks
flattened by legions. Love and war twinned,
and passage of time live water. "A low wind grieves
among the leaves, and time of the rose is over":
Anderson, the river’s greatest poet barrin yon ither,
mair o him efter. Sanquhar town of grim declarations,
Wanlockhead our wind furred tooth in the hills,
Mennock and Dalveen trod by tinkers and Kings
who joined the river to ride to Galloway, Ireland
or Heaven. Mind how you go. Each steep breaks on history.

To Thornhill its grouse shooters and grouse beaters,
but the river bends never bows, muscles into Scaur
and doubles in power, the land enclosed an island
with totems more holy than any baronial forelock
tugging flimflam: Tynron Doon the walls of Arthurs’s
Rheged, where Taliesin saw houses on fire before the flame
of dawn an the Nith Cross, sentinel for a millennium,
misunderstood or forgotten in Duke’s cattle field,
a weather-beaten middle finger pointed to Drumlanrig.
the fakery of Crawick, its timeless message, all vanity is dust.

Noo Here’s a streek o river. Frae Ellisland
tae the Sanghoose o Scotland, yin birkie stalks these banks,
rantin, rovin, steamin, shaggin: bit roch for guid fowk
queer makar for a nation, so we mak siccar his desk is glentin
but foryet his humanness, leave the gracie seeds o brutherhood
spreid on barren grun, by the lea o yon food bank wa
or unner syle crushed by a bowsie fermer’s Vote No sign.
But leuk again, the river nith is douche an bonnie an the sangs
that he scrieved here homespun, hauntit, wunnersome.
Aiblins it’s a queer nation for a makar.

The Nith cuts a swathe through Dumfries, the town of doors,
Like every place settled for a thousand years echoes are everywhere,
The river’s seen it all, cannons, cameras, cholera. The Stake Ford,
the Pilgrim’s Way, the Auld Brig, Kings and body snatchers.
And the rumbustious dead are with us always, a metre below our feet,
a metre above our heads, When we walk down the Vennel
and the river glints ahead of us we are with all the ones who lived
and loved here. What is more exciting than a town full of idiot dreamers?
Christian Fergusson, paint us again with your greens and azures,
we can fill this canvas like the little jewel we have always been. Are..

Past the old port, the mottes at the river’s mouth, brushed aside
by invading armies, Dumfries a cloud of ash. But history is surely
a romantic cavalcade: Le Siege de Karlavreock, chivalric cat-walk
on a verdant blaze of green. Here’s the Earl of Hereford with a cheeky
cut off number, six lioncels rampant on a spandex field. What could be better?
Maybe a wee bit of shortbread and a pop-up book. Find the real history.
Go through the marshes. The old keep, Ward Law, the Roman harbour,
men sent to die at the eyelids of the world. English spears crossing the Wet Road,
walking on water. War. Fire. And the famine that follows the fire.

By Hugh McMillan

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