ORKNEY can claim two major poets, Edwin Muir and George Mackay Brown. But fellow Orcadian Robert Rendall (1898-1967), who ran a draper’s shop in Kirkwall and was an expert on molluscs and seashells (as well as a self-taught Greek scholar) wrote some admirable poems. Here are two.


Beside the heavenly meadows daisied with stars

The planets yoked in team – Uranus, Mars,

Jove, Neptune, Venus, Mercury, Saturn, Earth –

Not saddled now to run with tightened girth,

But to the mill’s unwieldy lever bound,

Wheel their enormous burden round and round.

Linked to the trees, harnessed with hame and trace,

The stumble round the tracks of cosmic space,

With slow hard step, necks bent, and flanks a-sweat

Turning yon beam, the sun for axle set.

To grind what corn in what celestial mill

Move these great Titans, shouldering onward still?


But, John, have you seen the world, said he,

Trains and tramcars and sixty-seaters,

Cities in lands across the sea –

Giotto’s tower and the dome of St Peter’s?

No, but I have seen the arc of the earth,

From the Birsay shore, like the edge of a planet,

And the lifeboat plunge through the Pentland Firth

To a cosmic tide with the men that man it.