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The Two Neighbours

Angus Martin details in his book - Kintyre. The Hidden Past  how after first reading this poem Angus wrote to George Campbell Hay's publishers, and then to the man himself, and how they became friends --

I first encountered Campbell Hay’s poetry in 1967, as a boy of fifteen years, who, quickened by a creative stirring, had begun to read eagerly. I found my way to The Oxford Book of Scottish Verse and in that anthology read, with a thrill of appreciation which I can recover still, his poem The Two Neighbours, on the dying of an old Tarbert skipper, and the vigil kept at the bed of death by the man’s fishing partner, or ‘neebor’, of a time past. …   When I return, as I often do, to his poetry, I am that boy again, astounded by the magic of the familiar, transmuted mysteriously by that power which all art generates.



[above from Kintyre: The Hidden Past by Angus Martin, copyright 1984)

Two that through windy nights kept company,

two in the dark, two on the sea at the steering,

with aye one another’s bow-wave and wake to see,

the neighbour’s light away on the beam plunging and soaring.


Two on blind nights seeking counsel in turn –

“Where will we head now?”  - sharing their care and labours,

spoke across plashing waters from stern to stern,

comrades in calm, fellows in storm, night-sea neighbours.


Dark and daybreak, heat and hail had tried,

and schooled the two in the master glance for esteeming

the curve of the outgoing net, the set of the tide,

the drift of wind and sea, the airt where the prey was swimming.


Two on the sea. And the one fell sick at last,

“for he was weak, the soul, and old”. And the other

watched for long nights by his bed, as on nights that were past

he watched from the stern for his light, sea-neighbour, in ill a brother.


Watched by the peep of a lamp long nights by his side;

brightened his mood, talking their sea-nights over;

followed him to Cill Ainndreis when he died,

and left him at peace in a lee that would feel no wind for ever.

by George Campbell Hay

written between 1946-1958

The Fisherman's Prayer