“The one fades into the other.”

Robert Macfarlane includes a disclaimer in this article, he’s been involved with, and is a contributor to, the first issue of Archipelago by Clutag Press – previously noted here – and he’s also written extensively on the subject matter, archipelagic writing, as evidenced by his collection of articles for the Guardian. ANYway.. from his article in Saturday’s Guardian Review

Archipelago: (k p l g), def. 1 “Any sea or sheet of water, studded with many isles.” We live, though this is easily forgotten, on an island group of exceptional intricacy. Together, the territories conventionally called England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales comprise over 5,500 islands, studding and separating the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea. And between them, the languages of this archipelago muster dozens of words for “island”, depending on size, profile, and water-context (fresh or salt; running or still; marine, estuarine or riverine). Listed, these words form a poem of paraphones: skerrie, skellig, sgeir, eyot, eilean, islet, inis, ynys, inch, isle, ailsa, ellan, oilean.

And a little on the tradition of archipelagic writing from the article – which leans on his contribution to the first issue of the journal.

A tradition of archipelagic writing goes as far back as the Celtic peregrini of the sixth to 10th centuries AD: the monks, solitaries and pilgrims who travelled west to live on the remote littorals of Britain and Ireland, and who left behind them a literature that is devotedly alert to place. The nameless monk, responsible for drystone walling on the island of North Rona in the ninth century, who stopped his work to write a poem recording his delight at standing on a “clear headland”, looking over the “smooth strand”, to the “calm sea”, and hearing the calls of the “wondrous birds”. Or the 10th-century copyist, working in an island monastery, who paused long enough to scribble a note in Gaelic beside his Latin text: “Pleasant to me is the glittering of the sun today upon these margins.” The margins of the island? The margins of the page? The one fades into the other.

, , ,

  • Dewi

    “eilean, islet, inis, ynys, inch, isle, ailsa, ellan, oilean” Don’t they sound the same – I think the “Skerrie” type words have a more distinct meaning – like rock in the sea.

    Obvious Celtic – Saxon differences but the common Indo-European root is clear to the ear.

    Not so diverse after all – let’s celebrate our similarities !

  • Gum

    We don’t constitute an archipelago in international law. There is a land to water ratio that we do not meet.

  • susan

    We do not constitute
    an archipelago
    in international law

    There is a land
    to water ratio

    We do not meet.

    Nope, sorry, tried, couldn’t bring that around back to poetry, Gum!

    Beautiful excerpts, Pete. Thank you for bringing them to us.

  • nongeog

    Aren’t the island, internationally recognised as “the British Isles”, made up of the UK and the Republic of Ireland?

  • Dewi

    Do u write Susan ? Write something for Slugger ?

  • merrie



    “There is an unmet
    land to water ratio”

    (You can tell I am not a poet.)

    Thanks Pete – shall be subscribing to this journal.

    One of the rare publications I do subscribe to now is Emania, an occasional publication of the Navan Research Group based at QUB.

    Issue 20 (the latest) has an article on Conall Cernach who possibly had Waardenburg’s syndrome, having different coloured eyes; and another on the meaning of “Uladh” which means “bearded”. The article “Ul na n-Ulad” is subtitled “Ethnicity and Identity in the Ulster Cycle”.

    A bearded person was considered one who could inspire great fear in and defeat his enemies.

    Maybe that’s why Gerry Adams has a beard. In ancient times he would perhaps have been considered a great warrior and leader compared to every other male in the current leadership who are all unbearded.

  • Pete Baker

    Cheers susan

    Macfarlane’s contribution to the first issue expands on the theme of the second excerpt.

    And cheers merrie

    I wish I was getting a commission.. ;o)

    Btw There are contributions from Heaney and Derek Mahon in the first issue too.

  • Gum

    The UK Parliament has set legislation defining the ‘British Isles’ as the Island of the UK (Scotland, England and Wales), the Isle of Man, and other islands in the area, but EXCLUDING the island of Ireland.

  • jpeters


    hardly surprising for nearly 30 years it was done this way with the NI legislation passed seperatley by Order in Council

  • susan

    The UK Parliament has set legislation defining the ‘British Isles’ as the Island of the UK (Scotland, England and Wales), the Isle of Man, and other islands in the area, but EXCLUDING the island of Ireland.

    Posted by Gum on Jul 17, 2007 @ 03:25 PM

    Quite right, Gum.

    However, when pushed to provide “further clarity” on use of the phrase “an island group of exceptional intricacy,” MPs voted to approve the statement, “Kerrist, would you never leave off,” and voted to have said statement immediately translated into Ulster-Scots and Irish and appended to the next water rates mailing.

    MPs then voted unanimous endorsement of e.e. cumming’s declaration:

    “who pays any attention
    to the syntax of things
    will never wholly kiss you”

    and retired for a nice cuppa and to see if there was any chance of a snog before the traditional Christmas recess.

    –from “If Poets Ran the World,” Siegfried Angus O Sé, Chapter XXVIII

  • Pete Baker