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Sir James Sinclair’s Rant

Linksness, Orkney, 1536

by David James Ross

Editor’s note: Sir James Sinclair, Governor of Kirkwall Castle, was given a feudal grant of the islands of Sanday and Eday in 1535, having wrongly described them, it is said, as infertile places. The following year, when he heard that King James V was intending to visit Orkney, he ‘sought refuge in death’, says one source, by throwing himself into the Gloup of Linksness.

Alone at last in his pomp and vainglory,
Sir James has unwrapped the Royal writ,
And at once everything has fallen away.
Thus late into this his last night
He has sat on in his hollow finery
While the candles spluttered and died.

Then at first frantic light, with no-one
Around, all at once he erupts from his
Bedroom, jigging like some mad thing
Through gutters thick as gossip
He dances past the peat stack,
Scattering peats like accusations.

Capering, he hurls high his fancy bonnet!
Cavorting, he flings off his fine clothes!
Prancing pale as a skinned rabbit, he goes
Haring headlong up the headland,
Skipping, skirling his head off,
Skirting the gloup’s curled lip.
And now darkness has reached up
And seized him under the oxters,
Sucking him into the sea’s sinkhole.
Still jigging, if in ever-slowing motion,
He is sliding over the event horizon,
Swirling into oblivion, into unbeing.

Later that morning, his waking widow
Will find, and not find, his bed unslept.
And slipped, or not, under her pillow,
In a gesture so meaningless
And so poignant, his signet ring
And his tarnished name.

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