Old Calton Burial Ground, Princes Street

XVII.	Old Calton Burial Ground

Ensconced behind a ferned wall, moss clad
and lichen laden, lie this city’s ancestors.
Tombs, mausoleums, marble headstones,
monuments in granite obelisk, all stand –
or slump – in terminal decline. They tilt
and lean, bereft of those who grieved them.
No solemn mourners now, they’ve been forgotten.

Slaters, snails and sparrows know this space,
they hear the London train arrive at Waverley below
and hop in time with jackhammers and drills,
some scaffolding erected, heritage protected,
a never-ending race for maintenance,
a game to keep the past from crumbling.

We cannot halt our own demise, God knows
we try, and thus consign our legacy
to that which lasts: the permanence of stone.

In place of kin, it’s down to me to read engravings,
re-invent these peoples’ lives,
embellish what the dedications say.

Watson was a goldsmith, to which I add,
a dandy with pomaded hair. Dougall,
a cabinet maker, his penchant was
choux buns. And Raeburn, a perfumer,
died sixteen years before the ghastly
Burke and Hare might filch him from his sepulchre.

The brothers Playfair, polymaths,
could turn their hand to anything,
but like the other famous men who rest here,
I’ll walk on by their tomb, commune with those
whose lives have leached,
their chronicles neglected.

Woods was an actor, prone to drink, to over-think.
Hamilton, a builder, in love with watercolours.
And Dickson, a wholesale stationer who fancied
crofting in the Borders, chickens in the yard.

I’m heartened lavender’s been planted for
George Lindsay, if not, his posy is but
nettles, bits of branches, feathers, broken
bottles, cans and glistening slug trails.

Lightly falls the rain from clouds that churn and
ripple – the beauty of Italian marbled sky.
Wet stone’s easier to read, and I pick out
Matilda Meryick’s name: 1798, 14 months.
This place is full of young souls plucked and
faded early from the earth.

Leaning on a railing,
I wait for him to slink in. Surely here
he’ll show. No.

I am serene and undisturbed,
save for the cry of roosting crows.

XVIII.	Princes Street

As city centres go, this one’s a movie star.
Outside the National Records Office
bagpipes and drum beat tunes together,
a tall man introduces passers-by to Jesus,
a red flag waver implores blue collars
to rise up, the Apple store yells, ‘this way
to the future,’ while the Balmoral turns
her face away.

She’s decorous, this great-aunt city,
and secret-keeping, amid Gothic towers,
tiered streets, darkened entries.

Willows spill leaves
onto Waverley Gardens. Flowers
wilt: stoic geraniums, yearning cosmos,
wistful roses dropping petals.
Only the begonias bedecking the
Ross Fountain show any heart for autumn.
Shoots of water toss artistic arcs to catch
the light in psychedelic works of art.

More earth bound is the Great War monument,
forever fallen into winter, arrayed
with robes of rosemary, copper domed
in acer, crowned with holly; evergreen
and ever gone.

Extract from Edinburgh, A Long Poem

by Eimear Bush (September–October 2020)

One thought on “Old Calton Burial Ground, Princes Street

  1. Well that description of an old cemetery is just wonderful! While in London with grandchildren at Easter half term we went to Brompton Cemetery and it was all of those things. And the peace was tangible, the reflections on lives departed as we ambled along the paths through the greenery. And mostly men were remembered on the headstones. Good and worthy women gone too, we know.

    Liked by 1 person

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