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This article is taken from PN Review 168, Volume 32 Number 4, March - April 2006.

Visits in Autumn Peter Davidson

There is a fortnight of amnesty at the end of summer, before the frosts take hold in the high glens, before the storm warnings for the Pentland Firth come through on the radio. It is the moment in the year when Scotland looks like the watercolours of the mid-nineteenth century, with the first umber just touching the leaves above the stubble-fields. Wind rises in the dark, despoiling the gardens and sending needle-scratches of silver across the lake. Rain at dawn, and I lie drowsing, composing letters to the dead.

Between sleep and waking, in the territories where nothing is irrecoverable, I have written three letters on our thin laid paper with its crimson impresa of the burdened palm tree. The letter to my father is the simplest: after our habitual joke about the committee for un-Scottish activities, it is mostly about Andrew Flintoff. The letter to the scholar Elsie Duncan-Jones, perfect expert on Andrew Marvell, is about the re-discovery of S. Robert Southwell's Latin poem on the Assumption of the Virgin - with its infernal parliament and its embassy to the upper world, Miltonic beyond coincidence. And I have written to Hew Lorimer about the bold design of the newish tombstone of Hay of Hayfield in the old graveyard at Turriff, wondering if the stone is deeply enough cut to outlast many winters.

Hew knew all that was worth knowing about Scottish stone and Scottish weather: his sculptures and inscriptions are all ...


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