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Hauf-hingit Maggie by Gerda Stevenson


This famous true story is beautifully told here by Gerda Stevenson, in relation to the Sheip’s Heid Inn in Duddingston. This is from the new Freight collection Umbrellas of Edinburgh, poems and stories connected with various places in Edinburgh. The book contains quite a few poems in Scots.  It is good to see Scots taking its place alongside English (and Gaelic) in a collection of this kind, for the general public, so many of whom,  as we know, admit to speaking Scots.

Gerda Stevenson needs little introduction. She is from the Borders. She is a trained actor and has also turned her hand to playwriitng and directing; she is an acclaimed singer-songwriter; and her poetry in Scots and English is becoming better and better known. Deservedly, as you can see from this piece.

Hauf-hingit Maggie

Deith is wappin when it comes – like birth,
I ken – I hae warstled throu, an focht wi baith.
She wis blue, ma bairn, blue as the breast o a brid
I seen oan the banks o the Tweed thon day; then grey,
aa wrang, the naelstring windit ticht aroon her neck;
I ettled tae lowse it, aince, twice, but it aye slippit – 
ma hauns couldnae grup, ma mind skailt 
frae the jizzen fecht, ma mooth steekit:
no tae scraich, no tae scraich, let nane hear…

I stottered oot, doon tae the watter, thocht tae douk her
in its cauld jaups, but ower late. I laid her quate
in lang reeds, achin tae hae a bit basket tae float her oot
like Moses, aa the wey tae England an the sea,
gie her a deep grave, ayont kennin; but they fund her,
still as a stane whaur she lay; an syne me,
wannert gyte agate Kelso toun. “Murther!”
they yaldered, “Murther!” like dugs.

Embro Tolbooth’s a dowie jyle.  An mercy? Nane they gied me
at ma trial—the verdict: hingin. The duimster slippit the towe
ower ma heid, drapt the flair – but I’d lowsed ma hauns,
I gruppit thon raip, aince, twice, thrice at ma thrapple – 
I’d dae it this time! The duimster dunted me wi his stick,
dunt, dunt, an the dirdum dinged in ma lugs,
“Clure the hure! Clure the huir!” Syne aa gaed daurk. 

A chink o licht. The smell o wuid, warm – a cuddie’s pech;
ma een appen. I lift ma nieve, chap, chap oan ma mort-kist lid,
chap, chap! A scraich ootbye, a craik o hinges. I heeze masel, slaw,
intil ma ain wake, at the Sheep Heid Inn. Fowk heuch an flee:
“A ghaist, a bogle, risin fae the deid!” I sclim oot, caum.
The braw Brewster gies me a wink, hauns me a dram.
I sup lang the gowd maut, syne dauner back tae life, an hame.

​by Gerda Stevenson