A poem for Bannockburn
Scottish history often appears to revel in defeat. We seem to cherish the disasters of Flodden and Culloden, ‘nursing our wrath to keep it warm’ as Burns has it. There is one victory, however, which has taken on legendary status greater than any defeat: the Battle of Bannockburn, fought on St. John’s Day, 1314, when the Scots forces under Robert the Bruce defeated the English army of Edward II, sending him ‘homeward tae think again’. Edward had been trying to enforce the English claim to overlordship of Scotland: Bruce and his men shook it off for good.
This has become part of the ‘creation myth’ of modern Scotland. The Wars of Independence of the end of the thirteenth century, which culminated in Bannockburn and the Declaration of Arbroath, were what shaped our self-image, our idea of ourselves as a nation. The fields where the Battle of Bannockburn was fought are regarded almost as a national sacred site.
So it should be of interest to many in the Scottish diaspora that there is a major new visitor centre being planned (yes, every historic site must have a visitor centre, or how would we know it was historic?) for the coming 700th anniversary of the battle. We are promised ‘sensitive landscaping’ which ‘will restore the dignity of the site’, and an ‘immersive, cutting edge 3D experience [which] allows visitors to experience medieval warfare like never before.’ Speaking as someone who was once a medieval historian, I can confidently state that I have no wish whatsoever to experience medieval warfare, although others seem quite excited about the prospect.
One aspect of the project which does greatly appeal to me, however, is the proposal to inscribe a poem around the central rotunda of the visitor centre. Ten eminent Scottish poets have each been asked to write a poem evoking ‘the significance of the Bannockburn landscape in ways which will touch and inspire 21st century visitors and enhance the contemplative mood of this place of commemoration.’ Only one will be chosen to be inscribed, and the choice will be influenced by public vote. Yes, you too can have a say in the future of Scotland’s past!
There are some wonderful works amongst the ten poems. If you are at all interested, I urge you to have a read of them and also to read (in a drop down section after each poem) what the poets have to say about their own contributions. For me, there is one outstanding poem, which leapt off the page and into my heart. Reading the poet’s explanation of the work only increased my preference for it, fine though all the poems be. I won’t tell you which, because I hope that you might read them yourself and vote. Do it now, though, because voting closes on St. Andrew’s Day, which is this Friday, 30th November. After that we might compare notes: I’d be interested to know which you prefer, and why.