Aspects of Catholic Spirituality in the Poetry of George Mackay Brown
Abstract: As a poet, George Mackay Brown is best known for his evocations of the landscape and history of the Orkneys. However, Brown is primarily a religious poet, and his lyrics, often taking the form of litany and prayer, are suffused with Catholic spirituality. Prominent among his poems are also retellings of the key New Testament events: the Nativity, Epiphany, and the mysteries of the Easter week, to which the poet brings his gifts of storyteller and observer of everyday lives of hardworking, ordinary people. Christ’s Passion and Resurrection are not only re-imagined through the eyes of witnesses, but also reflected in the cycles of the agricultural year of the Orkney farmers. Their ploughing, sowing and reaping both provide images for Christ’s sacrifice and become a re-enactment of it in the yearly “crucifixion of corn”. In this way, the poet inscribes the Christian rituals in the archaic/mythical cycles of the natural world and, at the same time, endows the everyday life of Orkney ploughmen with a sacramental dimension. The religious, agricultural-mythical and historical strands of Brown’s writing also come together in his poems about St Magnus, a medieval Earl of Orkney, whose martyrdom at Eastertide the poet re-imagines and celebrates in a number of his lyrics.
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