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George Mackay Brown (1921-1996)

George Mackay Brown

His father a tailor and postman of Stromness, his mother a Gaelic speaker from Sutherland, George Mackay Brown became one of the leading Scottish poets and authors of the 20th Century.

He began his writing career as a columnist and reporter for The Orkney Herald. At Newbattle Abbey Adult Education College near Edinburgh, he studied under the Orkney-born poet and writer Edwin Muir; then afterwards graduated Master of Arts at Edinburgh University.

George spent the rest of his life in his native Stromness, and gained an international reputation as a poet and author; Orkney's Norse history and sagas and his conversion to Roman Catholicism were abiding influences on his work.

During the last decades of his life he collaborated with the composer Sir Peter Maxwell Davies on many works, including libretto for the music-drama The Martyrdom of Magnus.

His many volumes of poetry include The Storm, Loaves and Fishes, The Year of the Whale, Fishermen with Ploughs; his short stories A Calendar of Love and A Time to Keep; his novels Magnus and Beyond the Ocean of Time (nominated for the Booker Prize).

Across the street from Stromness Museum a blue plaque indicates his last home, at Mayburn Court. George was a familiar figure walking 'north' to the shops, or greeting passers-by as he sunned himself on the sea wall in front of the museum.

Many enjoyed his weekly column Under Brinkie's Brae in The Orcadian.

On his death in 1996 he was buried beside his parents at Warebeth.

Nalini Paul

The Poet by George Mackay Brown

Therefore he no more troubled the pool of silence.
But put on mask and cloak,
Strung a guitar
And moved among the folk.
Dancing they cried,
`Ah, how our sober islands
Are gay again, since this blind lyrical tramp
Invaded the Fair!’

Under the last dead lamp
When all the dancers and masks had gone inside
His cold stare
Returned to its true task, interrogation of silence.

George Mackay Brown: Selected Poems 1954-1983