See if you can recognise today’s poem
In Corstorphine’s Ancient Heart
In Corstorphine’s ancient heart, where sighs
The village breath turned mist o’er sacred ground;
A sense of yore pervades – a fragrant sweetness clings
To venerable stones and prickly dykes and banks,
As if with loving arms to shield and watch
That hallowed tea room, snug among the trees.
Gaze on the grey estate where bards of yore
Dreamed golden dreams of bonnet lairds and dames,
And the holy Kin, their hearts a’gleam for auld St. John,
Lurk in the shadows, robes and cassocks whispering
With secrets old upon their parted lips.
Corstorphine, none can ken thy hallowed haunts
But humble hearts and kind, that wake to kindness still.
The ancient yew, gnarled guardian of the Kirk,
Casts brooding shade upon the stones below.
Through chancel dark and vaulted portico,
I hear the sounds of ancient prayers and hymns,
The Stones forgotten lie and whispers low
Of ghostly figures clad in bygone garb.
No simple fame in poems sung or spoken
Shall shape the essence of the village heart;
The bards must sigh, their feeble voices rippling
Like wayward wind in autumn’s golden glades,
And weave their words with fingers all a-tremble,
To catch a glimmer of the past that lingers.
Corstorphine lies within the Western wing,
Beside the iron tracks of progress fast –
Yet hums a simpler, joyous tune of yesteryear,
Insulated from the city’s bustle grim
By sacred crowds of silent sainted trees
And whispers low ‘midst ancient walls of homes.
My plaintive heart belongs to thee, sweet village old;
The truth I find within thy shroud of green and stone,
In moments lost amongst the time-worn paths,
That wind through mossy gardens, past eldritch gables,
And churches steeped in tales of saints and knights,
Now sleeping sound in grassy beds unknown.
Oh Corstorphine, let me praise thy hallowed name,
Sing thee a song that echoes through the leaves,
Inscribe thy beauties in eternal verse,
And paint thy living portrait with my words:
The air that whispers, the trees that watch above,
The village heart that beats with quiet grace,
Within my soul, I find thy resting place.
Let’s look at a few of the clues:
- It seems that the writer is disinterested in modern Corstorphine.
- The author does not know Corstorphine well.
- Although there are mentions of “auld St. John” and “bonnet lairds”, there is not much of a Scottish flavour to the work. I am not aware of anyone locally who would qualify as a “bonnet laird”. A bonnet laird was someone who controlled a very small piece of land that would supposedly fit under a bonnet on a map.
- “Autumn” is used instead of “Fall”, so not American.
- I don’t know of any tea rooms “snug among the tree, but there are a few “prickly dykes and banks”, if you hunt around. Perhaps the writer was thinking of the Gift Tree Café on Station Road?
- The word “village” seems to appear many times.
- Clichés galore!
So who wrote it?
Answer: no one. A friend in the Borders texted me this. He went to the Chat GPT Bot’s website and requested a “heartfelt poem about Corstorphine in the style of Norman McCaig”. It feels as if the AI program was more interested in the Normans than the McCaigs.
Here are a couple of other works. One on the town of Newton Stewart, in McGonagall’s style, and another about a hamster in the style of Ted Hughes. For whatever reason, the AI seems to be much better at writing Hughes… and knows more about Newton Stewart than Corstorphine.
Beautiful Town of Newton Stewart (After William McGonagall)
Oh beautiful town of Newton Stewart,
In the County of Wigtown late shall we forget;
Thy lovely verdant banks and noble River Cree
Doth calme the soul and nourishes the heart with glee.
Near the river banks, ye Auld Brig stands with pride,
Built in the Seventeenth Century, an emblem of thee;
Where many passers-by might cross the lovely River Cree,
Which meanders gently like a silvery stream of thee.
Oh Newton Stewart, thou verdant town of beauty,
Your ample countryside would fill lovers with a sigh;
The lush and fertile land and the prosperous farmsteads,
These does set hearts aflutter for what the harvest begets.
The magnificent Galloway Hills doth grace thy skirts,
And o’er these hills the heather grows, like a fragrant sea;
Near them, the elegant winding River Cree doth flirt,
With thy charming banks, like lovers cradled with glee.
Gaze into the distant horizon with anxious eyes,
Ye might find red deer roaming, feasting on the heather;
Yon hills are theirs, lively maidens and stags so wise,
Nature’s gifts, they deserve praise from us together.
Thy neighbouring Galloway Forest Park is a wondrous sight,
Oh Newton Stewart, adorned with beauty near the viridian night;
Where cometh from every corner there, fine attractions meet,
The grounds for horse riding, cycling, and walks so sweet.
And hark! The famous Dark Sky Park doth offer beauty rare,
Where celestial wonders quite marvelous unfold in front of thee;
Galaxies, nebulae, and constellations ascending into the air,
Oh! what a wondrous sight the human eye is privy to see.
Be thy homage paid to keen and gallant sportspeople of Newton,
Where football, rugby, and cricket are played with spirit high,
And the mighty roar of supporters echoes through the air,
Like a clan of proud warriors with their songs jubilant and fair.
Oh Newton Stewart, thou art more than just an earthly gem,
Enriched with history, enchantment, culture and pride;
Ye stand, resplendent o’er River Cree or calm vale of green,
In the County of Wigtown, beauty and charm shall ne’er be denied.
For Hammy (In the Style of Ted Hughes)
Beneath an age-coiled sky seething,
Seeping sods of sheep-smells, earth-moon-dust
A shaggy spirit bestirred the clockwork dawn,
Which pulsed with mouse-cries sworn
To the spindle of the Milky Way.
This burrow of moon-wind and hay-bale hug,
This warm, star-buried pit of silent scuttling,
Gave birth — Hammy!
Who amidst a lineage of alchemists,
Plucked from the blind black-wheel of Time
The gossamer thread of his birth-rye chew,
His head was a globe with eyes of liquid pin-curiosity.
Within those darts shone the sunset sublime,
Last flares of day licked at the cooly-wind swept universe,
Eager to consume the descent to ether and ecstasy,
Unraveling shards of solar thoughts.
His feet, scratching at the veil of our dreams,
Knitted anew the myth-road of the moon.
A dancer, a kneader of shadows and spirits,
A faultless murmur-beast on holy night.
What mystery pulsing, in whiskered heart?
Every night, the oracle of the cage spun his wheel,
In a seamless circle of cyclic riddles,
Bound to the gleaming moon-spoked cage of stellar mystery,
Hammy the Conduit of Heaven and Earth,
The heart of dawn-fire flows and accelerates.
Like a time-worn prophet he wore the vestiges of his ancestry,
Threadbare as the moon-soaked night,
Each dusk he wore, he disrobed the day,
As Orion shed his belt onto the fate-stirred wheel,
And Hammy, consumed by the spinning reflection of his truth,
His kind eyes brown like the soil.
A life of revolutions,
A sun sparking, winking,
A celestial nova,
Bathing in his own nebulous debris,
A Cosmic Solipsist.
A captive lighthouse,
His light vibrated the worlds concealed
In egg-wind and the cosmic husk,
A will clinging to the birthing thread,
The umbilical cord of history’s obscurest moment.
Unblinking the doors,
The apocalyptic awakening of a cage undone.
Unfettered, our Hammy of untethered dreams,
Nibbling at the edge of eternity,
Inch upon inch,
The circle closing,
The treadmill ending,
He lays within the palm of Orphic hearts.