Geoffrey Groom

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Notes to poem

POETRY > Andante Cantabile

Background and notes to Orkney Andante Cantabile

In June 1998 my wife and I travelled to Kirkwall in the Orkney Isle. Every year (for 25 years now/2001) the St.Magnus Music Festival takes place. Orkney is a major tourist place with masses of cruise liners calling there and is a major musical place to visit at the time of the St. Magnus Festival, especially for lovers of classical music. It's a wonderful festival in a wonderfully friendly place.
My wife and I travelled at the invitation of the Norwegian Foreign Office who had commissioned a series of exhibitions of my wife's tapestry art. These toured Northern Scotland and some of the outer Isles. Thus we travelled to Kirkwall.

We had an appalling journey due to a strike at Oslo airport - so what should have taken maybe 4 or 5 hours ended up taking over 30 hours. Our journey, however, was made so much more pleasant by the opportunity to meet so many kind and helpful people. I do NOT exagerate! Especially our bed and breakfast accomodations in Dyce, Aberdeen. Now there's a story :):)

Orkney Andante Cantabile was written whilst at Kirkwall as the guests of two most wonderful people who accomodated us in our own small house and looked to our every need with astounding kindness and graciousness.
The poem is meant to be 'enigmatic and mystical', with innumerable cross references to events and places.

The structure

The poem was composed and written at our accomodations,'Little Alton', in the early morning hours of 22nd June 1998 in under 3 hours. It was on the occasion of the 22nd St. Magnus Festival. It is a deliberately ' formal structured' poem mirroring the formality of written music, i.e. confined within a specified structure.

The first letter of each stanza form the name of Peter Tchaikovsky whose Andante Cantabile was played at Hoy and in Kirkwall by the BT Scottish Ensemble, with such pure delight to this listener.

There are 16 verses to mark the date of the writer's arrival at Kirkwall.

Each stanza has 7 lines, a reference to the reputed importance of 7 as a number in relation to the Ring of Brodgar.

Rhyming lines in each stanza are alternated to mirror the manner in which our host planned the seating positions of the four guests entertained during this wonderful weekend to which the poem more specifically relates.

The last three words in each stanza, excepting the last stanza, begin with the letters BMS - and are the initials of our host and hostess.

Most of the tapestries hanging in the St. Magnus Cathedral for this 22nd Festival are referenced within the poem and an almost pure chronological order of the music heard, relative to the period for the setting of the poem, is contained within it.

The 'background watermark image' is a composite picture
containing images of Peter I Tchaikovsky, Clio Gould the leader of the BT Scottish Ensemble and the Ensemble itself.

Some of the 'enigmatic references' within the poem:

verse 2. "Wings discarded, fast feline flying in forty seven"
We were collected at the airport by our host in his Jaguar car that had the number 47 within it's registration.

verse 3. "tensioned tight stout supervised"
The man with overall responsibility for the actual hanging of the tapestries in St. Magnus Cathedral was Alan Stout.
Not an easy task for him and his colleagues, protecting the ancient stone of the Cathedral and hanging these
very large, heavy tapestries is a challenge

verse 4 "Then followed we the moonstone with it's baffling bainish glow"
An incredible violinist with the surname of Bain played a wonderful piece called 'Following the Moonstone'.

verse 5. This verse is full of enigmas! My wife bought a new pair of trainers with white wings on the side; Four seven, the Jaguar car again, and Corsa (another car) drove down to Stromness for us to take the ferry to the Island of Hoy (the Old Man of Hoy is a mountain on that Island); Stromness was the home of a famous Orkney poet, George Mackay Brown, and is now the 'home' of many Scuba Diving organisations who especially like to look around the old wartime wrecks (First and Second World Wars). Our host was(is) the Norwegian Consul to Orkney and the others in our party included the Consul General and His gracious wife from Edinburgh.
At Hoy we went to a Kirk (church) for a recital of music by four members of the BT Ensemble. It was a most delightful day :)

So, you can have a glimpse at how the poem is formulated. If you find any 'mysteries', just email me and I'll clarify them.


The writer holds, as one of the most precious and beautiful memories of his life, this Orcadian (Orkney) experience. There are no words adequate to express the depth of gratitude for the innumerable kindnesses received during this time. The words of this poem are but a misted memorial to this experience, a humble celebration of the beauty within the souls of people and it's willingness to radiate it's beauty. This is especially poignant as, totally unbeknowns to us or at the time of writing of the poem, our hostess was suffering from a fatal illness. She died in September 2000. One would never have known it. She was a wonderful person and I am so glad that life gave me the opportunity to meet with her and her family.


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