The Knock

Here at Knock by Ballater
Deep within the pine and fir
Lies a place that’s very still
Beneath that Castle on the hill.

There the wind still twists and moans
In among those broken stones
Where you’ll find the murdered ones
Those severed heads of Gordon’s sons.

On that day when Forbes’ daughter
With her love refused to falter
Each head was planted on its flaughter
Gory fruits all grown from slaughter.

So those seven sons strode back
Up the winding twisting track
Until they rose into his sight
Their Laird and Father at his height.

Then it was that Father fell
To escape his living hell
Where each hewn and grisly head
Would tell him all his sons were dead.

And in their eyes she lit the pyre
Wherein her love was burned with fire
Until her cries were turned to song
That tells the story of this wrong.

So here beneath the Castle’s eye
When a storm has passed us bye
All their silence gathers round
To tell their tale without a sound.

Still their eyes stare through the night
As if they see us without sight,
For in their vision we are held
Beneath the knock where they were felled.

Written by Thomas Albert Fox [1] February 2002, at Knocks Cottages, Birkhall, Aberdeenshire.  The song draws on the tradition of the feud between the Forbes and the Gordons which led to the killing of seven of Gordon’s sons while digging peat on disputed land by Knocks Castle in the late sixteenth century.  Alexander Forbes, the Laird of Strathgirnock, had first slain another son, Francis Gordon, in a fit of anger when he learned he wanted to marry his beautiful only daughter who loved Francis with a Forbes’ determination.  After the killing, afraid of the blood feud that must follow, Forbes and his men slew the seven remaining Gordon brothers while they were at the peat.  The Laird of Knocks Castle, Alister Gordon, saw the heads of his sons carried up the Knock toward him spiked on their flauchter (peat spades).  As they came into his sight so he threw himself from the castle and died  then and there.  Forbes was eventually hunted down and hanged from a tree at his own Strathgirnock, a place where the agony of women burnt as witches still permeates the gaunt landscape and where his lovely daughter was taken and burned.

Fox has set this to a melancholy tune in the haunting character of, as it were, ‘Gaelic’  pipes of plaintive, nasal tone.  He uses a simple rhymed song form that sings well in this mood.  The tune runs simply through all the verses except to falter across the feminine rhymes of the third verse, here the tune is forced to slow itself and vary, enunciating the horror with great deliberation.  Imagery is precise, like the hellish ‘heads as fruit’ grotesquely appearing on their flaughter fatally linked to the loins of their father. The ghost story effect is pressed home (to the cottage) by the gathering silence and the thought of we, the present incumbents, being ‘in’ their eyes.  Fox positions ‘eyes’ throughout the poem according to a spatial philosophy of his which cannot be explained in a mere note.  More easily ‘explained’ is the use of the pun on “height”, and such like devices.

By the way, Fox has taken Warrack’s [2] form “flaughter”, rather than Sedgwick’s [3] “flauchter”.  Little peat has in fact been cut in the Deeside area for many years, since the forestation of the estates, so there is little present day local knowledge of the implement’s pronunciation.  Thus, Fox has felt free to take it to rhyme with “daughter”.  The felicity of relationship in the events involved and the words that express them (daughter, falter, flaughter, slaughter) with the fortuity of the rhymes in them would surely only be resisted by the most obtuse of post-modernists.

[1] Fox, Thomas Albert The Library, see

[2] Warrack, Alexander “The Scots Dialect Dictionary”, Waverley Books 2000.

[3] Sedgwick, Sheila “The Legion of the Lost: The Story of Glen Muick Royal Deeside”, p57, ISBN 0 906265 26 6, St Andrew’s Day 1999.