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George Mackay Brown

Epiphany Poem

The red king
Came to a great water. He said,
Here the journey ends.
No keel or skipper on this shore.

The yellow king
Halted under a hill. He said,
Turn the camels round.
Beyond, ice summits only.

The black king
Knocked on a city gate. He said,
All roads stop here.
These are gravestones, no inn.

The three kings
Met under a dry star.
There, at midnight,
The star began its singing.

The three kings
Suffered salt, snow, skulls.
They suffered the silence
Before the first word.

—“Epiphany Poem,” George Mackay Brown

George Mackay Brown (1921-1996) was one of the greatest Scottish poets of the 20th century. He was born into extreme poverty, lived his entire life, and died in the village of Stromness in the remote Orkney islands. Throughout his life Brown struggled with severe physical and mental health issues. In 1961, he converted to the Catholic Church. His work eventually enjoyed international acclaim. The American poet Robert Lowell traveled to Orkney to meet Brown. Seamus Heaney said Brown's works transformed life by "passing everything through the eye of the needle of Orkney."

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