Tuesday, 18 February 2020

Walking on the Water

I wrote Walking on the Water while studying Creative Writing in 2010 with the Open University. It received a distinction. I then produced the poems and photographs in a limited-edition hand-stitched pamphlet, and first performed the sequence at 10 Red in Leith.

The sequence has been performed on many occasions since, in a variety of styles and collaborations.

The poems and photographs were reproduced in the art magazine, After Nyne, edition 5, and the fourth picture was featured in HERE+NOW’s installation, Hold Me Dear, in Edinburgh. As an exhibition piece, the pictures and the pamphlet were featured in Kalopsia Collective’s Octavo Fika event in 2013, and as poetry and photographs, the work has been exhibited in many venues, including The Forest CafĂ©, St Margaret’s House, and Henry’s Cellar Bar.
Hold Me Dear exhibition, Rodney Street Tunnel, HERE+NOW

The final poem of the sequence, ‘The Paraclete,’ was awarded Special Merit in the competition, Inspired? Get Writing! run by the Scottish National Galleries, in 2013.

The Gormley statues that were in the Waters were removed until last May, when – to my astonishment – they were replaced; some in the wrong order and different places. My sequence, therefore, is testament to the original 6 Times installation, and is reproduced for the first time in full on this blog below.

A recording can be found here

to Canon Brian Hardy, in gratitude for his wise counsel over the years

Walking on

the Water

An installation of photography and poems

based on Antony Gormley’s 6 Times






6 Times is a landmark sculptural project by celebrated British artist, Antony Gormley.  The work consists of six life-sized figures positioned at six points across Edinburgh, from the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art to the sea, by way of the Water of Leith.”

(National Galleries of Scotland)

1.  Humility (Figure I - HORIZON)


                                                                 Psalm 69. Salvum me fac

SAVE me, O God :
for the waters are come in, even unto my soul.
 I stick fast in the deep mire, where no ground is :
                I am come into deep waters, so that the floods run over me.




The Tarmac softened

I sank deep into the ground

Head-and-shoulders proud




Leaves patted my head

Stroked my pate until it shone

With condescension




Under a white sheet

Sealed in a stone-cold pavement

Regal: rusted gold




Sap seeped up my back

A child looked me in the eye

My shadow shortened

2.  Candlemas (Figure II - GROUND)


Take me out of the mire, that I sink not;

O let me be delivered from them that hate me,
and out of the deep waters.


Candlemas; crocuses were poking through,

and daffodils adorned the window-boxes.

In church, the stained glass in the sanctuary

was painstakingly replaced, pane by pane:

a gap for the whistling springtime wind

made the altar candles wobble nervously.


An opening Hymn, Collect, Psalm and then

The Gospel where, according to Saint Luke,

at the temple they presented Him,

with a pair of turtle doves – or two young pigeons.

Right on cue, a pigeon flew the full length of the nave

And perched upon the rood cross, cooing piously.


I walked to the water and waded in by the weir.

The garlic tang of ramsons on my tongue,

and all around, a procession of snowdrops

flickered like gentle tapers in the breeze.

The water cooled my ankles, and in the trees

A wood-pigeon warbled ‘Nunc Dimittis.’


A Second provided an imperfect cadence:

‘Quia Viderunt’ – then both departed in peace.


NUNC  dimittis servum tuum, Domine,

secundum verbum tuum in pace:

Quia viderunt oculi mei salutare tuum


NOW,   Lord, lettest thou thy servant

depart in peace, according to thy word.

For mine eyes have seen thy salvation.

(Luke 2)

3.     Gethsemane (Figure III - SKY)


Let not the water-flood drown me,
neither let the deep swallow me up;

and let not the pit shut her mouth upon me.



This was not my finest hour.

I said to them, wait by the shore

while I keep an eye on the clock.

The seasons came and went

like friends remembered not.

I felt my limbs lock into place,

and tears fixed fast upon my face.

The waters froze around my feet,

a scourge of sleet sliced into my back;

snow lodged like mocking epaulettes;

icicles as sharp as stings obscured my view.

The clock chimed on, the cockerel crew,

I was denied, denuded, and alone.

Several times I fell, and hid below

the surface, harrowed by the undertow.

How long, I cried, how long will they disown

me?  My God – who will melt this bitter cup?

Will spring, or some other covenant, lift me up?

4.  Ecce Homo (Figure IV - RIGHT)


As for me, when I am poor and in heaviness,

thy help, O God, shall lift me up.


‘Is there a story,’ asked the infant,

nonchalantly pointing at my manhood.

There are, I figured, three dimensions:

my Shadow on the murky surface;

my Reflection in the water;

and above it all, my Self.


LOVE bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back

Guilty of dust, and sin.

But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack

From my first entrance in,

Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning

If I lacked anything.

                                    (George Herbert)

5.  Love Forbad (Figure V - LEFT)



I called her Dawn –

although her name was Maudlin.

Every day she greeted me; 

as the morning-star twinkled

she sprinkled the waters

with the ointment of her eyes.

The wind whipped through her skirts,

making havoc of her hair.


I fixed my stare to where she stood,

up on the walkway by the railings,

lone voyeur to her solitary stance. 

She ebbed towards the bridge,

climbed over, picked along the nettled bank.


In the corner of my eye I saw her

stripping silently, slip into the silken stream,

then behind my back, draw nearer to me.

I asked myself: what is this thing I lack? 


I could hear the plop of pebbles

as her tears dropped in the pool;

the first stone, then another,

until my feet were blessed with

the precious unction of her heart,

the perfume of her penitence.


Wrapping her pale arms around my chest,

I felt her thighs lash like willow-switches

up against my legs, she pressed her soft breasts

into my unyielding frame; her long hair flicked

and wiped away the moisture from my eyes.


Still blind, I asked myself again:

was this the thing for which the Seraphim

stood guard, hard against the garden gate?

She drew back, no longer full of dust and sin.

6.  The Paraclete (Figure VI - HORIZON)



The humble shall consider this, and be glad:

seek ye after God, and your soul shall live.


Criss-crossing across the battered planks

Of a rotten, tatty, abandoned jetty,

I stepped onto an empty plinth,

staring out towards the Firth of Forth.

By my side, a cormorant spread its span,

stood stock still like an Angel of the North,

drying its blackened wings in the setting sun

while seagulls jostled for position on my head.

Next day, the skies opened with a promise

from the East lifting the sun to its zenith.

I sensed a stranger bird soar silently above

my muted crown, and as the laughing gulls

mocked the heavens with their echoing mirth,

I heard my maker’s voice. And he was pleased.


Let heaven and earth praise him:

the sea, and all that moveth therein.



poetry and images, ©J. A. Sutherland, 2011