Poem – A New Child

“A New Child” is a poem I’ve been looking at by George Mackay Brown – and it reminded me of something that feels so vital about the choice to embark on psychotherapy. It reflects on beginnings and a state of preparedness, on thoughtful planning and patience:

Wait awhile, small voyager
On the shore, with seapinks and shells
The boat
Will take a few summers to build
That you must make your voyage in

You will learn the names.
That golden light is “sun” – “moon”
The silver light
That grows and dwindles.
And the beautiful small splinters
That wet the stones, “rain”

There is a voyage to make,
A chart to read,
But not yet, not yet.
“Daisies” spill from your fingers.
The night daisies are “stars”
There are “cats” on the pier.
There are “gulls”; “fish”

The keel is laid, the strakes
Will be set, in time.
A tree is growing
That will be a tall mast

All about you, meantime
The music of humanity,
The dance of creation
All scored on the chart of the voyage

Listen long to stories and songs of other islands, ports, people
Till your ship is ready
The voyages of Emma to Tir-Nan-Og
You will not miss that landfall

May St Magnus be on the shore with you
At the time of crabs and sillocks,
At the time of mid-sea waves,
The horizon music,
And at the helm, a shining friend, with you

And may The Star of The Sea shine on your voyage.

George Mackay Brown, who died in 1996, spent almost his entire life on the Orkney Islands. He took his inspiration from his native islands, in poems, stories and novels which ranged through time. Seamus Heaney said that he passed everything “through the eye of the needle of Orkney”. He often battled with depression and mental distress, and had a sometimes difficult relationship with alcohol.

This beautiful poem evokes for me the tender hand of the parent, gently guiding the infant towards first steps. It was written on the birth of his friend Joanna Ramsay’s daughter Emma. George Mackay Brown had no children of his own.

The poem reminds me – it’s so subjective, one’s response – of beginnings in psychotherapy as well – of decisions around starting out. I sometimes say to people who are considering therapy “take your time, look around, sit with a couple of therapists until you find the right fit for you”. The poem cautions against impatience – “wait a while”. It’s one of the most important aspects of the work, how comfortable you feel about this alliance that you make with one other human being. It’s common for those considering psychotherapy to yearn again to feel able to trust their own instincts, their own appetites. Especially after a period of distress or destabilisation, it can be a relief to trust that instinct again and find a warm, empathic presence where one may come over time to feel safe, respected, unjudged. It’s a great start to feel you have found the right therapist “for you”.