Vagaland, perhaps the greatest Shetland poet of the 20th century, was born Thomas Alexander Robertson on the 6th of March, 1909, at Westerwick at the southern tip of the parish of Sandsting, his mother’s home. He was the second son of Thomas Robertson of Skeld and his wife Andrina Johnston. Tragically his merchant seaman father drowned before his first birthday, and his mother moved with her two sons to Stove in Waas (Walls).
Here the poet grew up, in no little hardship, though his deep love for the land and the people overcame that - it was to be the old Norse name for the area that he adopted as his nom-de-plume. A shy boy who adjusted with difficulty to the rough and tumble of school, he was nonetheless able both at physical and intellectual pursuits, and in time he excelled. He took his MA at Edinburgh University and was offered the possibility of postgraduate work at Oxford, which he turned down for financial reasons, instead becoming a teacher at the Lerwick Central School and carer to his ailing mother.
In 1953, he married Martha (‘Pat’), daughter of the Reverend Robert Andrew, Church of Scotland minister in Walls for over forty years, a girl he had known in childhood. She became a colleague and collaborator on many fronts, and together they edited 'Da Sangs at A’ll sing ta Dee', a collection of dialect songs and music (1973). One of his own lyric poems, 'Da Sang o da Papa Men', written from the persective of the Papa Stour fishermen 'rowin Foula doon', has become a favourite Shetland song, to music composed by T.M.Y. Manson.
In 1945, Vagaland was instrumental in the founding of the Shetland Folk Society and he was an office-bearer from its inception until his death after a long illness, in Lerwick on the 30th of December 1973. He was one of the writers who helped to establish The New Shetlander in 1947, and he was a key supporter of the journal for twenty seven years till his death. Each issue included at least one poem by Vagaland. With John J. Graham, he co-wrote 'Grammar and Usage of the Shetland Dialect' (1952); co-edited the influential anthology of Shetland verse and prose, 'Nordern Lights' (1964), both crucially important publications, and co-edited a number of volumes of the The Shetland Folk Book.
“ … His constant passion for maintaining the continuity of local tradition … was no mere antiquarian indulgence. It was fired by a real conviction, founded on personal experience, that the past revealed true insights into the art of living; that out of the lives of ordinary folk, engaged in their daily tasks and sustained by the warmth of close communities, there emerged basic truths about the human situation. And his poems were evocations of that life and affirmations of those truths … " John J. Graham, The New Shetlander
“ … His poetry is simple and direct and often has the quality of the historical ballad … he had a natural gift for expressing himself in a lyrical poetry that also reveals his attitude to life and people …” Liv K. Schei, The Shetland Story, (London, 1988)
"A poet of the countryside, like Wordsworth or Clare ... ... the timeless Shetland before the twentieth century overwhelmed it ..." The Orcadian
Laeves fae Vagaland, Lerwick, 1952
Maer Laeves fae Vagaland, Lerwick,1965
Grammar and Usage of the Shetland Dialect with John J. Graham, Lerwick, 1952
The Collected Poems of Vagaland, edited by M. Robertson and introduced by Ernest Marwick, The Shetland Times, Lerwick 1975, 1980