This is part of his work that made me read lots of his poetry. I love the poetry of the mountains and wild places and coming from Ayr the land of Robbie Burns it makes me sorry I took years to appreciate it. I was so proud that a few years ago the Mountain Bothies Association printed my poem in their book.
“Hear my words carefully.
Some are spoken
not by me, but
by a man in my position.’“
Norman MacCaig was born as Norman Alexander McCaig in Edinburgh on 14 November 1910. He was educated at the Royal High School, Edinburgh, and the University of Edinburgh (MA with Honours in Classics, 1932). In 1940 he married Isabel Munro and they had two children. He won the Cholmondeley Medal in 1975 and in 1985 he was awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry. He was made an OBE in 1979.
Yet this is the poem I love:
A Man in Assynt
Glaciers, grinding West, gouged out
these valleys, rasping the brown sandstone,
and left, on the hard rock below — the
ruffled foreland —
this frieze of mountains, filed
on the blue air — Stac Polly,
Cul Beag, Cul Mor, Suilven,
Canisp — a frieze and
Who owns this landscape?
has owning anything to do with love?
For it and I have a love-affair, so nearly human
we even have quarrels. —
When I intrude too confidently
it rebuffs me with a wind like a hand
or puts in my way
a quaking bog or a loch
where no loch should be. Or I turn stonily
away, refusing to notice
the rouged rocks, the mascara
under a dripping ledge, even
the tossed, the stony limbs waiting
. I can’t pretend
it gets sick for me in my absence,
though I get
sick for it. Yet I love it
with special gratitude, since
it sends me no letters, is never
jealous and, expecting nothing
from me, gets nothing but
cigarette packets and footprints.
Who owns this landscape? —
The millionaire who bought it or
the poacher staggering downhill in the early morning
with a deer on his back?
Who possesses this landscape? —
The man who bought it or
I who am possessed by it?
What words and how they sum up these specail hills. I love them so much. If you get a chance there are some recordings of Norman MacCaig that with his special voice it brings the poem to life.
The journey to Shenevall
Cars fly by as you cross the road, to another world,
Then silence, the traitor’s gate.
The track winds’ through the trees,
The river breaks the silence.
The glaciated slabs hide the cliffs, then:
Views of An Teallach open at every turn.
Midges and clegs abound here but not today,
too cold, its winter.
Cross the river, is that bridge in the wrong place?
Muddy and wet, back on track,
Steep hill, upwards towards the top,
the wee cairn, stop, no rush, drink it all in.
An Teallach, snow plastered, familiar, foreboding.
Open moor, contour round and round, special views,
Every corrie on that great hill has a particular thought. Memories
Fisherfield, these great hills, the light changing, to the West.
Youthful memories of companions, some now gone.
Epic days, trying to impress?
Pushing it and nearly, losing it?
Descent to Shenevall, steep, slippy and wet,
Eroded now by so many feet.
Collect some wood. The bothy, the deer,
they are still there; Shenevall.
It never changes, only the seasons.
Fire on, primeval.
Tea in hand,
Alone with my thoughts.
The Deer rattle the door, time for sleep.
Thanks to the MBA! Heavy Whalley for Yvette Feb 2013
I was given a wonderful book by friends many years ago Poems of the Scottish Hills and I read it often. I think that made a huge influence on me.
What’s your favourite Poem ?
Comments as always welcome.