Wednesday, July 04, 2007

A crofter in the landscape of time

Norman MacCaig died in January 1996. The first two poems here were written in January 1992, when the poet was in his 80s. They may be the last two poems he wrote, the conclusion of a life's work of over 3,000 pieces.


The river slides by, looking harmless.
Ask the rock, that gets smaller and smaller
from its stroking.

Birch trees swarm up the opposite bank
in groups that die, so slowly,
from the centre outwards.
The stalker's path up there
is being taken back into the hill.
Quagmires have swallowed what were stones.

These three things are happening to me also.
Yet I happily observe them from the peace
they bring to me, even in their dying.

I'm a crofter in the landscape of time
repairing a tumbling wall
with each dead stone balanced on another.

Norman MaCaig
January 1992

By the Three Lochans

I sit, trying to look like a heather bush -
hoping to see
a mewing buzzard or a vole or a dragonfly.
How quickly the days slide away
into where they came from.

It's hard to change anything.
I look into my hand to see
if there's an idea there
giving birth to a strenuous baby.
Only a life-line that's not long enough.

An obstinate old rowan tree
stands on a tiny island.
So many storms, yet there it is
with only a few berries, each determined
to be the last one to drop into the water.

And the light floods down
revealing mountains and flowers
and so many shadows. If only
a merlin would hurtle past, that atom
of speed, that molecule of life.

Norman MacCaig
January 1992

The elegaic quality of these pieces is humbling. I have the sadness of the end of it all in my head.

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