Climbing Suilven


I nod and nod to my own shadow and thrust
A mountain down and down
Between my feet a loch shines in the brown,
Its silver paper crinkled and edged with rust.
My lungs say No;
But down and down this treadmill hill must go. 

Parishes dwindle.  But my parish is
This stone, that tuft, this stone
And the cramped quarters of my flesh and bone.
I claw that tall horizon down to this;
And suddenly
My shadow jumps huge miles away from me.


Norman MacCaig    


Alan D'Arcy wrote from London to say, "l don't really have a favourite poem; there are a lot I enjoy, but for different reasons (and moods). Here's one of Norman MacCaig's who, as you'll know, wrote a lot of good 'uns.  This one is 'Climbing Suilven' and comes from his Riding Lights". [Hogarth Press, 1965]. 

How right you are, Alan, Norman MacCaig did write fine poetry, and he read them very well to an audience.  I once attended a reading he shared with the blind poet John Heath-Stubbs in Grimsby, Lincolnshire and was moved by his infectious enthusiasm for his subject.  More recently, during a televised interview, I was even more deeply disturbed by the poem he'd written shortly after the death of his wife, the opening lines of which I remember, though perhaps not quite correctly as,"She dies.  Everywhere I go, she dies.  No sunset, no city scene, no lurking beautiful mountain but has her death in it."   This occurred not long after my own wife had died, so of course I was vulnerable, but isn't it at exactly times like these that poetry is at its most potent: the poet's exploration of his own feelings matches precisely those of the reader/listener.  Not only Suilven but all Highland mountains were MacCaig's 'other love'.  Come to think of it, there were a number of interests he was passionate about, as diverse as his solitary fly-fishing on the remote lochs, and his companionable social drinking lifestyle.  He was at once sensitive and courageous  - you'd have to be brave to register as a conscientious objector during WW2 - and his sensitivity to the natural world is well evidenced in the poem Alan requested.

Poem posted Saturday 17th September.