Poem for December

So Many Summers

by Norman MacCaig

Beside one loch, a hind’s neat skeleton,
Beside another, a boat pulled high and dry:
Two neat geometries drawn in the weather:
Two things already dead and still to die.

I passed them every summer, rod in hand,
Skirting the bright blue or the spitting gray,
And, every summer, saw how the bleached timbers
Gaped wider and the neat ribs fell away.

Time adds one malice to another one —
Now you’d look very close before you knew
If it’s the boat that ran, the hind went sailing.
So many summers, and I have lived them too.

It’s easy to like the apparently effortless poems of Norman McCaig (1910-96). A primary school teacher and conscientious objector who went to prison for his pacifist beliefs during the second world war, he divided his time between Edinburgh and Assynt. He is admired for the clarity and simplicity of his writing and had no time for the earnest complexities of poetry. Famously when asked how long it took to write a poem he said ‘as long as it takes to smoke a fag’. Poem and words contributed by David Underdown.

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