He stands on the suckers under his tail,
stretches forward and puts down
his six legs. Then he brings up
the sucker under his tail, making
a beautiful loop.
That’s his way of walking. He makes
a row of upside-down U’s
along the rib of a leaf. He is as green
The ways of walking! – horse, camel, snail, me, crab, rabbit-
all inventing a way of journeying
till they become like the green caterpillar
that now stands on his tail
on the very tip of the leaf and sways, sways
like a tiny charmed snake,
groping in empty space for a foothold
where none is, where there is no
foothold at all.
By Norman MacCaig (1910-1996)
Norman MacCaig was born in Edinburgh. He lived there all his life, though lengthy annual visits to Assynt enriched his life and work. He studied Classics at the University of Edinburgh and then trained as a teacher. For years he taught in primary schools, then later he taught Creative Writing at the University of Edinburgh and then at University of Stirling.
I picked this poem because I have had many, many fascinating encounters with caterpillars this summer and they are like a ‘charmed snake ‘. And when I’m ‘groping in empty space for a foothold where none is’, I shall not panic or scream but ‘sway’ instead.
Norman was also a contemporary and acquaintance of Robert McLellan and I think they both loved and wrote beautifully about nature.I hope the McLellan Festival goes well.