Popular Scottish poet Norman MacCaig was born in Edinburgh in 1910 and divided his time between the city and the Scottish highlands. He spent much of his life as a primary-school teacher and became a reader in poetry in 1970, at the University of Stirling. He published his first poetry collection, Far Cry, in 1943, followed by The Inward Eye in 1946 and Riding Lights in 1955. He was awarded the Queens Gold Medal For Poetry in 1985. MacCaig’s work was notably humorous and although he never lost this, much of his very late work, following the death of his wife in 1990, is more sombre in tone. For anyone who has lost someone here is:
By Norman MacCaig
Everywhere she dies. Everywhere I go she dies.
No sunrise, no city square, no lurking beautiful mountain
but has her death in it.
The silence of her dying sounds through
the carousel of language, it’s a web
on which laughter stitches itself. How can my hand
clasp another’s when between them
is that thick death, that intolerable distance?
She grieves for my grief. Dying, she tells me
that bird dives from the sun, that fish
leaps into it. No crocus is carved more gently
than the way her dying
shapes my mind. But I hear, too,
the other words, black words that make the sound
of soundlessness, that name the nowhere
she is continuously going into.
Ever since she died
she can’t stop dying. She makes me
her elegy. I am a walking masterpiece,
a true fiction
of the ugliness of death.
I am her sad music.