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Poem of the Week: Winter by Alexander McCall Smith

  15 Dec '20   |  Posted by: Birlinn

We are now just a week away from the shortest day of the year, so it seems particularly appropriate to share the poem ‘Winter’ from Alexander McCall Smith’s newly published poetry collection, In A Time of Distance.


Winter

That there should be winter, that this hard light
Should fall over a December Scotland,
Should make the sea grey, like steel, and the land itself
A rock rising from metalled water;
That there should be empty skies,
Free of protecting cloud, too cold
Even for that; that there should be
A vapour trail of some great jet heading west
To the colder shores of Greenland, Labrador,
Northern neighbours to us, distant cousins
In our marginality and our pursuit of fish;
That all this should be in a land that in summer
Is so soft and wet with drifting veils of rain
And filled with deer and clouds of midges
And the rich fecundity of ploughed fields
That will yield gold barley and whisky
Beyond the barley –


Scotland is a country of attenuated light,
And temperate-to-inhospitable seasons;
Freshness and cold skies lie behind
All our signs, our way so being;
I sometimes wish, I confess, for a life spent
In the scent of wild thyme and olive trees,
For evenings when one might stroll
Slowly about a square and watch pigeons
Launch themselves into Italian air
From some tower dreamed up
By some High Renaissance imagination;
That, though, is not where we are from
Or where we are destined to be;
Our place is north, our natural gravity
That of a land that is an afterthought
To Europe, a land that comes late
To so many of the parties it’s been invited to,
But which we love with all our heart,
With all our heart.


Winter doesn’t make us better, then, or worse,
But enables us to find ourselves again,
Because it forces us to be quiet, obliges us
To listen to the coursing of our own blood;
Winter reminds us that warmth
Is not something we find naturally,
Some gift of munificent nature, but must be made;
That we should make in Scotland
A small place of warmth, a small country
Of kindness to others, of brotherhood,
Is what our poets have been striving to say
Since they first gave voice to song.
That we might find this, in winter,
In a troubled world, is a local miracle,
To warm the heart, to warm the heart.

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