Poem for Holy Week: Pilate at Fortingall by Edwin Morgan

  29 Mar '21   |  Posted by: Birlinn

Edwin Morgan wrote a Good Friday poem about a man he met on a Glasgow bus at 3pm that day. You can feel the spring sunshine through the grimy windows if you read it at the Scottish Poetry Library website. Last year, we published the Edwin Morgan Twenties to mark his centenary: twenty poems in five slim volumes introduced by Jackie Kay, Liz Lochhead, Ken McLeod, Michael Rosen, and Ali Smith. Our poem for Easter 2021 comes from Take Heart, a sonnet in which Morgan envisages Pontius Pilate returning to his birthplace, Fortingall in Highland Perthshire.

Yew tree: the Fortingall Yew in Perthshire is estimated to be 2,000-3,000 years old. (Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash)

Pilate at Fortingall

Edwin Morgan

A Latin harsh with Aramaicisms

poured from his lips incessantly; it made

no sense, for surely he was mad. The glade

of birches shamed his rags, in paroxysms

he stumbled, toga’d, furred, blear, brittle, grey.

They told us he sat here beneath the yew

even in downpours; ate dog-scraps. Crows flew

from prehistoric stone to stone all day.

‘See him now.’ He crawled to the cattle-trough

at dusk, jumbled the water till it sloshed

and spilled into the hoof-mush in blue strands,

slapped with useless despair each sodden cuff,

and washed his hands, and watched his hands, and washed

his hands, and watched his hands, and washed his hands.

Sonnets from Scotland (Mariscat Press, 1984)
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