Everything about this poem by Norman MacCaig seems to exist in a summer trance, where sounds become colours and smells become sounds, until the two stags make their stage appearance – and suddenly the dateline is December!

The old alder tree of the little January poem is presumably the old poet himself with his nestfuls of songs. Both pieces come from the wonderful volume of MacCaig’s Poems, edited by his son Ewen, and with introduction by Alan Taylor (Polygon, £25).


The summer air is thick, is wads

that muffle the hill burn’s voice

and stifle colours

to their cloudier selves - and

bright enough: the little loch

is the one clear pane

in a stained-glass window.


The scent of thyme and bog myrtle

is so thick

one listens for it, as though it might be

a drowsy honey-hum In the heavy air.


Even the ravens

have sunk into the sandstone cliffs

of Suilven, that are dazed blue

and fuzz into the air around them -

as my mind does, till I hear

a thin far clatter and

look down to where two stags

canter across the ford, splashing up before them antlers of water.

                                                                    December 1964


The alder tree

shrivelled by the salt wind

has lived so long

it has carried and sheltered

its own weight

of nests.

                    January 1965