The Stirling-based Scottish poet Dr James Aitchison, born in 1938, has died, leaving an admirable quantity and quality of poetry and literary scholarship.

He was a regular contributor to The Herald’s daily poem feature and its successor the Saturday poem, his last offering for the latter being a charming recollection of the Queen of Tonga winning hearts at the coronation of the late Queen Elizabeth.

Today’s two poems from his last collection, Edges (Mica Press, £6.50) show his indomitable spirit in old age.  Gardening was a life-long passion for him.    



‘Aitchison, James: Frail, elderly, with post-stroke debility’



I used to say, and I behaved as if,

the purpose of a garden was gardening;

it was my seven-gardens’-long belief,

deeper here than in my previous six.


Now at a stroke, I’m learning to sit still

or hobble along with zimmer or walking sticks:

padded, gloved and capped against the chill

of my debility in a northern spring

I watched my small world colour-quickening

with snowdrops, crocuses, dwarf daffodils

and sparkling plum blossom, vulnerably white.


The seasons, not my horticultural skills

have the wholly earthly power to thrill me

in my eightieth as in years before.

I have reached the age – how did I reach four-score?





Six gooseberry bushes grown from a single plant

opened their little white five-petal flowers

in April along a south-facing sandstone wall.


I don’t look for a crop in a plant’s first year

but in August the branches bent with fruit.

As berries ripened, thorns grew needle-sharp.


I won’t give ground to thornless gooseberries.

I need to feel the prick of harvesting:

Hard barbs and soft fruit and at my fingertips.