NORMAN MacCaig packs this paean to an ordinary little bird with acute observation and charming imagery. The piece, dated December 1968, can be found in the magisterial posthumous volume of his work, The Poems of Norman MacCaig (Polygon, £25).


He’s no artist.

His taste in clothes is more

dowdy that gaudy.

And his nest – that blackbird, writing

pretty scrolls on the air with the gold nib of his beak,

would call it a slum.

To stalk solitary on lawns,

to sing solitary in midnight trees,

to glide solitary over gray Atlantics –

not for him: he’s rather

a punch-up in a gutter.

He carries what learning he has

lightly – it is, in fact, based only

on the usefulness whose result

is survival. A proletarian bird.

No scholar.

But when winter soft-shoes in

and these other birds –

ballet dancers, musicians, architects –

die in the snow

And freeze to branches,

watch him happily flying

on the O-levels and A-levels

of the air.