Two of Norman MacCaig’s quirky, charming nature portraits from his magisterial volume of Collected Poems, edited by his son Ewen (Polygon).


Stop looking like a purse. How could a purse

squeeze under the rickety door and sit,

full of satisfaction, in a man’s house?

You clamber towards me on your four corners —

right hand, left foot, left hand, right foot.

I love you for being a toad,

for crawling like a Japanese wrestler,

and for not being frightened.

I put you in my purse hand, not shutting it,

and set you down outside directly under

every star.

A jewel in your head? Toad,

you’ve put one in mine,

a tiny radiance in a dark place.


It stands in water, wrapper in heron. It makes

An absolute exclusion of everything else

By disappearing in itself, yet is the presence

Of hidden pools and secret, reedy lakes.

It twirls small ?sh from the bright water ?akes.

(Glog goes the small ?sh down.) With lifted head

And no shoulders at all, it periscopes round —

Steps, like an aunty, forward — gives itself shoulders

And vanishes, a shilling in a pound,

Making no sight as other things make no sound.

Until, releasing its own spring, it ?lls

The air with heron, ?nds its height and goes,

A spear between two clouds. A cliff receives it

And it is gargoyle. All around it hills

Stand in the sea; wind from a brown sail spills.