A Man In Assynt (extract)

A Man In Assynt (extract)
Glaciers, grinding West, gouged out 
these valleys, rasping the brown sandstone,
and left, on the hard rock below – 
the ruffled foreland –
this frieze of mountains, filed 
on the blue air – 
Stac Polly, 
Cul Beag, Cul Mor, Suilven, 
Canisp –
a frieze and 
a litany.

Who owns this landscape?
Has owning anything to do with love?
For it and I have a love-affair, so nearly human
we even have quarrels. – 
When I intrude too confidently
it rebuffs me with a wind like a hand
or puts in my way
a quaking bog or loch
where no loch should be. Or I turn stonily
away, refusing to notice 
the rouged rocks, the mascara
under a dripping ledge, even 
the tossed, the stony limbs waiting.

I can't pretend 
it gets sick for me in my absence,
though I get 
sick for it. Yet I love it 
with special gratitude,since 
it sends me no letters, is never 
jealous and, expecting nothing 
from me, gets nothing but 
cigarette packets and footprints.

Who owns this landscape? –
The millionaire who bought it or
the poacher staggering downhill in the early morning
with a deer on his back?

Who possesses this landscape? –
The man who bought it or 
I who am possessed by it?

False questions, for 
this landscape is 
and intractable in any terms 
that are human.
It is docile only to the weather 
and its indefatigable lieutenants –
wind, water and frost.
The wind whets the high ridges
and stunts silver birches and alders.
Rain falling down meets 
springs gushing up –
they gather and carry down to the Minch
tons of sour soil, making bald 
the bony scalp of Cul Mor. And frost
thrusts his hand in cracks and, clenching his fist,
bursts open the sandstone plates,
the armour of Suilven;
he bleeds stories down chutes and screes, 
smelling of gun powder.
Norman MacCaig

from The Poems of Norman MacCaig (Polygon, 2005) 

Reproduced by permission of Polygon, an imprint of Birlinn Ltd.
Norman MacCaig

A poet who divided his life and the attention of his poetry between Assynt in the West Highlands, and the city of Edinburgh, Norman MacCaig combined ‘precise observation with creative wit’,  and wrote with a passion for clarity. 

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