The Scale of Things

The Scale of Things
There’s a whole country at the foot of the stone
If you care to look
These are the stones we have instead of trees
In the north.
Our trees all got lost,
Blown over or cut down
Long long ago, and some of them lie there still in the 
	peat moss
Or fossilized in limestone.
At the shady foot of trees
Certain things grow,
But at the foot of stone grow the sun-loving
	wind–resisting short plants
With very small bright flowers
And compact, precise leaves.
The wind whips the tight stems into a vibration,
But they don’t break.
The full light of the sun reaches right down to the 
And reflects obliquely and sideways in among and 
	under the snug leaves,
And settles on the stone too, 
Makes a glow there,
A sufficient warmth and clarified light.
The stunning frequencies seem to get absorbed
And if you stare closely at the stone
It’s a calm light, not too blue,
Precisely indicating its variegated surface.
The great stone stands,
On a different scale, in a way, from the minute plants
	at its base.
A proliferating green lichen 
Grows on it
As well as round golden coin-patches of another
	common lichen,
And only in the earth right up to the very stone but
	not on it
Grow the crisp grass 
And all the tiny plants and flowers
Which, together interlaced and inter-related,
Make the fine springing turf which people and animals 
	walk on.
Margaret Tait

from Margaret Tait: poems, stories and writings, edited with an introduction by Sarah Neely (Carcanet Press, 2012)

originally published in The Hen and the Bees (1960)

© Alex Pirie. Reproduced by permission of the Estate of Margaret Tait and the publisher.
Margaret Tait

Margaret Tait was one of Britain's most unique and individual film makers. She produced over 30 films, including one feature, Blue Black Permanent (1992), and Hugh MacDiarmid: A Portrait. She described her films as 'film poems'. She also published three books of poetry, origins and elements (1959), The Hen and the Bees: Legends and Lyrics (1960), and Subjects and Sequences (1960).

Read more about this poet
About The Scale of Things

Listen to Margaret Tait reading this poem on the Carcanet Press website.