The glitter of water and the wake…
Heading for University in Aberdeen.
It’s an autumn morning. I am seventeen.
Above the Isle of Skye the dawn’s a flag
of red infuriate ore. I see the train
for the first time ever steaming from the Kyle
beyond the screaming seagulls, in the smell
of salt and herring. There’s a tall sad crane.
The landscape, rich, harmonious, unwinds
its perfect symmetry: not the barren stone
and vague frail fences I have always known.
I hold my Homer steady in my hand.
All day we travel and at last dismount
at the busy station of that sparkling town.
A beggar with black glasses sitting down
on the hard stone holds out his cap. I count
the pennies in it. Should I freely give?
Or being more shameful than himself refrain?
His definite shadow is the day’s black stain.
How in such open weakness learn to live?
I turn away, the money in my hand,
profusely sweating, in that granite blaze.
Unknown, unlooked at, I pick up my case.
Everything’s glittering and transient.
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2009. Best Scottish Poems is an online publication, consisting of 20 poems chosen by a different editor each year, with comments by the editor and poets. It provides a personal overview of a year of Scottish poetry. The editor in 2009 was Andrew Greig.
I once heard Iain Crichton Smith electrify a rather staid conference in Aberdeen by reading all of ‘Deer on the High Hills’ in a whisky haze (his, not mine). He was one of that inspirational generation of Scottish poets whose gifts matched their generosity towards us young ‘uns. He could also be breath-failingly funny. This memoir poem is here in memory of him.