In my disorder I shivered sweated, yawned
with fear and wrote some lines that went beyond
wit’s end. We travelled south. We hadn’t planned
on coming north again and buying this land
of little things where dwarf ferns unfurl their fronds,
newts and frogs come back to the garden pond,
a mistle thrush sings before the day has dawned.
Yes – any how-when-where by drop-dead chance.
And so I’ve been rehearsing final things
for years. I’ve bought my ashes in advance.
Until that harvesting
I’ll observe the natural ordinance
of fern and newt and frog and a thrush that sings
the anthem in my land of little things.
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2016. 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 2016 was Catherine Lockerbie.
This was one of several collections in 2016 reflecting with great humanity and acceptance on the strange business of growing old. Loving, personal, geographically precise, often rueful, James Aitchison’s poems accept the passing of time and the solace which still remains. This fourteen-line sonnet/anthem is a beautiful credo of the small resonant beauties of the natural world. A deeply consoling piece.
Returning to Stirlingshire at the end of 2007 was less disturbing than moving to Gloucestershire in 2003. Since 2007, recurring subjects have included people and places in the locality, and I grouped these subjects in a notional sequence, ‘Carseland Diary’. ‘Anthem’, the last poem in the sequence but not the last to be written, expresses some of my current themes: ageing and mortality, states of mind, landscapes and the natural world. ‘Anthem’ also expresses my respect for language and poetic form.