after John Donne’s ‘A Nocturnal on St Lucy’s Day’
At midday on the year’s midnight
into my mind came
I saw the new moon late yestreen
wi the auld moon in her airms
there is no moon of course –
there’s nothing very much to speak of anything to speak of
in the sky except a gey dreich greyness
rain-laden over Glasgow and today
there is the very least of even this for us to get
the light comes back
the light always comes back
and this begins tomorrow with
however many minutes more of sun and serotonin.
there will be the winter moon for us to love the longest,
fat in the frosty sky among the sharpest stars,
and lines of old songs we can’t remember
why we know
or when first we heard them
will aye come back
once in a blue moon to us
and bless us with their long-travelled light.
About this poem
This poem was included in the Best of the Best Scottish Poems, published in 2019. To mark the fifteenth anniversary of our annual online anthology Best Scottish Poems, the Library invited broadcaster, journalist and author James Naughtie to edit a ‘Best of the Best’ drawn from each of the annual editions of Best Scottish Poems.
All Liz Lochhead’s energy and fast footwork are at work in this poem. Inspired by John Donne, her picture of midwinter is sharp and brimming with life. You can hear her speaking it as you read it, with that questioning tone, and those sharp stabs of feeling that force you to step out of yourself. Exhilarating.
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 is a shimmering piece from our previous Makar, from a collection full of love-songs in many shapes – not least to her late husband Tom – before she handed the National Poet baton to Jackie Kay. Anyone who has heard Liz Lochhead read will hear the cadences of her voice in this celebration of midwinter, finding hope and optimism, bringing light to the darkest day. One of our finest poets shows all her subtle skill here, as the moon illuminates the lines and stars become old songs, distant but with the capacity to touch us still.