He has gone down into darkness at the wrecked end of the year
And is lying, gaberlunzie, in the needled nest of frost.
The arctic thrushes call for him although he cannot hear,
And the worm too understands him in the chilled grip of its dark,
And the ptarmigan in blizzards where no thought is worth a crumb,
And treecreepers in shivering puffs in Wellingtonias’ bark.
Shop windows glint in city lights like ice and sky, but still
No tinsel gifts can touch him, freed to silence like a stone’s;
His face is white as paper’s white in miles-high midnight chill.
He lies as plain as frost-dust where those starving thrushes call,
And his lime and ray-struck armoury could hardly be less small
On the anvil of beginnings in the sun’s gate on the wall.
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2011. 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 2011 was Roddy Lumsden.
This poem’s full rhymes and long seven stress lines give it the sound of a ballad, even if it is an elegy, of sorts. The dead man is described as a gaberlunzie, a beggar (whether an actual one or not, we are not sure), and the poem is full of images of simplicity and starkness, until we reach the more convoluted metal and light based imagery of the last two lines.
The metre of this poem is based on that in pieces by John Crowe Ransom and E. A. Robinson which I had kicking around at the back of my mind before I wrote it. It could be read otherwise, but ’Processional’ on one level might be understood as an elegy for the Green Man. I had recently re-read Gawain and the Green Knight when I was working on it. Green Man and Green Knight became conflated in my mind. As they’re emblematic of renewal and rebirth in the natural world, any elegy in this context is a celebration, however frail, of light’s return. I like to think the switch to triple rhymes at the poem’s end buttresses that notion. A ‘gaberlunzie’ is a kind of Scottish wandering tramp, slightly romanticised. In winter the European Treecreeper Certhia familiaris excavates little roosting cavities in the soft spongy bark of Wellingtonias. I‘d search for them as a youngster on winter nights in Ayrshire (written about in my book of bird prose poems, Aves). The ‘Arctic thrushes’ are Redwings and Fieldfares which winter in Britain from Scandinavia.