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A Poem by Norman MacCaig

Norman MacCaig (1910-1996) was a major Scottish poet of the twentieth century. The following poem is included in his collection, The Sinai Sort (1957):

November night, Edinburgh

The night tinkles like ice in glasses.
Leaves are glued to the pavement with frost.
The brown air fumes at the shop windows,
Tries the doors, and sidles past.

I gulp down winter raw. The heady
Darkness swirls with tenements.
In a brown fuzz of cottonwool
Lamps fade up crags, die into pits.

Frost in my lungs is harsh as leaves
Scraped up on paths. – I look up, there,
A high roof sails, at the mast-head
Fluttering a grey and ragged star.

The world’s a bear shrugged in his den.
It’s snug and close in the snoring night.
And outside like chrysanthemums
The fog unfolds its bitter scent.

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10 Responses to “A Poem by Norman MacCaig”

  1. Jim Murdoch says:

    I’ve just been responding to another blogger about the state of poetry in our schools and, reading this poem has just made me realise that we never got presented with any contemporary Scottish poetry at all. In fact our only exposure to our poetic heritage consisted of a heck of a lot of Robert Burns at primary school and a singular example of the work of Robert Louis Stevenson. I can’t complain about what I was taught, it was a decent enough cross-section of English poetry, but in a country as blatantly nationalistic as Scotland is, it does surprise me a little. I wonder if things have changed much?

    There is an interesting article on the BBC News website about the current standard of the teaching of poetry in our schools which you might find of interest:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/7131133.stm

    jb says: Thanks for the link. I love the list of the 10 most commonly taught poems in primary schools. Your own experience of poetry in school was probably down to the national curriculum. Let’s hope it’s changed by now.

  2. nadia says:

    I was taught “Visiting Hour” by Norman MacCaig at Higher, and loved it. Other than that, we had no Scottish poetry, only stuff by Philip Larkin, which I loathe. That was about five years ago now, don’t now if it’s changed at all. Got no poetry at any level below that!

  3. jamieleigh says:

    i love your poem we are doing about it in skol and i really like lyl jimmy xxx

  4. pippi fox says:

    what is this poem about and also what type of techniques does it includes?

  5. Gregory :) says:

    I Love Poems :)

  6. Geetha says:

    Hey, can somebody explain this poem to me…..i have it now and dont know what it means….. the obvious meaning of the poem of course I a understand, but what is the underlying meaning of this poem…HELP !!

  7. Jessyka says:

    can somebody explain this poem to me too, please

  8. foundend says:

    This is an amazing work on the bueaty of Edinburgh in winter but shows how suited the city is to winter’s night

  9. jersey says:

    here is another

    Sure Proof By Norman Maccaig

    I can no more describe you
    than I can put a thing for the first time
    where it already is.

    If I could make a ladder of light
    or comb the hair of a dream girl with a real comb
    or pour a table into a jug…

    I’m not good at impossible things.
    And that is why I’m sure
    I will love you for my ever.

  10. kk says:

    what does this mean?? Frost in my lungs is harsh as leaves

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