Poetry Corner: Scotland’s Winter

On this day 3rd of January the poet Edwin Muir died in 1959.

“Edwin Muir was born in Deerness, Orkney, on 15 May 1887. His father was a farmer but in 1901 he lost his farm and they left Orkney to live in Glasgow, a move with tragic consequences. Muir’s father, mother and two brothers died in fairly quick succession and the teenage Muir had to find work; he was employed in a series of grindingly awful jobs in offices and factories, the latter including one where charcoal was produced from bones. He was haunted for years to come by this sojourn in an industrial hell.” Scottish Poetry Library

Scotland’s Winter

Now the ice lays its smooth claws on the sill,
The sun looks from the hill
Helmed in his winter casket,
And sweeps his arctic sword across the sky.
The water at the mill
Sounds more hoarse and dull.
The miller’s daughter walking by
With frozen fingers soldered to her basket
Seems to be knocking
Upon a hundred leagues of floor
With her light heels, and mocking
Percy and Douglas dead,
And Bruce on his burial bed,
Where he lies white as may
With wars and leprosy,
And all the kings before
This land was kingless,
And all the singers before
This land was songless,
This land that with its dead and living waits the Judgement Day.
But they, the powerless dead,
Listening can hear no more
Than a hard tapping on the floor
A little overhead
Of common heels that do not know
Whence they come or where they go
And are content
With their poor frozen life and shallow banishment.

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