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Wednesday 19 December 2018

Words on Wednesday: Norman MacCaig 'The White Bird' 1973

The White Bird
Norman MacCaig
Phoenix Living Poets
Chatto and Windus with The Hogarth Press
ISBN 0 7011 1918 7


I open the second volume
of a rose
and find it says, word for word,
the same as the first one.

The waves of the sea
annoy me, they bore me;
why aren’t they divided
in paragraphs?

I look at the night
and make nothing of it –
those black pages
with no print.

But I love the gothic script
of pinetrees and
on the pond the light’s
fancy italics.

And the cherry tree’s petals –
they make
a sweet lyric, I appreciate
their dying fall.

But it’s strange, girl, how I come back
from the library of everything
to stare and stare at
the closed book of you.

When will you open to me
and show me the meaning of all
the hard words
in the lexicon of love?


So green's my colour, though my country is
Gray stone, gray water.
(I hate a man who calls a country his.)

I watch red minds absolved from bodies go
In my gray weather,
Will-o'-the-wisping, fading as they glow.

Or bodies hulking hugely through the air
Mindlessly wander,
Shagging with browns and blues the grayness there.

Sometimes the bold sun, happening to pass by,
Blushes, just pinker,
The stone, the water and the drowning sky.

What's that to a man whose helpless knowledge is
Green is his colour?
(I hate a man who calls a colour his.)

So, like a bird that, perking up his song,
Denies it's winter,
I say green, green, green, green: and get along.


The mountains fold and move.
I'm not quite lost. The thing that troubles me
Is that the easiest way out
Is not the one that's easiest to see.

I know just where you are.
But how to get there when lochs change their place
And the familiar track
Squirms like an adder into the heather bushes?

I curse my sense: and speak
Into the mist: Stay where you are, please stay -
I've got my compass yet.
It'll get me to you, if not by the easiest way,


I'll save the longest and best from this collection 'Inward Bound' for another day/year.