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by Iain MacLeod 

Posted: 30 July 2006
Word Count: 164
Related Works: Battle • Find Me • Lighthouse • No More Sad Refrains • 

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For L.

The sheep are not stupid, not this time,
for as they huddle soundlessly
I can only rue their better sense.
For as they shelter beneath an oaken canopy
this blizzard gouges and cuts me,
a mist of bitter pine needles given flight.
The storm pays no respect to the landscape;
all is levelled and blanketed, while I plunge on.

I search for the footprints, the path to follow.
You walked the heather, barefoot and with grace,
not this frozen carpet which swallows all.
I search, overshadowed by the dusted mountains,
tramping this highland of my solitude, over the frozen burn,
a long string of glass with no force.
I shiver and have only my torch song to howl to the gale:
it may not listen, but it hears.

Once I could have retraced my steps,
opened the door to warmth and held you safe and small.
Now there is no open fire to return to, no hearth of comfort,
merely the hills.

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Comments by other Members

paul53 [for I am he] at 07:52 on 31 July 2006  Report this post
Hi Iain,
There is much that is admirable in this. Evocative description; frozen burn "a long string of glass with no force". Like whiskey, the secret to fine poetry is in the distilation, and while the be-all-and-end-all is not making a poem with as few words as possible, distilling scenes and feelings into sharp imagery fashions a dart that sinks deep into the mind of the reader.
For example:
The sheep are not stupid, not this time.
While they huddle soundlessly
I can only rue their better sense.
For as they shelter beneath an oaken canopy
this blizzard gouges and cuts away at me,

can be distilled in many ways.
"The sheep are not stupid, not this time,"
is a fine opener, though the full stop jars the flow - a bit like driving off with the handbrake still on.
"huddling soundlessly as I
rue their better sense,
sheltering beneath an oaken canopy
while this blizzard cuts and gouges me"
The last line in particular, retaining "this" blizzard to give it importance over any other blizzard, and swapping the "gouge and cut" order not only because it scans better but increases in severity.
There is great potential in your consideration of phrasing and description, of what you have placed in and left out.

Iain MacLeod at 18:19 on 01 August 2006  Report this post
Hi Paul,

Thanks indeed for taking a look and offering your comments. I see exactly what you mean about the word order/construction - so much more can said with fewer similar words without braking the flow. Definitely something I need to work on and I'll have a wee fiddle with this.

I think I'm getting a bit more ambitious now, though I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not. I'm working on something a bit bigger at the moment, so we'll see where that ends up.

Thanks again and all the best,


paul53 [for I am he] at 06:24 on 02 August 2006  Report this post
Thanks Iain,
If I ever strike it rich, I may return to the Highlands, especially as I have heard that Avon's "Skin So Soft" is a worthy midge repellent.
When I was up on the Rossshire/Sutherland border in the 70s, our croft had no amenities, and contact with the outside world was listening to the World Service on a battery radio. I reckon if I had mains power and the Internet, I would hardly miss crowds, yobs, unruly kids, traffic jams, Mr-angry-on-every-street-corner and Mrs shove-in-the-queue hardly at all.


p.s. I haven't had my second coffee yet, and should have stuck this in my "column after column" comments.

Dele Campbell at 09:12 on 02 August 2006  Report this post
Dear Iain

This was a puzzler; on third reading I suddenly saw the impenetrable landscape, the significance of the sheep staying still(not venturing into the emotional morass) the endless tramping through the hostile frozen burn,
this blizzard cuts and gouges me..

the storm pays no respect..

while I plunge on

The pathos of the fruitless search for the loved ones trail (a mother searching for her young) the mercilessness of lost love,the loneliness of a frozen heart, I finally get it.

Very beautiful,complex ,compelling and moving.


Iain MacLeod at 20:03 on 02 August 2006  Report this post
Hi Paul,

Poor joke: how do you become an instant mass murderer in the Highlands? Wait for the midges to come and clap your hands together. The midges are indeed swine and they seem to have a taste for me.

Though I'm in Aberdeen at the moment, the north-west Highlands are still home, about 80 miles north-west of Inverness and I can only recommend going there. We even have power and telephone cables now! Running water, too.

I suppose this poem came about from a recurring dream/vision I keep having. Many years into the future, I'm retired to my lonely wee croft-house on the coast and roam the snow-capped hills with just my dog for company while thinking on what has gone on before, and return in the evening to a silent living room with an open fire. A strange vision perhaps, but it keeps returning to me.

all the best,



Damn, I just noticed your p.s. That will teach me not to wear my glasses.

Iain MacLeod at 20:08 on 02 August 2006  Report this post
Hi Dele,

Thank you for having a read and I'm glad you found it enjoyable. I must admit that you've picked out more themes and imagery than I conciously intended there to be in there. I hope that's a good sign....

all the best and thanks again,


paul53 [for I am he] at 05:47 on 03 August 2006  Report this post
Dele's comments and your response have highlighted what poetry is about. Writing stuff we are personally pleased with is only half the story; making deep connections with the reader is the other half. Their comments can be illuminating, liking seeing more than the author did. That is as it should be, for we use words like directions on a map; we use them as subconscious symbolism that we racially share yet still do not fully understand; we evoke trains of thought and fresh avenues; we cause the reader to pause, reconsider or remember. A poem is - or should be - a small opening in the ground that leads to a deep well of sharp insight, or piercing questions, or raw emotion, or delightful description, or unique viewpoint.
It would seem from the continuing comments for this particular piece that you have struck a chord with many of your readers.

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