Direct Access to the Word Hoard:The Enduring Appeal of Norman MacCaig

In this BBC Scotland feature, Seamus Heaney and others describe the effect of the lateĀ Norman MacCaig’s poetry. Heaney loved the ‘strictness and susceptibility’ in his work

I myself heard Norman MacCaig deliver a reading when I was a student in Stirling University. Then, he was a craggy old Scotsman with a twinkle in his eye. His poetry was wonderful and struck a chord.

His poems came alive through his Scots burr of a voice. Recently I rediscovered MacCaig when I came upon his newly published The Poems of Norman MacCaig.

Visiting Hour

The hospital smell
combs my nostrils
as they go bobbing along
green and yellow corridors.

What seems a corpse
is trundled into a lift and vanishes

I will not feel, I will not
feel, until
I have to.

Nurses walk lightly, swiftly,
here and up and down and there,
their slender waists miraculously
carrying their burden
of so much pain, so
many deaths, their eyes
still clear after
so many farewells.

Ward 7. She lies
in a white cave of forgetfulness.
A withered hand
trembles on its stalk. Eyes move
behind eyelids too heavy
to raise. Into an arm wasted
of colour a glass fang is fixed,
not guzzling but giving.
And between her and me
distance shrinks till there is none left
but the distance of pain that neither she nor I
can cross.

She smiles a little at this
black figure in her white cave
who clumsily rises
in the round swimming waves of a bell
and dizzily goes off, growing fainter,
not smaller, leaving behind only
books that will not be read
and fruitless fruits.


If you like poetry, you’ll not buy a better book this year.

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