Scottish poet admired by T.S. Eliot

Modernist Edwin Muir had plain style with vivid imagery

Two poems for winter

The Late Swallow

  • Leave, leave your well-loved nest,
  • Late swallow, and fly away.
  • Here is no rest
  • For hollowing heart and wearying wing.
  • Your comrades all have flown
  • To seek their southern paradise
  • Across the great earth’s downward sloping side,
  • And you are alone.
  • Why should you cling
  • Still to the swiftly ageing narrowing day?
  • Prepare;
  • Shake your pinions long untried
  • That now must bear you there where you would be
  • Through all the heavens of ice;
  • Till falling down the homing air
  • You light and perch upon the radiant tree.

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.

Edwin Muir

Edwin Muir

Edwin Muir (1887-1959) was a Scottish poet who wrote in a plain style with vivid imagery. While he is counted among the Modernist poets, he did not share the Modernist view of poetry as an end in itself. (His admirers included T.S. Eliot, who edited and wrote an introduction to a volume of his selected works.) In his poetry, Muir sought to “make it new,” as Ezra Pound said about poetry in his famous Modernist rallying cry, but not at the expense of life as it was experienced. His poetry was often informed by the idyllic farm life of his childhood in contrast to the corrupt world of the modern city he witnessed as an adult.

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