Staring at stars, stones, trees,
The rubbish and the backbone of what is
The helpless incarnation of death’s will,
Is an exploration of innocence. See, the moon
Pours over the cold window-sill
A night, a midnight or a midnight’s noon,
And its ambiguous beauty makes us feel
The guilt of knowing the real from the unreal.
Trees and stars and stones
Are falsely these and true comparisons
Whose likenesses are the observer. He
Stares, in the end, at his own face, and shame
Of his deep flaw, mortality,
Shines in the star, and from the tree the same
Pity is shed that weakens him when he knows
That he is going where even the stone goes.
NORMAN MACCAIG (1954)
MacCaig was a primary school teacher before becoming a Fellow in Creative Writing at the University of Edinburgh and Reader in Poetry at the University of Stirling. He used a very spare, plain English style influenced by his studies of the classics. This is a twist on a nature sonnet, written just before he moved to a tight free verse style, describing an indifferent nature and universe.