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This report is taken from PN Review 110, Volume 22 Number 6, July - August 1996.

Praise of a MacCaig Marshall Walker

Norman MacCaig (1910-1996) hated death. Not his own death in prospect, but the deaths of friends. 'Will you have a heart-starter?' he would ask on meeting, as if the dram would guarantee him your company for a while before you faded like the rest of them. Feeling in himself the death of his friend, Angus MacLeod, he wrote:

To carry two deaths
is a burden for any man:
and it's a heavy knowledge that tells me
only the death I was born with
will destroy the other.
Now I have another death in me: yours
Each is the image of the other.

But MacCaig's words have left the living MacLeod behind, along with the poet's sense of loss and connection and all the other heart-starters in Collected Poems.

'A threequarter Gael', Norman MacCaig felt at home both in Edinburgh and in the village of Inverkirkaig near Lochinver in Sutherland. His favourite mountain was Suilven. 'I love Suilven,' he said, 'because from the West it looks like the top joint of your thumb. But he cons you: there's a ridge and there's a pinky at the far end… so that when you get on to the ridge, suddenly you see miles and miles instead of just what was under you.' His idea of a miracle in 'Above Inverkirkaig' is the coupling of the mountains, Suilven and Cul Mor, to produce 'a litter of ...

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