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This review is taken from PN Review 86, Volume 18 Number 6, July - August 1992.

O FONS BANDUSIAE Alistair Elliot, My Country: Collected Poems (Carcanet) £18.95

The first poem of Alistair Elliot's that registered strongly with me was 'Bless the Bed That I Lie On', in the Nezv Statesman ten years or so ago. Its beautiful grave music sank into me to my depths and is still there:
 
Is it your photograph I recall, or you,
 In black against a white wall in the sun
Turning your wheel?
       I'd like to think you spun
And dyed and wove my blanket in
    Glendhu,
Still in the drystone park like paradise
In summer
         -even that it kept you warm
That night beside your husband's mortal
    form,
Waiting together for the sun to rise.



This is typical of what turns out to be a whole family of poems that reach back to his Highland forebears. He questions delicately, sorting real memoir from fancy. In another of these 16-line 'sonnets', 'Speak to Me', he broods on the stone circles, graveyards, and croft houses whose testimony is just beyond our hearing:
 
Good listeners, will you never speak
    again? …
If I refilled the stony dairy shelves
With bowls of milk and cream, the
    ancient selves
Might join in that communicating glow?


In 'John Elliot', about his father's father, he interleaves histories, familial and European-literary:
 
In the second decade of the railway
age, months after ...


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