The Bell Jar: Jo Bell's blog

"She lives the poetry she cannot write" – Wilde


If you don”t know Norman MacCaig’s poem Landscape and I – go and find it. He’s class. For him the Scottish mountain Schiehallion is not just a literal landmark but a symbol of belonging and challenge. He closes the poem with two of the best lines ever – concise, precise and truthful. “There’s a Schiehallion anywhere you go./ The thing is, climb it.”

I can’t do better than that and nor can anyone else – though Tobias Hill writes about his city with a similar eye for detail. For MacCaig it’s Scotland, for Hill London: for me, the Peak District.

My Schiehallion

At the top of Margery Hill
is a lean, eroding barrow made of peat:

under the lumpen barrow
is a man who knew this hill by an older name

and had another name than ours
for the valley two miles away, where

on a Bronze Age day the peat was dug;
and had a name which we will never know

for the need to carry peat
two miles uphill for a dead man.

His tracks and woods and ways
are gone

and even his technologies look simple
from a distance.

The names and armies pass like rain
on Minninglow and Shutlingslow,

on Bosley Cloud and Thorpe Cloud,
Shining Tor, Chrome Hill and Lantern Pike,

on Win Hill and Lose Hill.
These names and mine will pass like rain

but peat or no peat,
I am buried in them, they in me.


2 comments on “Psycho-geographies

  1. Lisa Rossetti
    February 25, 2011

    This pem is wonderful, Jo. This has the Long Walk of Life in it, the Bones of Ancestors, our Passing and our Rememberance and our Forgetting. I loved it immensely, with a lot of capital letters.

    • Jo Bell
      April 2, 2011

      Thanks so much Lisa, how very kind!

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This entry was posted on February 25, 2011 by in Writing exercises.
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