Slate, like all the poems in this collection, is a sonnet. This form originated in Italy in the 13th century and 'sonnet' literally means
Structurally, this form demands adherence to a fairly rigid rhyme scheme and is written in iambic pentameter. In the Italian or Petrarchan sonnet, the poet usually introduces a subject or a problem in the first eight lines – the octet - before moving towards a conclusion or resolution of sorts in the final six lines – the sestet.
The rhyme scheme of
Slate follows a fairly traditional Italian rhyme scheme (ABBACDDCEFGEFG) although the volta, or turn, which usually occurs at the beginning of the sestet is delayed until the start of line ten.
The speaker in the poem and the use of the “we” throughout is slightly ambiguous. It could refer to an omniscient, all seeing, all knowing entity or even have extra terrestrial connotations.
The poem explores the geological changes Scotland has undergone over millions of years. This idea of change is fitting when we look at the epigraph to the whole collection, a line from The Caucasian Chalk Circle (a play by the German dramatist Bertolt Brecht),
O Wechsel der Zeiten! Du Hoffnung des Volks! (O Changing Times! Hope of the People!).