Lines 1 - 10

The sentence structure of the opening line is striking There is no beginning. The simple sentence is a succinct statement which belies a relatively complex idea. Readers may be reminded of the first words of the Book of Genesis in the Bible, In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

Here the implication is that this is a landscape so ancient it has always existed and predates any known consciousness.

Similarly, when considered against the specific political climate in which this poem was published it also hints at the frustration of people who feel that, without an Assembly, Scotland is unable to begin a new chapter.

Morgan peppers the opening lines with words that suggest a violent and brutal formation of the land. We hear the formation of Lewis was accompanied by thunder and volcanic fires.

The word choice contributes to a picture of a tempestuous, wild land. We hear the booming, elemental drama implicit in the thunder and see the ferocious power of the volcanic fires. What these words tell us is that Scotland has undergone periods of enormous physical transformation, Scotland is no stranger to change and every aspect of our environment is a result of this evolution.

In this way, Morgan reminds us that change and transformation are constant, even though we may not always be aware of it. It is only when we look back and consider the gradual processes which occur over the millennia that we are able to fully appreciate the results.

Morgan employs personification as the speaker reports seeing seas plunder/faults. The seas become something consciously interacting with the changing landscape, exploiting the shifting continental plates and coursing through fissures in rock. We get the impression of turbulent activity as Scotland suffers the impact of the elements.

A giant rock on a showery evening in Lewis
A giant rock on a showery evening in Lewis

The powerful quality of the seas is revisited later, through word choice, as we hear of the land being shaped by sea-poundings which communicates the aggressive, forceful and relentless actions of the seas.

Amid the violence of the geological changes, there is a lighter moment as the speaker reports having laughed as Staffa cooled. Staffa is a geographical wonder, its hexagonal basalt pillars have provoked wonder and admiration from visitors for centuries. While this reveals the aesthetic pleasure and delight of the speaker, it also forces us to notice the presence of the speaker in the poem and question the identity of the “we” referred to.

This is a speaker who is deliberately intrusive, who wants to be noticed. What is also evident in these lines is the direct link between the awesome, even terrifying power of the elements and the rugged beauty of Scotland we know today- this breathtaking landscape exists only because it has been carved by the brutal forces of nature.

Morgan’s choice of simile is particularly apt when we consider when the poem was written. The speaker describes drumlins blue as/bruises. Here he compares hills to a painful reminder of a physical encounter. On one level, the comparison suggests the tough nature of the environment. When we think about the political significance of the Scottish Referendum, the simile might also create the impression that Scotland, the nation, feels bruised by this period in history.

The Great Glen which runs across Scotland becomes a rough back. Morgan uses the metaphor to compare a feature of the landscape to the indomitable spirit of Scotland. The environment, like the tough hide of a coarse, resilient creature, is able to weather the elements. Morgan extends the metaphor, revealing the ages must streak, surely strike,/seldom stroke this feature of the landscape.

The alliteration on the “s” sound, woven throughout this idea, is lyrical and compelling and it connects the variety of factors which will mark, damage and, rarely, caress the land. By the end of this section, the landscape shrugs off the impact of time and the elements as their effects are shouldered off into night and memory. This section leaves an indelible image of Scotland’s robust nature.

The use of a list to detail the rains, blizzards and sea-poundings serves to emphasise the variety of factors which affect the landscape. What we notice is the relationship between these details which evoke the toughness of the environment. The chaos surrounding the shaping of Scotland signals its strength.