by Angus Martin
Three-twenty on fifteenth November
and the sun with a careless last caress
laid a stroke of golden light
across the back slope of Ben Gullion
to the shaded notch of Meal Kist Glen
a magic touch to crown a winter’s day
dwindling dully to a dreary night;
and I saw myself in a long gone spring
with loved companions passing through that glen
in steady honeyed light to the other end
where we passed the picnic food around
in the littlest glen with a lone rowan
and merest stream of tinkling song
neither sought nor seen again.
It was a beautiful November day, a good day to leave a poem on my daily walk. Before heading out I gathered up my Poem Elf tools of the trade: gloves, hat, phone, scotch tape, and a poem from my stash, Angus Martin’s “Winter Memories.” I’ve had this poem for many years, but because it’s unassuming and gentle, it never found its way to the top of the pile. That day I noticed it because the light Martin describes in the glen was the same light I was seeing out my window—
the sun with a careless last caress
laid a stroke of golden light
Or at least that’s why I thought I chose it. Turns out this poem has its own agency, a magic fueled by synchronicity. On November 15 at 3:30 p.m., it escaped my notice that the poem I was taping to a footbridge begins, Three-twenty on fifteenth November. Call me dense, but I didn’t plan that.
Further connections abound. The poet, Angus Martin of Scotland, is an old friend. I’ve posted his poems before and have mentioned that my sister and I stayed with him in our early twenties. He took us hiking in the hills and ancient caves of Campbeltown. He knew every plant and person we encountered. I remember one particular hike, probably up along Ben Gullion, not far from his house, on a chilly day. Out of his backpack he pulled an old tin tea kettle, made a fire, and served us tea sweetened with hard clumps of brown sugar, a magic touch to crown a winter’s day. Our hillside picnic was also in November very near where the speaker looks out in the first stanza.
My sister and I knew Angus for only the briefest of times, but he made an indelible impression, igniting in us a love of nature and life and people and poetry. It was a glorious time for all three of us. Although we corresponded for several years, he was a man neither sought nor seen again.
The peace I feel in reading this poem is that the speaker doesn’t yearn to have his own glorious afternoon back. When you’re young and you’re leaving behind a place and people you love, you think, of course I’ll come back again, of course I’ll see my old friends again. Older, you know you won’t. The memories alone satisfy.
While “Winter Memories” never uses the words grateful or blessed, it’s infused with a Thanksgiving sensibility. The speaker’s experiences in the glen, past and present, are a gift, and he recreates them as a gift to his readers. So here’s where I end to say, Happy Thanksgiving to all. I am grateful to you who are reading this, especially those of you who have stuck with me all these years.
Side note: as a wistful remembrance of a Gaelic vista, the poem brings to mind a song, “How Are Things In Glocca Morra?” from Finian’s Rainbow. Petula Clark sang it in the movie version, and it’s been covered by the likes of Rosemary Clooney, Bing Crosby, and Julie Andrews. But by far the most beautiful version is this one by Judy Collins. Her voice, pure, clear, unembellished, is the embodiment of Glocca Morran beauty.
Angus Martin Angus Martin was born in 1952 in Campbeltown, Scotland. At age 15 he left school to work on a herring boat, following in his family’s four-generation tradition of fishing. At the same time he began writing and publishing poetry. Since then he’s published many books of poetry and local history. He’s a man of letters on many levels. For 33 years he worked as a rural postman. He’s married with three daughters.
Strange for me to see this picture. I see the younger man, stocky and strong, his moustache and glasses the same, a handsome man still. He must have only been in his thirties when we met, but to us impressionable girls seemed old and wise.