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Best Famous Edwin Muir Poems

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Written by Edwin Muir | Create an image from this poem

Scotland 1941

 We were a tribe, a family, a people.
Wallace and Bruce guard now a painted field, And all may read the folio of our fable, Peruse the sword, the sceptre and the shield.
A simple sky roofed in that rustic day, The busy corn-fields and the haunted holms, The green road winding up the ferny brae.
But Knox and Melville clapped their preaching palms And bundled all the harvesters away, Hoodicrow Peden in the blighted corn Hacked with his rusty beak the starving haulms.
Out of that desolation we were born.
Courage beyond the point and obdurate pride Made us a nation, robbed us of a nation.
Defiance absolute and myriad-eyed That could not pluck the palm plucked our damnation.
We with such courage and the bitter wit To fell the ancient oak of loyalty, And strip the peopled hill and altar bare, And crush the poet with an iron text, How could we read our souls and learn to be? Here a dull drove of faces harsh and vexed, We watch our cities burning in their pit, To salve our souls grinding dull lucre out, We, fanatics of the frustrate and the half, Who once set Purgatory Hill in doubt.
Now smoke and dearth and money everywhere, Mean heirlooms of each fainter generation, And mummied housegods in their musty niches, Burns and Scott, sham bards of a sham nation, And spiritual defeat wrapped warm in riches, No pride but pride of pelf.
Long since the young Fought in great bloody battles to carve out This towering pulpit of the Golden Calf, Montrose, Mackail, Argyle, perverse and brave, Twisted the stream, unhooped the ancestral hill.
Never had Dee or Don or Yarrow or Till Huddled such thriftless honour in a grave.
Such wasted bravery idle as a song, Such hard-won ill might prove Time's verdict wrong, And melt to pity the annalist's iron tongue.

Written by Edwin Muir | Create an image from this poem

The Incarnate One

 The windless northern surge, the sea-gull's scream,
And Calvin's kirk crowning the barren brae.
I think of Giotto the Tuscan shepherd's dream, Christ, man and creature in their inner day.
How could our race betray The Image, and the Incarnate One unmake Who chose this form and fashion for our sake? The Word made flesh here is made word again A word made word in flourish and arrogant crook.
See there King Calvin with his iron pen, And God three angry letters in a book, And there the logical hook On which the Mystery is impaled and bent Into an ideological argument.
There's better gospel in man's natural tongue, And truer sight was theirs outside the Law Who saw the far side of the Cross among The archaic peoples in their ancient awe, In ignorant wonder saw The wooden cross-tree on the bare hillside, Not knowing that there a God suffered and died.
The fleshless word, growing, will bring us down, Pagan and Christian man alike will fall, The auguries say, the white and black and brown, The merry and the sad, theorist, lover, all Invisibly will fall: Abstract calamity, save for those who can Build their cold empire on the abstract man.
A soft breeze stirs and all my thoughts are blown Far out to sea and lost.
Yet I know well The bloodless word will battle for its own Invisibly in brain and nerve and cell.
The generations tell Their personal tale: the One has far to go Past the mirages and the murdering snow.
Written by Edwin Muir | Create an image from this poem

The Child Dying

 Unfriendly friendly universe,
I pack your stars into my purse,
And bid you so farewell.
That I can leave you, quite go out, Go out, go out beyond all doubt, My father says, is the miracle.
You are so great, and I so small: I am nothing, you are all: Being nothing, I can take this way.
Oh I need neither rise nor fall, For when I do not move at all I shall be out of all your day.
It's said some memory will remain In the other place, grass in the rain, Light on the land, sun on the sea, A flitting grace, a phantom face, But the world is out.
There is not place Where it and its ghost can ever be.
Father, father, I dread this air Blown from the far side of despair The cold cold corner.
What house, what hold, What hand is there? I look and see Nothing-filled eternity, And the great round world grows weak and old.
Hold my hand, oh hold it fast- I am changing! - until at last My hand in yours no more will change, Though yours change on.
You here, I there, So hand in hand, twin-leafed despair - I did not know death was so strange.
Written by Edwin Muir | Create an image from this poem

The Fathers

 Our fathers all were poor,
Poorer our fathers' fathers;
Beyond, we dare not look.
We, the sons, keep store Of tarnished gold that gathers Around us from the night, Record it in this book That, when the line is drawn, Credit and creditor gone, Column and figure flown, Will open into light.
Archaic fevers shake Our healthy flesh and blood Plumped in the passing day And fed with pleasant food.
The fathers' anger and ache Will not, will not away And leave the living alone, But on our careless brows Faintly their furrows engrave Like veinings in a stone, Breathe in the sunny house Nightmare of blackened bone, Cellar and choking cave.
Panics and furies fly Through our unhurried veins, Heavenly lights and rains Purify heart and eye, Past agonies purify And lay the sullen dust.
The angers will not away.
We hold our fathers' trust, Wrong, riches, sorrow and all Until they topple and fall, And fallen let in the day.
Written by Edwin Muir | Create an image from this poem

The Horses

 Barely a twelvemonth after
The seven days war that put the world to sleep,
Late in the evening the strange horses came.
By then we had made our covenant with silence, But in the first few days it was so still We listened to our breathing and were afraid.
On the second day The radios failed; we turned the knobs; no answer.
On the third day a warship passed us, heading north, Dead bodies piled on the deck.
On the sixth day A plane plunged over us into the sea.
Thereafter Nothing.
The radios dumb; And still they stand in corners of our kitchens, And stand, perhaps, turned on, in a million rooms All over the world.
But now if they should speak, If on a sudden they should speak again, If on the stroke of noon a voice should speak, We would not listn, we would not let it bring That old bad world that swallowed its children quick At one great gulp.
We would not have it again.
Sometimes we think of the nations lying asleep, Curled blindly in impenetrable sorrow, And then the thought confounds us with its strangeness.
The tractors lie about our fields; at evening They look like dank sea-monsters couched and waiting.
We leave them where they are and let them rust: "They'll molder away and be like other loam.
" We make our oxen drag our rusty plows, Long laid aside.
We have gone back Far past our fathers' land.
And then, that evening Late in the summer the strange horses came.
We heard a distant tapping on the road, A deepening drumming; it stopped, went on again And at the corner changed to hollow thunder.
We saw the heads Like a wild wave charging and were afraid.
We had sold our horses in our fathers' time To buy new tractors.
Now they were strange to us As fabulous steeds set on an ancient shield.
Or illustrations in a book of knights.
We did not dare go near them.
Yet they waited, Stubborn and shy, as if they had been sent By an old command to find our whereabouts And that long-lost archaic companionship.
In the first moment we had never a thought That they were creatures to be owned and used.
Among them were some half a dozen colts Dropped in some wilderness of the broken world, Yet new as if they had come from their own Eden.
Since then they have pulled our plows and borne our loads, But that free servitude still can pierce our hearts.
Our life is changed; their coming our beginning.

Written by Edwin Muir | Create an image from this poem

The Good Man in Hell

 If a good man were ever housed in Hell
By needful error of the qualities,
Perhaps to prove the rule or shame the devil,
Or speak the truth only a stranger sees,

Would he, surrendering quick to obvious hate,
Fill half eternity with cries and tears,
Or watch beside Hell's little wicket gate
In patience for the first ten thousand years,

Feeling the curse climb slowly to his throat
That, uttered, dooms him to rescindless ill,
Forcing his praying tongue to run by rote,
Eternity entire before him still?

Would he at last, grown faithful in his station,
Kindle a little hope in hopeless Hell,
And sow among the damned doubts of damnation,
Since here someone could live, and live well?

One doubt of evil would bring down such a grace,
Open such a gate, and Eden could enter in,
Hell be a place like any other place,
And love and hate and life and death begin.
Written by Edwin Muir | Create an image from this poem


 O Merlin in your crystal cave
Deep in the diamond of the day,
Will there ever be a singer
Whose music will smooth away
The furrow drawn by Adam's finger
Across the memory and the wave?
Or a runner who'll outrun
Man's long shadow driving on,
Break through the gate of memory
And hang the apple on the tree?
Will your magic ever show
The sleeping bride shut in her bower,
The day wreathed in its mound of snow
and Time locked in his tower?
Written by Edwin Muir | Create an image from this poem

The Castle

 All through that summer at ease we lay,
And daily from the turret wall
We watched the mowers in the hay
And the enemy half a mile away
They seemed no threat to us at all.
For what, we thought, had we to fear With our arms and provender, load on load, Our towering battlements, tier on tier, And friendly allies drawing near On every leafy summer road.
Our gates were strong, our walls were thick, So smooth and high, no man could win A foothold there, no clever trick Could take us, have us dead or quick.
Only a bird could have got in.
What could they offer us for bait? Our captain was brave and we were true.
There was a little private gate, A little wicked wicket gate.
The wizened warder let them through.
Oh then our maze of tunneled stone Grew thin and treacherous as air.
The cause was lost without a groan, The famous citadel overthrown, And all its secret galleries bare.
How can this shameful tale be told? I will maintain until my death We could do nothing, being sold; Our only enemy was gold, And we had no arms to fight it with.
Written by Edwin Muir | Create an image from this poem

Scotlands Winter

 Now the ice lays its smooth claws on the sill,
The sun looks from the hill
Helmed in his winter casket,
And sweeps his arctic sword across the sky.
The water at the mill Sounds more hoarse and dull.
The miller's daughter walking by With frozen fingers soldered to her basket Seems to be knocking Upon a hundred leagues of floor With her light heels, and mocking Percy and Douglas dead, And Bruce on his burial bed, Where he lies white as may With wars and leprosy, And all the kings before This land was kingless, And all the singers before This land was songless, This land that with its dead and living waits the Judgement Day.
But they, the powerless dead, Listening can hear no more Than a hard tapping on the floor A little overhead Of common heels that do not know Whence they come or where they go And are content With their poor frozen life and shallow banishment.
Written by Edwin Muir | Create an image from this poem


 The rivulet-loving wanderer Abraham
Through waterless wastes tracing his fields of pasture
Led his Chaldean herds and fattening flocks
With the meandering art of wavering water
That seeks and finds, yet does not know its way.
He came, rested and prospered, and went on, Scattering behind him little pastoral kingdoms, And over each one its own particular sky, Not the great rounded sky through which he journeyed, That went with him but when he rested changed.
His mind was full of names Learned from strange peoples speaking alien tongues, And all that was theirs one day he would inherit.
He died content and full of years, though still The Promise had not come, and left his bones, Far from his father's house, in alien Canaan.