Muir’s Childhood


by Edwin Muir

Long time he lay upon the sunny hill,
To his father’s house below securely bound.
Far off the silent, changing sound was still,
With the black islands lying thick around.

He saw each separate height, each vaguer hue,
Where the massed islands rolled in mist away,
And though all ran together in his view
He knew that unseen straits between them lay.

Often he wondered what new shores were there.
In thought he saw the still light on the sand,
The shallow water clear in tranquil air;
And walked through it in joy from strand to strand.

Over the sound a ship so slow would pass
That in the black hill’s gloom it seemed to lie
The evening sound was smooth like sunken glass,
And time seemed finished ere the ship passed by.

Grey tiny rocks slept round him where he lay,
Moveless as they, more still as evening came,
The grasses threw straight shadows far away,
And from the house his mother called his name.


Childhood is a time of storing up perceptions. Impressions enter for the first time and come with corresponding emotions. Later life is not so full of these corresponding emotions as childhood is, is it? Things do not altogether glow with feeling; numbers, for example, lose their personalities. The matching up and sense and as a result the home of these is what Muir suggests here. He lived the distress of the chaotic moments of the early twentieth century, and longed for the atunement of his Edenic past: a father’s home, a mother’s voice, the unhurried sea, dreaming land, calm air, the shadows thrown away, his identity, assurance. Unostentatious and luminous.

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