This week’s poem from Scottish Love Poems is about first love. Eric Linklater (photo from here) was born in Wales but identified strongly with Orkney, where his father was born. He wrote novels, travel books, history & autobiography. I had vaguely heard of him & then realised that one of his novels, Poet’s Pub, was in my boxset of the first ten Penguins. It’s one of the still-unread ones, I’m afraid, but I’ll get to it one day. Linklater’s poem, A Memory, Now Distant, is about unrequited first love recollected long after.
Beauty’s a rose, a shining sword, a thief;
Beauty’s a singing flute, the narrow flame
That lights the incense-smoke of all belief.
Beauty was You, and You were Beauty’s name
When I was young: rose, thief, and cutting sword,
The flute, the flame – I lost my peace to this,
Reached up for that, bled here, and there adored,
Nor, thus bewildered, thought my state amiss.
Youth gives his heart away, for youth’s ill fortune
Is often to have nothing else to give:
Where others bargain, he must still importune –
You laughed, and found a fuller life to live.
You were not rich because of me, it’s true,
But I was bankrupt quite because of you.