A Message from Alexander McCall Smith

I thought I would share a Christmas message from Alexander McCall-Smith, one of my favourite writers. If you have not read any of his work I recommend the No1 Ladies Detective Agency series and the Scotland Street series, they are written with a warmth, humour and empathy that are a boon to the soul.


“A few years ago I wrote a poem about winter that I recently retrieved from a cupboard…. It is not news, of course, but it says something about what I feel when I look today out of my study window onto the landscape of winter around me. I know that when I go up to our house in the Highlands next month I shall feel this even more so as I look out on our cold Scottish mountains in their winter fastness. Here is the poem. But before I give it to you, I would like to send you my very warmest wishes for Christmas and New Year – I send you more than that, actually, I send you my love.”

Alexander McCall Smith

Winter Poem

That there should be winter, that this hard light
Should fall over a December Scotland,
Should make the sea gray, like steel, and the land itself
A rock rising from metalled water;
That there should be empty skies,
Free of protecting cloud, too cold
Even for that; that there should be
A vapour trail of some great jet heading west
To the colder shores of Greenland, Labrador,
Northern neighbours to us, distant cousins
In our marginality and our pursuit of fish;
That all this should be in a land that in summer
Is so soft and wet with drifting veils of rain
And filled with deer and clouds of midges
And the rich fecundity of ploughed fields
That will yield gold barley and whisky
Beyond the barley –

Scotland is a country of the north,
Everything here cries north; north the natural
Orientation of all our signs, our habits;
I sometimes wish, I confess, for a life spent
In the scent of wild thyme and olive trees,
For evenings when one might stroll
Slowly about a square and watch pigeons
Launch themselves into Italian air
From some tower dreamed up
By some High Renaissance imagination;
That, though, is not where we are from
Or where we are destined to be;
Our place is north, our natural gravity
That of a land that is an afterthought
To Europe, a land that comes late
To so many of the parties it’s been invited to,
But which we love with all our heart,
With all our heart.

Winter doesn’t make us better, then, or worse,
But enables us to find ourselves again,
Because it forces us to be quiet, obliges us
To listen to the coursing of our own blood;
Winter reminds us that warmth
Is not something we find naturally,
Some gift of munificent nature, but must be made;
That we should make in Scotland
A small place of warmth, a small country
Of kindness to others, of brotherhood,
Is what our poets have been striving to say
Since they first gave voice to song.
That we might find this, in winter,
In the ice and the cold is a local miracle,
Is a particular joy.


2 thoughts on “A Message from Alexander McCall Smith

  1. Lovely poem – I thought you’d written it for a moment and was blown away, as I didn’t know you wrote poetry. Then I read the intro lol

    It’s still great though and very timely for the solstice.


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