Language and tone

Stanza one

The title and opening stanza suggest religious allusion.

Immortality itself is something promised in Christian scripture - eternal life in exchange for adhering to the beliefs of Christianity.

The title, repeated in the first line, makes clear that MacLean offers a type of personal and emotional rather than religious immortality.

Here he perhaps refers to the strength of his love. His desire is immense but she spurns him. The extent of his hurt is reflected in the word choice. He notes that in return he got:

quote
Only the sharp/ arrows of your beauty

Images of pain are repeated:

  • harsh onset
  • piercing sorrow
  • bitterness of spirit
  • a sore gleam of glory

The final sore gleam of glory suggests hurt but also introduces an image of light and brightness that MacLean will return to. Overall, this opening stanza expresses a mood of heartbreak and despair.

Analysis

However in stanza two the poet comes to realise that, although he did not achieve his wish of a lasting relationship with Eimhir, she left him with a precious gift:

quote
you put an edge on my spirit/ and radiance in my song

It isn’t just that his love has inspired his poetry. She herself has affected his whole spirit. She is the one who has brought radiance to his song. MacLean clearly links the quality of his poetry to her.

Despite the hurt MacLean has already expressed, he admits he would be willing to fall for her again:

quote
yet, were I to see you again,/ I should accept more and the whole of it.

He is clear that he does not want or expect anything different from her. Accepting the whole of it suggests the value he puts on the whole experience of loving her - pain included.

Stanza three

Here MacLean enters a reflective phase. The mood changes to once of reminiscence and regret:

quote
Were I, after oblivion of my trouble/ to see before me/ on the plain of the Land of Youth/ the gracious form of your beauty

This has connotations of the Gaelic 'Tir nan Og'- a mythical land of eternal youth.

after oblivion of my trouble returns to the idea of immortality. It suggests a time after MacLean died and passed beyond the cares and troubles of living.

The poet here longs for the chance to start all over again. He is clear in not expecting an eternity of contentment - he admits to weakness and suggests ongoing pain:

quote
peace of spirit/ again to be wounded.

Stanza four

Stanza four begins in praise of the woman;

quote
O yellow-haired lovely girl

But then he changes the tone to one of accusation;

quote
you tore my strength/ and inclined my course/ from its aim

He appears to state that she has damaged him and lead him away from his route through life. She is beautiful, she has been his inspiration but now he says that he can't work because she has distracted him from his aim.

He launches into another metaphor of longing:

quote
but, if I reach my place,/ the high wood of the men of song,/ you are the fire of my lyric

but immediate indicates thoughts of what might be mixed with doubt. The image of fire suggests both destruction (particularly of the high wood) and brilliance. It captures the overall theme of the poem - intense feeling, even pain, can bring light and illumination.

quote
you made a poet of me with sorrow

Here MacLean suggests that Eimhir is as much the creative force behind his poems as he is. It is almost as if he wishes to be angry with her but his devotion and gratitude are defeating his feelings of loss.

Stanza five

In stanza five he speaks of his poem to her as a pillar and memorial which last into eternity:

quote
on the shifting mountain of time

MacLean explicitly refers to his consistent theme of time. The fact that the mountain shifts, something that takes place over a massive timescale, stresses the permanence of his poetry.

He returns to religious allusion with his reference to the Deluge. This refers to the biblical flood that only those on Noah's arc survived. MacLean seems to be suggesting another far off, future flood that will bring an end to everything.

He recognises that Eimhir will have a life, but not with him:

quote
and though you will be married to another/ and ignorant of my struggle

And then he returns to the imagery of fire:

quote
your glory is my poetry

In his final line, MacLean contrasts the immortalitiy offered by his poetry with the woman's own short life:

quote
after the slow rotting of your beauty

Reminding Eimhir of her own mortality, seems possibly cruel. It could suggest MacLean is lashing out, returning the hurt he has experienced. Or he may be trying to win her admiration - showing that although they will never be together, he has a unique gift to offer her.