Slate is a poem from a collection called Sonnets from Scotland which Morgan published in 1984. This series of poems was written after an important time in Scotland’s history– the Scottish Referendum of 1979. The outcome of this referendum was that although a majority of people had voted for devolution, this majority was not deemed large enough to enact the legislation, and politically the country was at a low ebb.
The sonnets were written as a response to this disappointing blow for Scotland and in them Morgan considers the enormous changes that have already affected Scotland through the millennia as well as imagining those which have yet to come.
Slate is the first poem in this collection and the opening lines introduce the idea of change. In it, the speaker depicts this land we know as Scotland in its formative years, millions of years before the arrival of humans and describes how this prehistoric landscape developed and was shaped.
The speaker moves onto examine details of the landscape, describing the hills, mountains and the Great Glen. The rugged nature of the Scottish landscape is apparent and the speaker explores this, detailing the tough conditions that moulded the features of the land. Unforgiving, fearsome weather becomes a particular focus and suggests a particularly hardy land has been subjected to the elements.
The poem shifts its focus during the final four lines of the poem – this shift (or turn) is known as the volta. The arrival of humans is mentioned and the speaker summarises his observations, describing a Scotland that appears to be defiant, beautiful and stoic. The final image is of a land impatient, kicking its heels.
This continues the idea of change and, perhaps, the frustration of an impediment, but the conclusion is ultimately hopeful, encouraging us to take stock, reassess and push on with progress.