Nil Nil is the longest and most complex poem of the six Paterson poems set for Higher.

It explores the idea that ultimately all our efforts in life, and our lives themselves, dwindle to nothing.

The title of the poem introduces this theme. Nil Nil alludes to the football score, 0 - 0, but is missing the dash. This opens it to carry a wider meaning about existence - as the two situations featured end up signifying nothing. Paterson seems to suggest that our achievements are eventually merged with the world itself, and lose their individual significance.

Represents the zenith, the decline and the fighter pilot in Don Paterson's Nil Nil poem

Paterson juxtaposes two situations:

  • A football team loses its success over a period of time. The image is finally reduced to two little boys kicking a bald tennis ball around.
  • A fighter-pilot crashes his plane. He is blown to smithereens, leaving only a few remnants. One part of his remains, his gallstone, becomes a ball which the small boy Horace kicks into the gutter; thus uniting the two sections.