Form and Structure

Paterson prologues the poem with the words of Francois Aussemain – a French philosopher of his own invention. This sets up the philosophical nature of the poem and forces the reader to contemplate the reality of our existence - everything becomes obscured through time, and we are left with the dull and terrible facts that lead into the poem itself.

The first stanza is deliberately longer than the second. It charts the gradual decline of a successful football team. The lines are long and the sentences spill over into the following lines, sometimes with enjambment. This evokes the sense of a series of events that lead into each other and that together mark the club's descent into obscurity.

The second stanza is shorter. It describes the parallel, but much more rapid descent of the Leuchars’ pilot – a man who is reduced to a gallstone kicked around by a small boy.

In this stanza the central theme is made clear - to the boy, the identity and the meaning of the pilot has gone. His gallstone (his abandoned history) becomes a mere pebble kicked in a game. The gallstone in turn lands in the gutter. This marks the end of both the football team and the pilot, and could imply the fate of the boy and the town too – the theme of being reduced to nothingness (or to 'nil') is cemented.

After the poem, Paterson addresses the reader directly about the randomness of life; the central theme of each plot thinning down, even in the poet’s own mind.

The poem itself thins down to a:

...point so refined /not even the angels could dance on it.

Finally we are left with a solitary minor sentence:


Paterson has referred to the role of the poet to bestow meaning. In a lecture in 2004 he said:

I always felt that every morning the poet should stand at the window and remember that nothing that they see, not a bird or stone, has in its possessions the name they give it.

Thus he questions what it is we have when we retreat from the poem in the failing light and ultimately whether we take the whole thing and ourselves too seriously.