While in ‘Shores’, MacLean uses the landscape to reflect the scale and power of his love, in ‘Girl of the Red-Gold Hair’, MacLean’s use of imagery helps to power the sense of desolation that is prominent in the poem. In the third stanza, MacLean writes that:
Grey the mist creeping over Dun Caan, / fretful the coarse moorgrass and bog cotton.
grey misthelps to build a bleak and somewhat eerie mood in the poem.
coarse moorgrassis important: moors are generally uncultivated and barren, reflecting the speaker’s pessimism and inability to grow in an emotional sense.
Bog cottonis a reference to a plant that can be found in the Western Highlands. The threat of the mist literally overshadowing it metaphorically reflects the speaker’s pessimism conquering the beauty that he is surrounded by.
The lack of colour that MacLean finds in the landscape contrasts with the vibrancy of the
red-gold hair of the girl. This suggests that, without her, the speaker finds his surroundings to be dull and empty.
This sense of dread is expanded when MacLean closes the third stanza by stating that
gloom overshadows me; one suspects that the mist that streams towards him in the opening of the stanza is representative of his anguish.
the wind skirls round the top of the mast
In the fourth stanza, MacLean describes the wind. Skirl tells us the wind is making a shrill, wailing sound. This suggests the speaker's pain and torment. But MacLean seems disconnected, both from his surroundings and the emotion they suggest.
He was so often inspired and propelled by his surroundings but, in this instance, is:
indifferent / to a battle awakening on a bare sea.
Perhaps, too, MacLean’s insistence to leave the mast to
blow suggests an unwillingness to move on, literally and metaphorically, from his situation.