Themes

Place

The poet imagines himself with the object of his affections in various locations in the Highlands and Islands, from Skye to the Western Isles to Moidart on the west coast.

He starts off on the western seaboard of Skye at Talisker which is situated on a sea loch or fjord. He imagines the opening to the loch as a great white mouth between two headlands - two hard jaws, Rubha nan Clach (clach is Gaelic for stone) and the Bioda Ruadh (ruadh for red). This image could be seen as shark-like. It introduces an element of threat.

Prishal is a rocky outcrop near the shore to which he again gives animal significance:

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until Prishal bowed his stallion head

Stallion has connotations of strength and vigour.

His mind then takes him to Calgary in Mull, a beautiful beach, and then to the long beaches of Uist, in the Outer Hebrides.

In stanza three he stands on the shore at Moidart, an area of stunning beaches and views towards the Western Isles.

He ends up where he starts, in Skye but on the other side, on the rocky beach at Staffin. Here he introduces the pathetic fallacy the unhappy surging sea, ascribing human emotions to the inanimate.

Time

MacLean considers the nature of time in many of his poems and this one is no different. In stanza one he projects himself into a time where he would be with his love:

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I would stand beside the sea/ renewing love in my spirit/ while the ocean was filling/ Talisker Bay forever

Here the poet is indicating the eternal nature of his love, and again in stanza two he says I would stay there till doom and:

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I would wait there forever/ for the sea draining drop by drop

There is no end to his devotion. It is similar to Robert Burns' Till a' the seas gang dry, my love in A Red Red Rose

There is a similar parallel between Burns' While the sands o' life shall run and MacLean measuring sand, grain by grain.

In stanza three MacLean reveals that this is not a long standing relationship with with you, for whom my care is new. This suggests he is in the first flush of love, totally smitten and overwhelmed by his new relationship with this woman.

He offers to give her his love in the form of:

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a synthesis of love for you/ the ocean and the sand, drop and grain

Stanza three finishes on a defiant note. The ocean is personified as the unhappy surging sea. It is a threat he vows to protect their love from:

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I would build the rampart wall against an alien eternity grinding its teeth

Through the extended metaphor of the ocean, time and eternity are visualised as something angry, frustrated, waiting to thwart the lovers. But MacLean has already affirmed that he would go to ultimate lengths to ensure their love is everlasting.