The poet’s concern with the nature of time permeates this poem:
Time, the deer, is in the wood of Hallaig
The deer is a common motif in the tales and poetry of Gaeldom symbolising beauty, grace, mystery, nature, the wild.
The wood of Hallaig is a green, gentle place where the image of the deer seems very much at home. This suggests time and nature are at one. But later MacLean attempts to separate time and place. He uses the violent image of shooting the deer to reflect his strength of feeling and his wish to stop time and preserve the place as it was.
MacLean uses a range of tenses to reflect different time frames. He begins in present simple tense, describing the current physical appearance of the place.
He uses past tense to reflect his own memory (
through which I saw) of what has been lost -
every generation gone,
houses that were
Future tense suggests that he will move past his initial impression of the place as it is now - he
will wait, he
will go down.
Present continuous tense is used to suggest actions from the past that continue as MacLean's memories - the men are
lying, the girls are
keeping up the endless walk,
coming back to Hallaig and all will have meaning for us
while I live.
Into the present, through his vivid evocation of the landscape, he presents to us the lives that were lived in the past and shows us:
the heartbreak of the tale
The place is abandoned, the modern world has bypassed it yet MacLean brings to us the essential spirit of the place and its people. Time has lost its impact, its meaning, because of the intensity of his love:
his eye will freeze in the wood