Analysis

The poem carries the voice of MacLean in the first person. This enables the reader to immediately share the experience of the poet:

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The window is nailed and boarded/ Through which I saw the West/ And my love is at the Burn of Hallaig,/ A birch tree,’

Already the timeframe is uncertain as MacLean uses different tenses to mix past and present:

  • is nailed - describes the current ruins of the crofting township of Hallaig
  • I saw - immediate contrast is created through MacLean's memories of the place
  • my love is - a statement of the continuing strength of his emotions

The image of the burn suggests something that is flowing and changing, but also constant.

The birch tree suggests something living but rooted in the nature and history of the place. MacLean's love is both compared to a tree and personified as a woman or girl. It could refer to his love of the place and the people. At the same time it could be a specific woman he admires and feels love for:

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she is a birch, a hazel,/ a straight, slender young rowan.

In verse three MacLean refers to my people expressing his sense of belonging to the place and its people. His references are specific - Norman and Big Hector are presumably real people - Raasay was known as an island of ‘big men’.

There is a sense of pride in MacLean's words:

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their sons and daughters are a wood

Again MacLean links the people with the place and the natural world, suggesting that they are one and the same. But he is disappointed in the next verse when he looks at the artificial plantation of pine trees:

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they are not the wood I love

He sees the conifers as alien and invasive. They contrast with his feelings for the delicate native trees that he longs for - I will wait for the birch wood.

If the wood does not appear and grow in the way MacLean wants he talks of moving to the village:

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If it does not, I will go down to Hallaig,/ to the Sabbath of the dead/ where the people are frequenting/ every single generation gone.

Here we get to share the poet’s pain, his recognition of the death of his people and the emptiness of the village they left behind. But he then goes on to deny this again:

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They are still in Hallaig... the dead have been seen alive.

He describes seeing both his inner vision - the men lying on the green - and the reality of the abandoned village - at the end of every house that was.

Again he links nature and people as he talks of the girls a wood of birches. MacLean creates a sense of life, the coming and going of girls in the endless walk.

Then his vision recedes into sadness and mystery:

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their laughter a mist in my ears,/ and their beauty a film on my heart

From this sense of sadness comes anger and MacLean ends the poem with an image of violence:

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a vehement bullet will come from the gun of Love

The image of the deer returns, killed by MacLean's bullet. The deer represents time and as his eyes freeze the suggestion is made that the strength of MacLean's feeling is stopping or freezing time.

He goes on to declare that his blood will not be traced while I live and the poem ends on the Shakespearean notion that the word of the poet can create the permanence of love.