In ‘View of Scotland/Love Poem’ Liz Lochhead uses her personal experiences to paint an image of a traditional Scottish celebration of Hogmanay. She delves into themes of memory, superstition, tradition, and heritage.
The poem takes the reader through the poet’s own memories. She delves into moments from her youth in which her mother prepared the house for the new year and set out prosperity guaranteeing foods. The poet references a variety of traditional items, foods, and practices that date her memories.
She jumps forward in the second half of the poem, looking to her more recent past in which she met and fell in love with the man who became her husband. The poem concludes with a larger view of the surrounding area and the movements of other celebrators just like her.
You can read the full poem here.
‘View of Scotland/Love Poem’ by Liz Lochhead is a four stanza poem that’s separated into uneven sets of lines. The first and second stanzas contain eleven, the third: ten, and the fourth: eighteen. These lines do not follow a septic rhyme scheme or metrical pattern, but that doesn’t mean they’re without unity.
There are several examples of half-rhyme within the text. Also known as slant or partial rhyme, half-rhyme is seen through the repetition of assonance or consonance. This means that either a vowel or consonant sound is reused within one line or multiple lines of verse. For example, the long “e” assonant connection between “knees,” “hogmanay,” and “elbowgrease” at the ends of the first three lines.
Lochhead makes use of a number of poetic techniques in ‘View of Scotland/Love Poem’. These include alliteration, enjambment, and caesura. The first, alliteration, occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same letter. For example, “black bun” in line eight of the first stanza and “propped” and “place” in lines ten and eleven of the second stanza.
Caesura occurs when a line is split in half, sometimes with punctuation, sometimes not. The use of punctuation in these moments creates a very intentional pause in the text. A reader should consider how the pause influences the rhythm of one’s reading and how it might proceed an important turn or transition in the text. There are several examples in this poem, such as line four and of the first stanza that read: “jiffywaxing the vinolay. (This is too” and “ordinary to be nostalgia.) On the kitchen table”.
Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. For instance, the transitions between lines four and five of the first stanza and lines one and two of the third stanza.
Down on her hands and knees
a newly opened tin of sockeye salmon.
In the first stanza of ‘View of Scotland/Love Poem’ the speaker, who is Locchead herself, describes what her mother was doing at “ten at night on Hogmanay,” the Scots word for the last day of the year and new year’s celebrations. Her mother was preparing for the evening’s festivities and is clearly working hard. She was still cleaning and it’s, at that moment, 10:00 PM. It was, and sometimes still is, considered bad luck to enter into the new year with a messy house.
Looking around the room the speaker takes note of the “newly opened tin of sockeye salmon”. It’s set out with the faint expectation that they might have some guests, along with a “slab of black bun”. These foods are connected to the tradition of Hogmanay. It is important, in regards to the traditions of the season, to make sure that food and drink is out and accessible for those in the house. This alludes to deeper prosperity in the home and hopefully encourages that prosperity to continue.
There is an interesting moment here where the contemporary poet’s opinion makes its way into this memory of the past. She adds that “This is too ordinary to be nostalgia” after describing her mother’s cleaning. When speaking about this piece of poetry in the past, Lochhead has expressed her belief that nostalgia is a negative feeling. It creates a false sense of emotional sentimentality around something that didn’t exist when that event was playing out. Nevertheless, it is hard to read through this piece without intuiting a nostalgic mood.
Though we do not expect anyone,
‘Last year it was very quiet…’
In contrast to these simple items are the pieces of “bone china”. On them, the speaker can see imagery depicting “petticoat-tails fanned out”. This speaks to well-dressed, 19th-century women added as decoration to the china plates.
The last line of this stanza appears to be spoken out loud, from either the mother or the speaker. This person recalls how last year, last Hogmanay, it was “very quiet”. This alludes to the possibility that this year it’s going to be the same.
Mum’s got her rollers in with waveset
Nearly half-ten already and her not shifted!
In the next set of eleven lines in ‘View of Scotland/Love Poem’ the speaker describes what else goes into the evening. The events are mundane, simple, but told with a seriousness and dedication of details that make them seem quite important. The speaker notes how her mother took her time and got ready as best she could. Lochhead notes how her mother’s “well-pressed good dress” was set out. She isn’t wearing it yet, another aspect of the scene that catches her attention. It seems that the mother should be at this point “shifted”.
Through the details in these lines, like the “waveset” and the “candlewick upstairs” that the poem is set into the past. They’re meant to evoke some idea of past traditions and encourage readers to explore those traditions and their own family histories further.
If we’re to even hope to prosper
this midnight must find us
is propped under last year’s,
ready to take its place.
In the next lines of ‘View of Scotland/ Love Poem’ the poet puts forward an idea of what this particular day of the year should be like. She states that if they want to have a prosperous year, which starts at midnight that next day, then they need to be as they’d like the year to find them. They shouldn’t start off the year behind schedule or out of sorts.
The speaker also takes note of the calendar that’s set out. It’s all prepared to replace the old “view of Scotland” that’s on the wall right now. It would be bad luck, once again, to replace the calendar before the new year arrives. Here, with the use of the title, a reader can feel the double meaning that’s gone into it. It refers to a landscape of Scotland, a “view” that hangs on the wall. But, it is also in reference to the poem as a whole. It presents the reader with a “view of” life in “Scotland”.
Darling, it’s thirty years since
anybody was able to trick me,
December thirty-first, into
we did not know that we were
the happiness we wished each other
when the Bells went, did we?
It is in the third stanza of ‘View of Scotland/Love Poem’ that the poem shifts. Lochhead moves away from talking about memories of her mother and delves into memories of the beginning of her relationship with her husband. Thirty years have passed between the two stanzas. This stanza should be categorized under the second half of the title ‘Love Poem’.
The poet speaks directly to her lover, telling them that it’s been “thirty years since” she was tricked. This is in reference to another tradition/superstition in which children are told not to look at their faces in a mirror on the last day of the year or they’d see it as many times as there are days of the year. But, the clever trick behind this superstition is in regards to the actual day of the year, December 31st, meaning, there’d only be one face in the mirror.
The next lines, in italics, confront the reader with another voice. Their words are thick with dialectic spellings, alluding to a different time and place.
She continues on, describing the evolving setting. Now, she is at a party with this person and is looking back when she met her husband. They didn’t know at the time how important they were going to be to one another. The word “Bells” is in reference to the chimes of midnight and the sharing of a customary kiss.
All over the city
off-licenses pull down their shutters,
sunburst clocks tick
on dusted mantelshelves.
The fourth stanza of ‘View of Scotland/Love Poem’ is the longest of the poem and is a combination of the past and present, something the poet believed in strongly. When speaking about her work she promoted a way of thinking about life as a series of memories with the past and present existing simultaneously.
She refers to “off licences” in the first lines, and how they were closing their shutters, shutting down for the day. At the same time, people move through the city to wherever they want to spend the first moments of the new year. The mood is anticipatory, made even more so by the ticking of the clocks and the pressure of time that has existed since the first stanza.
Another marker of tradition and time can be seen in the “sunburst” clocks mentioned in line six of this stanza. This is one of several symbols of the past that will be recognizable for a certain segment of readers. One small word, “dusted,” alludes to the previous stanzas as well and the cleaning that went on, and still goes on, as people prepare for the new year. Many things may change, but some traditions stick around.
Everyone puts on their best spread of plenty
(for to even hope to prosper
There is no time like the
present for a kiss.
Just as the mother put out the tuna and the bread in the first stanza, in line eight the poet speaks again on plenty. Everyone did what they could to “put on their best spread of plenty”. There is a refrain of a past comment in lines nine, ten, and eleven as the poet reiterates the fact that they must put their best foot forward or risk not having a successful new year.
Lochhead uses a simile in line fifteen of ‘View of Scotland/Love Poem’. She compares the crusts on pies to the designs on quilts. Still, it is not quite midnight in the world of this poem. The speaker looks towards both the past and present at the same time, waiting for midnight to come. In the final line, she alludes to her relationship with her husband and again, to the passage of time. There is, she says, “no time like the / present for a kiss”.