We brushed the dirt off, held it to the light.
The obverse showed us Scotland, and the head
of a red deer; the antler-glint had fled
but the fine cut could still be felt. All right:
we turned it over, read easily One Pound,
but then the shock of Latin, like a gloss,
Respublica Scotorum, sent across
such ages as we guessed but never found
at the worn edge where once the date had been
and where as many fingers had gripped hard
as hopes their silent race had lost or gained.
The marshy scurf crept up to our machine,
sucked at our boots. Yet nothing seemed ill-starred.
And least of all the realm the coin contained.
* * * * *
The Bottle Imp writes: ‘The Coin’ is the forty-fourth in the sequence of fifty-one sonnets which make up Edwin Morgan‘s Sonnets from Scotland, first published in its entirety in 1984. Sonnets from Scotland can, and should, be regarded as much as a long poem as a sequence, and it is one of the most important and significant contributions to that genre Scotland has ever produced, to be considered in the company of Burns’ Tam O’ Shanter, MacDiarmid’s A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle, or W.S. Graham’s The Night-Fishing.
Sonnets from Scotland is a catch-all of Morgan’s extraordinary poetic personality: his hyper-imaginative inventiveness; formal and technical brilliance; fascination with change, energy, transformation, and startling conjunctions; and his indomitable cultural and political optimism and faith in renewal. It was in fact a political failure which was a powerful motivation for the work: the botched Devolution Referendum of 1979, when a majority of Scots voted for devolution, only to be told by the then Labour Westminster government that the majority wasn’t big enough.