This poem is an elegy, a poem that is a lament for the dead, for a beloved person in Maccaig’s life, probably his sister Frances. It is a sad and beautiful poem about how her death pervades every aspect of his life. He makes it clear that her death is not for him an event that has its place in the past. Instead the process of her dying stays with him constantly- In the opening of the poem he states,’ Everywhere she dies’ and in the final stanza, ‘she can’t stop dying’. He is immersed in her death, painfully conscious of its ugliness and clearly misses her. Maccaig was an atheist and as such in the face of death, there were no easy comforts for him full of promises of eternal life or resurrection beyond the grave because he was a non- believer.(other people can take comfort in God, prayer). For MacCaig, her death presented an awful finality.
This poem however probably helped him with his grieving.
The poem is written in free verse, the poem is his usual conversational style and simple language. Written from a 1st person stance in the past tense- 3 stanzas. Stanza 1- he introduces the subject of his meditation- the death of a loved one. ‘Everywhere she dies’- everywhere is repeated- ‘everywhere I go she dies’. The poet cannot escape awareness of the death of his sister. These statements are simple, direct and matter of fact. There follows a patterned list of places where her death, for him, is to be found; No sunrise, no city square, no lurking beautiful mountain. These places are not usually associated with death, but are usually places brimming, like the city square and the sunrise and mountains are usually associated with beauty. This suggests that the impact of her death has meant for him that these places are now tainted with death and grief is all around him Stanza 2- He reflects and explores the impact of this painful experience. ‘She grieves for my grief’, reinforces the bond between the two of them, she couldn’t bear to see him so sad and suffering. He pictures her, telling him, how the birds dive from the sun and that fish leap into it- both of these images represent a reversal of the normal order of things as the bird should be flying towards the sun and the fish should be diving into the sea. Death therefore is seen as a reversal of the natural state of living. Death is presented as a kind of metaphorical journey that has no destination and it never ends. Stanza 3- He reaches a conclusion of sorts- by reiterating the assertion made in the first line of the poem that – her death was everywhere and always present. Similarly to stanza 1, this opens with a flat, matter –of- fact statement; ‘ever since she died/she can’t stop dying’. It is within MacCaig’s consciousness that she can’t stop dying. His psyche is perpetually tortured by this overwhelming experience of her death. It is in his thoughts all the time. As he begins to make his conclusion, ‘She makes me/ her elegy’. His grief is so deep, so raw. He sees himself as a physical embodiment of a lament (an elegy).
The final, simple line sums up one of the central ideas of the poem; ‘I am her sad music’. This hopelessly pessimistic note emphasises the non- stop, all- encompassing nature of the grief and sorrow that consume him and intrude on every aspect of his being. He must have really loved her.
The key theme of the poem focuses on death and the grieving process.