In the Cairngorms
As featured in 'The Living Mountain’: A Cairngorms Journey, a BBC Four TV programme exploring Nan Shepherd’s work and landscapes, by Robert Macfarlane.
The 80th anniversary of first publication.
Foreword by Robert Macfarlane
Nan Shepherd was born near Aberdeen in 1893 and died there in 1981.
Her first novel, The Quarry Wood, was published in 1928, and two more novels followed in the early 1930s; all three are set in small communities in the north-east of Scotland. Shortly afterwards, came this collection of poetry, In the Cairngorms, which was published in a small edition by the Moray Press of Edinburgh in 1934. Then came The Living Mountain, (recently re-published by Canongate Books), a work of poetic prose exploring Shepherd’s close relationship with the hills, which was written in the 1940s, but not published until 1977. It has recently become a great success, helped partly by its place in Robert Macfarlane’s bestseller, The Old Ways, but also because her work – with its passion for mountains, for landscape beauty, and for 'living all the way through', as she put it – is resonating with the many people drawn to wild places in their imaginations or in actuality.
In The Cairngorms was the book of which Shepherd was the most proud. According to Robert Macfarlane: “Shepherd had a clear genre hierarchy in her mind, and poetry was at its pinnacle. 'Poetry' she wrote to the novelist Neil Gunn … holds 'in intensest being the very heart of all experience', and offers glimpses of 'that burning heart of life.'” Indeed, the poems that form the first and main section of the book show a fierce and often eerie lyricism at work, part-Romantic and part-modern. All are born from Shepherd’s life-long acquaintance with the Cairngorm mountains.
The final section consists of a sequence of love sonnets, written, according to Shepherd, for a man whose identity is never disclosed (Shepherd never married). This is a volume that speaks eloquently both to lovers of poetry and lovers of nature. It will be enjoyed by a modern audience not only for the beauty of its mountain context but also for the sheer strength of the verse.
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