Steve Whitaker, Literary Editor

Poem Of The Week: 'Frustrated Virtuoso' By Norman MacCaig (1910-1996)

Frustrated Virtuoso

In the corner of Crombie’s field
the donkey gets madder every minute. I listen
to his heehawing
seesawing and imagine
the round rich note
he wants to propel into space,
a golden planet of sound orbiting
to the wonder of the world.

No wonder
when he hears what comes out of
that whoopingcough trombone
his eyes filled with tears
and his box head drops
to lip the leaves of thistles – accepting that
they’re all he deserves.


The Cover of Norman MacCaig's Selected Poems
The Cover of Norman MacCaig's Selected Poems
Enough seriousness already…

Scottish poet Norman MacCaig’s wonderful, witty take on hope extinguished needs little in the way of explanation. The donkey in the adjacent field dreams of shaking off his asinine reputation by flexing the organ for which he is best known, to the delight of a rapt cosmos.

MacCaig’s delicious sense of hubris is ridiculous, and ridiculously touching, for as we hear the animal barking at the moon with fruitless, echoing gusto, we wonder at the absurdity of his energy. And are obscurely saddened as the ‘box head drops’ in dumb acceptance, and normal service is resumed amongst the tasty thistles.

A free turn across the sands at Scarborough to the person who can find a better description of a donkey’s undirected bray than a ‘whoopingcough trombone’.


‘Frustrated virtuoso’ is taken from White Bird and was published by The Hogarth Press