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A critical guide to three movements in contemporary Scottish poetry Scobie, Stephen Arthur Cross

Abstract

The first Part of the dissertation examines in some detail the poetry of Hugh MacDiarmid. A chronological approach is used, but what is most stressed is the thematic unity of all MacDiarmid’s work, from such early poems as A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle (of which a detailed exegesis is presented) through the poems of the '30s to the long "world-view" poems such as In Memoriam James Joyce. This unity is to be found principally in MacDiarmid’s attitude towards Evolution, and his view of the evolutionary development of the human mind. Within this context, the apparent paradoxes and confusions of MacDiarmid's political, social, and aesthetic views may be reconciled. Although mainly concerned with the ideas contained in MacDiarmid's poetry, the dissertation also attempts to describe and to defend the changing stylistic means by which these ideas are presented, especially with regard to the very "prosaic" nature of the later poems. Part Two examines the work of four leading poets of the Scottish Renaissance. Sydney Goodsir Smith's poetry is discussed in terms of its main themes of love and politics, and their partial reconciliation in poems dealing with the figure of the outsider. Particularly close attention is given to the poem-sequence Under the Eildon Tree. The discussion of Robert Garioch relates his work as a translator of poetry to his work as an original poet, dealing especially with his poems about Edinburgh, and with the relation of his humorous to his more serious work. The section on Norman MacCaig analyses his attitudes towards nature, and the means of perceiving external nature, especially the poetic perception through metaphor. The results of MacCaig's recent shift to free verse are also treated. Iain Crichton Smith's poetry is viewed as a system of dualities, perhaps best summed up in the title of one of his books, The Law and the Grace; the discussion closes with a detailed analysis of the one poem, Deer on the High Hills, in which these dualities are (tentatively) reconciled. The final Part of the dissertation opens with an account of the history and theoretical basis of the experimental Concrete Poetry movement, and then examines the contributions to this movement of two Scots poets, Edwin Morgan and Ian Hamilton Finlay. Finlay’s work is examined in detail, not only for its extraordinary inventiveness of technique, but also for the very positive values of it’s attitudes, themes, and imagery. Particular attention is given to the theme of fishing-boats and the sea in Finlay's work. This section is not merely a defence of Finlay's technical procedures, but an assertion of his greatness as a poet.

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