Hugh MacDiarmid's Epic Poetry

Hugh MacDiarmid's Epic Poetry

Hugh MacDiarmid's Epic Poetry

Hugh MacDiarmid's Epic Poetry

Excerpt

Objections, non-sequiturs, cheerful distrust, joyous mockery -- all are signs of health. Everything absolute belongs to the realm of pathology.

Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, maxim 154

Throughout the course of the composition of this book, its purpose has remained clear: to direct critical attention towards Hugh MacDiarmid's later poetry and to provide a variety of approaches which would both broaden and sharpen our reading of that poetry.

MacDiarmid's status amongst critics, teachers of poetry, and poets themselves has never been absolutely secure. So, in a project of this kind, where I am breaking new ground in difficult areas, there is little enough to be taken for granted. Readers familiar with MacDiarmid's Scottish context are often less familiar with, or indeed hostile to, the introduction of literary theory. Those familiar with developments in theory are often ignorant of the Scotland MacDiarmid took as his stage. Influential critics whose grasp of modern poetry is international are often strangely silent when it comes to Scottish literature, as they follow the political constitution and subscribe to the identities it confers. Irish literature is thereby distinct from British literature, but the national identities of Scotland and Wales are subsumed in the 'British' rubric. Different critical assumptions are already held by readers of different nationalities. Because MacDiarmid remained a stubbornly national figure, his achievement might seem to be a quite different thing to readers in England and in Scotland, South Africa, or Eastern Europe (not to mention Nicaragua, New Zealand, or the Caribbean). But if nationality means borders, literature insists upon the possibility of communication across them.

However, the readership which exists for what I have called MacDiarmid's 'epic poetry' is limited, even among scholars. Where the American poets Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, and Charles Olson . . .

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