The European Sun: Proceedings of the Seventh International Conference on Medieval and Renaissance Scottish Language and Literature, University of Strathclyde, 1993

By Graham Caie; Roderick J. Lyall et al. | Go to book overview

EDWIN MORGAN


9. The Legacy of the Makars

Let me begin with a couple of quotations which will show that there is a legacy of the makars, or at least one of the makars, in the late twentieth century. The Scottish poet W.S. Graham (1918–1986), who came from Greenock near Glasgow, wrote in English and was not a part of the ‘Scottish Renascence’ movement, as Hugh MacDiarmid called it, which aimed to revive written Scots. But Graham remained, and considered himself to be, very Scottish, and had an awareness of early Scottish poetry. A friend of his called Ronnie Duncan has written about a visit he made to the poet when he was living in Cornwall:

We would have brought a small hamper and a large Teacher’s and after a few
drinks the talk would begin. I remember one Christmas after the meal Sydney and
I began to read poetry to each other: the early Makars – Chaucer, Wyatt, Skelton,
Dunbar. I can still hear the vibrant Scots voice now, repeating the end line from
‘Lament for the Makars’: ‘Timor Mortis Conturbat Me’. That was a transcendent
occasion, speaking to each other through the medium of other poets.1

My second quotation is perhaps more unexpected. After Dylan Thomas died from alcoholism in America in 1953, the American poet Kenneth Rexroth wrote an elegy for him, called ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill’, a long controversial poem which was much discussed at the time. In one part of it Rexroth deliberately went back to Dunbar, and laid out his own lament for the roll-call of twentieth-century American makars, and as in Dunbar he includes well-known names like Ezra Pound and Hart Crane and Vachel Lindsay, together with others that might need a footnote:

What happened to Robinson,
Who used to stagger down Eighth Street,
Dizzy with solitary gin?
Where is Masters, who crouched in
His law office for ruinous decades?
Where is Leonard who thought he was
A locomotive? And Lindsay,
Wise as a dove, innocent
As a serpent, where is he?
Timor mortis conturbat me.

1 Edinburgh Review 75 (1987), 72.

-91-

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