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

ALAN MacGILLIVRAY


35. Memoirs of a European Scotland

When Sir David Lindsay creates his dream of the state of Scotland addressed to King James V in 1528,1 he interestingly sets himself as dreamer in a sheltered crevice on a rocky shore early on New Year’s Day morning. The normal conventions of a soft spring season and a pleasing landscape are overturned in favour of realistic Scottish temperatures and location, probably based on Lindsay’s own experience of wild winter days on the Firth of Forth, observed from his home estates in East Lothian and Fife. There is more of a parallel with Robert Henryson describing a piercingly cold Spring night on the east coast at the beginning of ‘The Testament of Cresseid’ than with William Dunbar in ‘The Goldyn Targe’ and ‘The Thrissill and the Rois’. It is interesting to see Lindsay in ‘The Dreme’ both following the established poetic dream convention and departing from it to impart a sterner and more austere atmospheric context for his strictures on Scotland’s political and social condition.

For us here at the end of the twentieth century faced with a condition of Scotland that, for all the inevitable changes in political institutions and labels, seems in a number of essentials to be quite unchanged from Lindsay’s day, a major interest may be in the way that successive poets have used the dream to express the continuing disquiet and anger felt by thoughtful and observant Scots writers at how their country is consistently misgoverned and held back from its true potential. So there is Allan Ramsay’s imitation of the medieval in ‘The Vision’, Robert Burns’ poem of the same name, ‘The Vision’, which in fact is more eulogistic than satirical, and primarily for our twentieth-century consciousness, Hugh MacDiarmid’s ‘A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle’. This drunk man’s rambling dream-like vision of Scotland and its ills is probably the highpoint of this convention in Scottish poetry. For our purposes today I want to pick out two topics from within its near-2700 lines. First, there is the theme of what Scotland has turned its back on, the tradition of the Makars and their immediate successors, whom we are celebrating at this conference:

… The Gairdens o’ the Muses may be braw,
But nane like oors can breenge and eat ana’!

And owre the kailyaird wa’ Dunbar they’ve flung,
And a’ their countrymen that e’er ha’e sung
For ither than ploomen’s lugs or to enrichen
Plots on Parnassus set apairt for kitchen.

1 ‘The Dreme of Schir David Lyndesay’, ed. D. Hamer, The Works of Sir David Lindsay, STS (1931).

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