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

J. D. McCLURE


43. Drummond of Hawthornden and Poetic
Translation

If there is a critical axiom concerning Drummond of Hawthornden, it is that he is an imitative and derivative poet. L.E. Kastner, after listing several examples of poems in Drummond’s oeuvre which are close imitations or translations of European models, concludes ‘All claim to originality he must forego’;1 R.H. MacDonald calls him ‘an exceptionally derivative poet’;2 Michael Spiller uses a tactful neologism to say the same thing in describing him as ‘one of the most intertextual of our poets.’3 His indebtedness to Latin, French, Italian, Spanish and English sources was demonstrated in fascinating detail in Kastner’s 1913 edition; more recently R.D.S. Jack has shown that he was not above borrowing from compatriot poets as well;4 and the task of identifying his models and discussing the use he made of them has been the topic of much equally interesting work to the present day.

Drummond, as is quite clear from his actual practice, regarded himself as being at full liberty to use his sources precisely as he saw fit, reworking them as anything and everything from translations of almost literal verbal accuracy to poems linked to their originals only by the common presence of some words, ideas or elements in the rhetorical structure. His well-stocked library, as the illuminating study by MacDonald makes clear,5 was a quarry on which he could draw for the raw—or the partly cooked—material of his poetic work: across the gulf of centuries and enormous changes in the perceived role and accepted practice of a poet one can see a resemblance to MacDiarmid, the scale of whose derivations, borrowings and barefaced thefts has probably not even yet been exposed in its entirety. Drummond, as every reader knows, could even praise his confrere Patrick Gordon for his originality with an almost verbatim quotation from Sidney: ‘Thy Syre no pyick-purse is of others witt’6 – a borrowing which, at first blush, might be thought to show a degree of either naivety or temerity bordering on the incredible.

1 The Poetical Works of William Drummond of Hawthornden, Scottish Text Society New Series nos. 3 and 4, Blackwoods, Edinburgh, 1913, Vol. I p. xliii. All references are to this edition.

2 Poems and Prose of William Drummond of Hawthornden, Scottish Academic Press, Edinburgh 1976, p. xiii.

3 ‘Poetry after the Union,’ in The History of Scottish Literature vol. 1, origins to 1660, ed. R.D.S. Jack, Aberdeen University Press 1988, p. 150.

4 ‘Drummond: the major Scottish sources,’ Studies in Scottish Literature 6, 1968, pp. 36–46.

5 Robert H. MacDonald, The Library of Drummond of Hawthornden, Edinburgh University Press and Aldine, Chicago, 1971.

6 In his commendatory Sonnet to Gordon’s The Famous Historye of Penardo and Laissa. Kastner vol. 2, p. 162.

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