Warts and All

A national poetry in three languages is hard to describe, much less anthologize, and, in fact, the situation is even more complex since so much good Scottish poetry was written in Latin, a point made emphatically by Tom Scott in the introduction to his Penguin anthology. Roderick Watson, in editing this wonderful and exasperating volume, has made the wise decision to include the Gaelic (with translations), while at the same time refusing to turn up his nose at the large body of Scottish poetry written in English. (Unfortunately, the decision to omit Latin means the exclusion of Latin poets from Columba to Buchanan.)

Much in this new anthology is quite properly familiar. The Gaelic selections, even in the prosaic translations provided, are not only interesting in themselves but for the light they shed on poetry written in Scots and English. For many English and American readers, it will be their first acquaintance with Sorley MacLean, regarded by many as one of the best Scottish poets of the century. Douglas Young used to say that MacLean was the finest poet writing in Britain, and it would be hard to think of a comparable figure writing in English who can join the purity of MacLean's lyric with his commitment to the poor.

Across eternity, across its snows

I see my unwritten poems,

I see the spoor of their paws...

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