Hugh MacDiarmid and Sorley MacLean: modern makars, men of letters




Wilson, Susan Ruth

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This dissertation, Hugh MacDiarmid and Sorley MacLean: Modern Makars, Men of Letters, transcribes and annotates 76 letters (65 hitherto unpublished), between MacDiarmid and MacLean. Four additional letters written by MacDiarmid’s second wife, Valda Grieve, to Sorley MacLean have also been included as they shed further light on the relationship which evolved between the two poets over the course of almost fifty years of friendship. These letters from Valda were archived with the unpublished correspondence from MacDiarmid which the Gaelic poet preserved. The critical introduction to the letters examines the significance of these poets’ literary collaboration in relation to the Scottish Renaissance and the Gaelic Literary Revival in Scotland, both movements following Ezra Pound’s Modernist maxim, “Make it new.” The first chapter, “Forging a Friendship”, situates the development of the men’s relationship in terms of each writer’s literary career, MacDiarmid already having achieved fame through his early lyrics and with the 1926 publication of A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle when they first met. MacLean, on the other hand, was a recent university graduate, young teacher, and fledgling poet when he began to provide translations of eighteenth-, nineteenth-, and twentieth-century Gaelic poetry for MacDiarmid to versify in English with the odd Scots or Gaelic word. This assistance was essential to MacDiarmid’s compilation of The Golden Treasury of Scottish Poetry, which he wished to be representative of Scotland’s literary traditions in Scots, Gaelic, English, and Latin. The work resulting from MacDiarmid and MacLean’s literary collaboration further reinforced MacDiarmid’s credibility as a nationalist poet well versed in each of these traditions. Chapter two, “Cultural Nationalism – Politics and Poetry” discusses the significance of each writer’s stance on language in relation to Scottish literature and explores their success in avoiding the ideological antagonisms which plagued the literary and language revivals in early twentieth-century Ireland. “Modern Makars” scrutinizes MacDiarmid and MacLean’s renderings of several Gaelic poems in The Golden Treasury, particularly in relation to the implications of the term “translations”. The final chapter, “Epistolary Discourse and the Legacy of the Letters” sums up the significance of MacDiarmid and MacLean’s collaboration and long-standing friendship, as revealed through their letters, and addresses these writers’ subsequent influence on both writing and cultural life in Scotland. The letters are followed by two appendices. Appendix A includes a transcription of Michael Davitt’s interview with Sorley MacLean for the Irish journal Innti in 1986 wherein MacLean discusses such issues as his political views, the influences on his poetry, and his relationship with MacDiarmid. The interview is provided in its original Irish text and accompanied by a translation into English. Appendix B is a transcription of the Times Literary Supplement’s 4 January 1936 review of MacDiarmid’s translation of The Birlinn of Clanranald as it was originally published in The Modern Scot. Sorley MacLean served as the ghost writer of MacDiarmid’s response to this critique of his work. This research, conducted both here in Victoria and in Edinburgh, Scotland, provides the first book-length study of the literary collaboration of these influential Scottish poets and the first critical discussion of their collected letters.



20th-Century Scottish Poetry, 20th-Century Gaidhlig/Gaelic Poetry, Hugh MacDiarmid, Sorley MacLean, Golden Treasury of Scottish Poetry, Correspondence, Literary Collaboration