The chapter explores the diverse poetic vision and the representations of femininity in Sydney Goodsir Smith’s poetry. The discussion focuses on the ways in which Smith romanticises and idealises female figures, drawing from the hoard of myth and legend, which includes the Moon goddess, the witch, Eurydice, Dido, and the Queen of the Fairies, appearing recurrently in his poetry. It attempts to examine the central position given to the Muse who acts as the moving force behind the poetic and argues that by placing the feminine Thou at the forefront of his poetry, Smith stresses the totality of the female other. Finally, the chapter aims to demonstrate how, by employing traditional poetic forms such as the sonnet, the song, the ballad, the elegy and writing in Scots, Smith revisits, revises and challenges lyrical conventions.
The comic drama Colickie Meg is both an adaptation and a continuation of Carotid Cornucopius and is written in the same distinctive idiolect. Although extracts were published in the journals Lines Review and Jabberwock, it remains both unperformed and unpublished. This chapter examines the five extant manuscripts of Colickie Meg held by Edinburgh University Library and the National Library of Scotland. It first traces a compositional history of the play, focusing, in particular, on early drafts that cast significant light on Smith’s creative processes and reveal that his most intensive work on Colickie Meg occurred earlier (1949–50) than has been appreciated. It next provides a brief summary of the play’s action before analysing in depth its relationship to Carotid Cornucopius. It shows that the drama downplays the novel’s political components and amplifies its mythical subtexts while offering clues as to why Smith did not extend Carotid Cornucopius beyond the existing eight ‘fitts’. It finally identifies factors – largely connected to its spectacular multimedia nature – that may have prevented Colickie Meg from reaching either page or stage.
This chapter discusses the inspiration MacDiarmid’s new Scots-language poetry provided for Smith, although the New Zealand-born poet had had no previous contact with Scots-language culture. Nevertheless, Smith became a prominent Scots-language member of the second phase of the Scottish Renaissance poetry revival. The chapter explores the similarities and differences between Smith’s and MacDiarmid’s approaches to the Scots language as, for example, in Smith’s involvement in the attempt to develop a standard of Scots for poetry purposes as opposed to MacDiarmid’s more haphazard ‘apostrophe’ activity. The chapter also explores differences in the thematic nature of their poetry. ‘Back to Dunbar’ did not have the same meaning for Smith as it had for MacDiarmid. The influence of the Classics in Smith’s writing will be discussed as will Smith’s visual imagination in relation to MacDiarmid’s emphasis on the ‘soon’, no’ sense, that faddoms the herts o’ men’. In conclusion, the chapter considers whether the reputation of both poets has been unfairly restricted by their decision to write a modern(ist) poetry in Scots.
This chapter discusses the ways in which Smith, ostensibly an outsider to Scottish culture at the start of his writing life, embraced the internationalist ideals of the Scottish Literary Renaissance. His use of the Scots tongue and of Scotland (especially Edinburgh) as the setting of many poems are relatively superficial aspects of his literary nationalism: much more important are his frequent references to earlier Scottish literature, emphasising the scope and the unity of the national literary achievement, and his association of heroic figures from Scottish history with comparable freedom-fighters from other countries, emphasising Scotland’s traditionally international outlook.
The reference in the title of this chapter is to one of the writer’s versions of Apollinaire, and provides a fitting lens through which to read his use of foreign poets – on the one hand to order his own Scottish experience as regards its international setting, on the other to stravaig adventurously through the wider poetic world. This chapter looks at Smith’s translations of the following poets: Guillaume Apollinaire, Alexander Blok, Stefan Borsukiewicz, Tristan Corbière, Ivan Jelinek, Sorley MacLean, Sappho and François Villon. It takes a broad view of Smith’s work as a translator from Gaelic, French, Czech, Polish, Ancient Greek and Russian. In each case it explores the reasons for his being drawn to translate particular poets and what he hoped to achieve by doing so, linking his work in this area to the wider Scottish Renaissance project of translation as part of an effort to internationalise Scottish letters.
The essay distinguishes two narratives in Smith’s sequence. The first concerns the love affair which ostensibly forms its subject matter, the second the writing of the sequenceitself, in the course of which they interact and interweave, even if there is no chronological overlap. Whyte discerns a repeated intervention, mirroring and refraction of competing voices, indicative of Smith’s difficulty in attaining unmediated, frank utterance, as well as of his ‘lastness’, his link to the French Decadent poets and to a tradition reaching back to the Scottish Makars and beyond. The ‘lastness’ also implies a vivacious polemic with the leftist political commitment of fellow poets Somhairle MacGill-Eain / Sorley MacLean and Hugh MacDiarmid, from which Smith takes pains to distance himself.
This chapter examines why, in one of his final poems, Smith looked to Oliver Goldsmith as something of an alter-ego. It is the epistolary aspects of Smith’s poem that are of interest here: why is it addressed to the Irish, but London-based Goldsmith rather than for example Robert Fergusson, although the title of his poem alludes to one of Fergusson’s most popular poems, ‘Ode to the Gowdspink’. Smith focuses primarily on Goldsmith’s The Deserted Village, and aspects of the eighteenth-century poet’s ‘gangrel’ life.
Douglas Young’s review, in The New Alliance, of Smith’s first poetry collection, Skail Wind (1941) is rather scathing. Young writes ‘Here is a sign of the times, another epiphenomenon of English cultural decay. To find his mode of expression, a globe-trotting English speaker, of Antipodean provenience, has recourse to Lallans, which moreover he wields not worse than many autochthonous North Britons’. He goes on to accuse ‘the makar’ of trailing ‘relics of the English Thirties’ and comments that ‘the rhythm also is too often slack, and interminable spavined lines schauchle [shamble] over the excellent paper’. In a letter to Sorley MacLean, Young is concerned that he has gone too far and caused offence. To examine the relationship between these three men is to journey to the heart of the later Scottish Renaissance with its lively debates on language and politics. As such, this chapter examines the part that Smith played in this Scottish literary circle of the late 1930s and early 1940s, placing his first collection into a wider literary context and exploring his (sometimes fraught) search for an authentic poetic voice at a time when the markers of Scottish literature were being redefined and refined.