Saturday, August 25, 2007

Edwin Morgan - the Makar

With these Scots poets I've been featuring of late, I'm a bit remiss in missing out our Makar, Edwin Morgan. Here he is, and again this speaks so eloquently of Scotland and the Scots:

The Flowers of Scotland

Yes, it is too cold in Scotland for flower people; in any case who would be handed a thistle?
What are our flowers? Locked swings and private rivers -
and the island of Staff for sale in the open market, which no one questions or thinks strange -
and lads o' pairts that run to London and Buffalo without a backward look while their elders say Who'd blame them -
and bonny fechters kneedeep in dead ducks with all the thrawn intentness of the incorrigible professional Scot -
and a Kirk Assembly that excels itself in the bad old rhetoric and tries to stamp out every glow of charity and change, most wrong when it thinks most loudly it is right -
and a Scottish National Party that refuses to discuss Vietnam and is even applauded for doing so, do they think no lesson is to be learned from what is going on there? -
and the unholy power of the Grouse-moor and Broad-acres to prevent the smoke of useful industry from sullying Invergordon or setting up linear cities among the whaups -
and the banning of Beardsley and Joyce but not of course of 'Monster on the Campus' or 'Curse of the Undead' - those who think the former are more degrading, what are their values? -
and the steady creep of the preservationist societies, wearing their pens out for slums with good leaded lights - if they could buy all the amber in the Baltic and melt it over Edinburgh would they be happy then? - the skeleton is well-proportioned -
and by contrast the massive indifference to the slow death of the Clyde estuary, decline of resorts, loss of steamers, anaemia of yachting, cancer of monstrous installations of a foreign power and an acquiescent government - what is the smell of death on a child's spade, any more than rats to leaded lights? -
and dissidence crying in the wilderness to a moor of boulders and two ospreys -
these are the flowers of Scotland

This was written in 1969 and, while some of the specifics are dated, it is remarkable (and deflating) how strongly the general points sustain. I think this is a fine poem. Its structure is almost that of prose poem and it is very verbal, even verbose; and yet there are some beautiful poetic phrases in there. Anyone could (many did) write polemics such as this, but they generally end up as diatribes, they become too ferocious in their indignation and slip sadly into stereotypical Scots' hectoring. This poem avoids that and makes the reader think all the more deeply for doing so.

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