Monday, May 26, 2008

Prophetic Voice ?

The controversial Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid [Christopher Murray Grieve, b. August 11, 1892, Langholm - September 9, 1978, Edinburgh] attempted to revive the Scottish language in poetry as a means of asserting Scotland's artistic independence and re-invigorating a literature suffering from sentimentality.

He often mourned the fact that his fellow countrymen seemed so obsessed with football rather than culture.

In 1935, he wrote the poem Glasgow 1960. Set in the future, MacDiarmid imagines the narrator as a Scottish exile returning to Glasgow. He discovers to his delight that in his absence there has been a cultural transformation.

Glasgow, 1960

Returning to Glasgow after long exile
Nothing seemed to me to have changed its style,
Buses and trams all labelled 'To Ibrox'
Swung past tight as they'd hold with folks.
Football match, I concluded, but just to make sure
I asked; and the man looked at me fell dour,
Then said, 'Where in God's name are you frae, sir?
It'll be a record gate, but the cause o' the stir
Is a debate on"la loi de l'effort converti"
Between Professor MacFadyen and a Spainish pairty."
I gasped. The newsboys came running along,
'Special! Turkish Poet's Abstruse New Song.
Scottish Authors' Opinions' - and, holy snakes,
I saw the edition sell like hot cakes!

Unbelievable ? For some reason I thought of this poem when I came across a recent report of an audience of 15,000 people who listened intently to a talk about Romano di Melode, a sixth century Syrian poet and composer.

For more about this event, see here and here