Poets as legislators: self, nation and possibility in World War Two Scottish poetry

McCaffery, Richard (2014) Poets as legislators: self, nation and possibility in World War Two Scottish poetry. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Abstract

This thesis is the first sustained critical and sociological reappraisal of the poetry produced by Scottish poets who came of age during World War Two and a selection of those who were old enough to have experienced the previous conflict whilst still responding in their art to World War Two. This thesis carves out a critical space for World War Two poetry beyond the poetry of pity and loss espoused by poets of World War One. It also takes into account the conditions and circumstances that mark out Scottish poetry of this conflict from English poetry of the same era, for programmatic, political, poetic and linguistic reasons as well as re-configuring the definition of World War Two poetry to encompass the experience of women poets. At the core of this thesis lies the idea that the Scottish poetry of World War Two was committed to something more than anti-fascism. These poets did not simply oppose a tyrannical, fascist force in their work, they were also developing ways in which their work and art could contribute to a better post-war Scottish society and in many ways espousing both internationalism and proto-transnationalism as well as anti-imperialism. All of these poets contributed in both practical and intellectual ways to post-war Scottish society. In this, this thesis takes its lead from Alice Templeton’s literary theory of a war poetry of ‘possibility’ that transcends both the trauma, witness and outrage of reactions to war. The cumulative effect of the work of these poets is a legislative and educational impact made on society, that poets could have a say in their work on how post-war society could be reconstructed in fairer and more equitable ways. This poetry is both modernist and romantic in the sense that it desires a change and sees life and potential that is being denied by imperial super-powers and structures while it invests the poet with an empowered voice. From the home-front to the front-line, diverse avenues of experience are treated as being of vital importance. The first chapter of this thesis explores the Elegies for the Dead in Cyrenaica and a number of folk songs by Hamish Henderson, to show his unique commitment to post-war Scotland in his folk-song work. Chapter two compares and contrasts the work of Alexander and Tom Scott, showing their range of reaction from the epic to the highly personal elegy. The thesis then moves into an analysis both of George Campbell Hay’s war poetry, which sympathised with the native Arab populations during the desert war, and the work of Sorley MacLean, who found his political certainties shaken. From this point the thesis explores the anti-heroic work of Edwin Morgan and Robert Garioch as well as the political and personal reasons for refusal of conscription expounded by Douglas Young and Norman MacCaig. The thesis closes with a discussion of women’s experience and poetry of World War Two, and an in-depth a look at the major influential figures on the poets of this time, Hugh MacDiarmid and Edwin Muir. Between these figures we shall see a range of experiences, but each poet is united in their struggle, dramatized in their work, for a better post-War Scotland, a drive which this thesis explores and discusses for the first time in detail.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Poetry, War, Second World War, Scottish, Nationalism, Hamish Henderson, Sorley Maclean, Edwin Morgan
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Critical Studies > Scottish Literature
Funder's Name: UNSPECIFIED
Supervisor's Name: Riach, Prof Alan
Date of Award: 2014
Embargo Date: 26 January 2019
Depositing User: Mr. Richard McCaffery
Unique ID: glathesis:2014-7049
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 01 Mar 2016 11:36
Last Modified: 14 Mar 2016 08:48
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/7049

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