Our own language: Scots verse translation and the second-generation Scottish renaissance

Sanderson, Stewart (2016) Our own language: Scots verse translation and the second-generation Scottish renaissance. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

Full text available as:
[thumbnail of 2016SandersonPhd.pdf] PDF
Download (1MB)
Printed Thesis Information: https://eleanor.lib.gla.ac.uk/record=b3165933


This thesis examines the role of Scots language verse translation in the second-generation or post-war Scottish Renaissance. The translation of European poetry into Scots was of central importance to the first-generation Scottish Renaissance of the nineteen twenties and thirties. As Margery Palmer McCulloch has shown, the wider cultural climate of Anglo-American modernism was key to MacDiarmid’s conception of the interwar Scottish Renaissance. What was the effect on second-generation poet-translators as the modernist moment passed? Are the many translations undertaken by the younger poets who emerged in the course of the nineteen forties and fifties a faithful reflection of this cultural inheritance? To what extent are they indicative of a new set of priorities and international influences?

The five principal translators discussed in this thesis are Douglas Young (1913-1973), Sydney Goodsir Smith (1915-1975), Robert Garioch (1909-1981), Tom Scott (1918-1995) and William J. Tait (1918-1992). Each is the subject of a chapter, in many cases providing the first or most extensive treatment of particular translations. While the pioneering work of John Corbett, Bill Findlay and J. Derrick McClure, among other scholars, has drawn attention to the long history of literary translation into Scots, this thesis is the first extended critical work to take the verse translations of the post-MacDiarmid makars as its subject. The nature and extent of MacDiarmid’s influence is considered throughout, as are the wider discourses around language and translation in twentieth-century Scottish poetry. Critical engagement with a number of key insights from theoretical translation studies helps to situate these writers’ work in its global context. This thesis also explores the ways in which the specific context of Scots translation allows scholars to complicate or expand upon theories of translation developed in other cultural situations (notably Lawrence Venuti’s writing on domestication and foreignisation).

The five writers upon whom this thesis concentrates were all highly individual, occasionally idiosyncratic personalities. Young’s polyglot ingenuity finds a foil in Garioch’s sharp, humane wit. Goodsir Smith’s romantic ironising meets its match in Scott’s radical certainty of cause. Tait’s use of the Shetlandic tongue sets him apart. Nonetheless, despite the great variety of style, form and tone shown by each of these translators, this thesis demonstrates that there are meaningful links to be made between them and that they form a unified, coherent group in the wider landscape of twentieth-century Scottish poetry. On the linguistic level, each engaged to some extent in the composition of a ‘synthetic’ or ‘plastic’ language deriving partly from literary sources, partly from the spoken language around them. On a more fundamental level, each was committed to enriching this language through translation, within which a number of key areas of interest emerge.

One of the most important of these key areas is Gaelic – especially the poetry of Sorley MacLean, which Young, Garioch and Goodsir Smith all translated into Scots. This is to some extent an act of solidarity on the part of these Scots poets, acknowledging a shared history of marginalisation as well as expressing shared hopes for the future. The same is true of Goodsir Smith’s translations from a number of Eastern European poets (and Edwin Morgan’s own versions, slightly later in the century). The translation of verse drama by poets is another key theme sustained throughout the thesis, with Garioch and Young attempting to fill what they perceived as a gap in the Scots tradition through translation from other languages (another aspect of these writers’ legacy continued by Morgan). Beyond this, all of the writers discussed in this thesis translated extensively from European poetries from Ancient Greece to twentieth-century France. Their reasons for doing so were various, but a certain cosmopolitan idealism figures highly among them. So too does a desire to see Scotland interact with other European nations, thus escaping the potentially narrowing influence of post-war British culture. This thesis addresses the legacy of these writers’ translations, which, it argues, continue to exercise a perceptible influence on the course of poetry in Scotland.

This work constitutes a significant contribution to a much-needed wider critical re-assessment of this pivotal period in modern Scottish writing, offering a fresh perspective on the formal and linguistic merits of these poets’ verse translations. Drawing upon frequently obscure book, pamphlet and periodical sources, as well as unpublished manuscripts in the National Library of Scotland and the Shetland Archives, this thesis breaks new ground in its investigation of the role of Scots verse translation in the second-generation Scottish Renaissance.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PB Modern European Languages
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts & Humanities > School of Critical Studies
Supervisor's Name: McCue, Professor Kirsteen and Anderson, Dr. Wendy
Date of Award: 2016
Depositing User: Mr Stewart Alexander Sanderson
Unique ID: glathesis:2016-7541
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 31 Aug 2016 09:22
Last Modified: 26 Aug 2019 10:08
URI: https://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/7541

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item


Downloads per month over past year