Revaluation of Scottish identity in contemporary poetry

© Eduardo De Moya
© Eduardo De Moya




     “Revaluations of Scottish Identity in Contemporary Poetry” has been achieved after an analysis of Scottish identity through those works of art that use words which is poetry. It is not a new or innovative theme, but at the same time it constantly evolves in something a little different and so much more fascinating.

I will start with the problem of national identity from two reasons. The first of them is, at the same time, the reason why I chose this particular subject. The search for the right identity is also a much debated theme in the Eastern Serbia where I am from. A parallel can be made between the situations of the Scot minority in Great Britain and the Wallachian minority in ex-Yugoslavian Republic. If in Scotland a great deal of the population ask themselves the question whether they feel more Scottish, English or British, in Eastern Serbia the same question is between Wallachian, Serbian or Yugoslavian (the last one is palling through time). My second reason is because of the important place which poetry has in the whole process of searching and defining of the identity not just for Scotland but for myself.

It is true that poetry as one of the different kinds of art is not unequivocal. But we must consider its powerful temporal nature. When poets stop writing the beauty ceases to exist in the world.

In 1919, in an article in the magazine Athenaeum, T.S. Eliot posted an interesting question if there was a Scottish literature. In the same article he concluded that there was not, since Scotland had neither a single language nor a literary history which could form a distinctive Scotch literature.[1]

This issue is the starting point of my approach. What is Scottish poetry? What is its relationship to Scottish identity? How is it different from the earlier poetry? Or from Welsh poetry as well? Is there a similitude with the traditional Scottish poetry?

Revolt. This is the message that most poetic works transmit through beautiful rhymes and incredibly well hidden metaphors and symbols. It is in their nature to spark a conflict in the reader, be it to wake them up and show them the prison bars around them or show them the unpleasant truth breaking the walls reality for a moment.

As in most countries or regions fighting for their identity, art is a crucial part of that battle. Painters, sculptors, musicians, writers and poets, those are the ones that draw the line between cultures, the ones that create the identity. Within those arts, the poet finds himself in an important role, a role that has led many great minds astray, and so many more to a dark end. The poet’s role in the society is to enrich it with the power of language, to get the people together for a common cause. That art is slowly wavering, dust is slowly gathering onto it. Yet there are individuals, brave ones I must add, that fill our minds with compassion and wake up the feelings we forgot we once had before the time of the internet and this emotionless connection to others.

This work is written with the hope of presenting poetry, the Scottish one in particular, as a powerful tool that is able to move borders. Poetry is creating, exploring your deepest imagination and sharing it with the world. Wishes, emotions, ideas and so many more things can be transferred through the works of poetry. A powerful poem is the one that moves the world and changes millions of hearts or that one special poem that changes one heart’s beating. As a work of art it eases our knowledge of our own mortality. It’s a combination of words with infinite possibilities for invoking an infinite amount of emotions in the reader.

Reforming Scottish identity through contemporary poetry

The connection between my nationality identity and the Scottish one are that we feel a strong national bond with others through our language, the special dialect and accent that makes us different from the rest and unites us through the power of words that only native speakers understand. We look up to it and search the recognition, yet at the same time we want to keep our own language, our own traits, and our own identity in the works that we create. Language could be defined as the stone foundation of a nation, and its purest form, the poem could be described as the unique diamond between the rocks that clearly shows the identity of a nation.

 There are a few things which, as a whole, come to symbolize national identity. But the image of the Scotland for many outside of the country isn’t the same as the way it’s pictured from inside of it. What can give an alien as symbols of Scotland? Haggis, kilts, bagpipes and Glen Coe. Or maybe Scotch whisky or Loch Ness, we even have some suggesting it is Sir Sean Connery. For the inside it’s not so simply and an attachment to the symbols is always subjective, because “symbols” generalize. They force identification down narrow lines, or exclude those who don’t fit. Stretched to oversimplification, they glaze over the subtleties of a locality’s or an individual relationship with them. They are subject to the traps of stereotypes. [2]

To understand the complex problem very important is to know the history of the Scots. And as an insoluble part of identity and, of course, history of the language. And the essence, in the same time the purest shape of the language is poetry.  There are a lot of dialects of Gaelic in the country which forms the Scots language which is different from Scottish English. For an outsider the associate dialects appear as Scottish having a shared identity. But alongside the idea of Scottish national identity the population from Glasgow, Outer Hebrides, the north east of the Scotland and the Scottish Borders shares and a strong sense of regional identity. There is a similitude between the four local identities inside the Scottish national one and the group of dialects inside the Scottish language.

In fact, “Scot” is the term used by Scots to describe themselves to aliens during the Middle Age, albeit they called themselves Albanach or Gaidel. In time, “Scot” became any subject of the Scottish king and this identity defined the opposition to English attempts to annex the country and in the meantime, the social and cultural changes.

The first “nationalist theory of sovereignty”[3] is the Declaration of Arbroath from 1320 which asserted the ancient distinctiveness of Scotland within England and stressed the fact that the king’s role is to defend the independence of the community of Scotland in the face of English aggression. In the early seventeenth century Scots was the national language of Scotland, but from 1603, when the Royal Court of Edinburg was removed from Edinburgh to London, its importance and use enter into a gradual decline and lost its significance as a cultural tool. Very often in the twentieth century Scots was described as a regional tongue, a variety of English. Right now, there isn’t an official Scots in Scotland and neither does to stand a chance of becoming one in future, even though it remain a literary language and a lot of both poems and narratives are still written in. The Declaration of Arbroath, framed six years after the victory of Bannockburn in 1314, is a document of international as well as national importance, a declaration of political liberty which has resounded through the centuries. It has even been claimed that it helped to inspire the American Declaration of Independence.

The ‘Declaration’ is, strictly speaking, a letter sent by the barons of Scotland to the Pope in favor of their chosen king, Robert Bruce. The Declaration is written in the beautifully measured Latin prose or cursus favored by the papal chancery. Even in translation it is a compelling document which builds up gradually to its most quoted passage: “Non enim propter gloriam divicias aut honores pugnamus sed propter libertatem solummodo quam nemo bonus nisi simul cum vita amittit.” (For it is not for glory, or riches, or honors that we fight, but for liberty alone, which no true man surrenders, save with his life.) At the beginning of the fourteenth century, the language of the law was almost exclusively Latin. Charters, formularies, the record of legal proceedings, legislation and treatises; all were written in Latin. Robert Bruce’s statutes of 1318, described by Lord Cooper as ‘the first Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act’, were part of the work of reconstruction of the kingdom after Bannockburn. The most influential treatise on medieval Scots law, known from its opening words as Regiam Majestatem, is now generally believed also to date from this period of reconstruction.

The bulk of the Regiam mirrors closely the key treatise on Anglo-Norman law, De legibus et consuetudinibus Anglie, generally known as ‘Glanvill’, compiled about 1200. Some, but not all, of this material is edited to reflect Scottish circumstances. The Regiam also contains Romano-canonical passages, based on the Summa of the canonist Goffredus de Trano, as well as native Scottish material. The ‘Leges inter Brettos et Scottos’, which belongs to an earlier period and sets tariffs for killing and wounding, was regularly attached at the end of the Regiam. Another fourteenth-century treatise, known as Quoniam Attachiamenta sive Leges Baronum is a guide to procedure in the baron courts. Both the Regiam and Quoniam Attachiamenta remained in manuscript for centuries, being eventually edited and published in 1609 by Sir John Skene (see below).

From the end of the fourteenth century, Scots began to displace Latin as the language of the law, although some formal deeds, such as charters, remained in Latin for centuries. Scots became the regular language of record in the courts, including Parliament. Already in 1399 there was famously complaint in Parliament anent ‘the mysgovernance of the Realme and the defaut of the kepyng of the common law’. Acts of Parliament were now framed in Scots. The nineteenth-century historian Cosmo Innes wrote of ‘those brief terse statutes which shame the legislation of a later wordy age’. The Royal Mines Act 1424, for example, ‘Of mynis of golde and silver’, which remains in force to this day, enacted that, Item Gif ony myne of golde or silver be fundyn in ony lordis landis of the realme [. . .] The lordis of parliament consentis that sik myne be the kingis as is usuale in uthir realmys.[4]

On the eve of Bannockburn, Robert Bruce, according to his poetic biographer and eulogist, John Barbour, told his troops that they were fighting for their lives and their families, as well as for their freedom and their land. The unexpected victory, together with the propagandist, if inspirational, Declaration of Arbroath in 1320, marked the emergence of a new, muscular, articulate and memorials Scottish nation, which demanded a new historiography and a new literature. The favored languages were Latin to broadcast the country’s great achievements internationally, and Scots for the folk at home; Gaelic remained, largely but not entirely, an oral medium[5].

Not long ago the politic of Great Britain was orientated to assimilate rather than destruct a sense of the national. In the ’70 and the ’80 in Scotland existed fierce debates about the political and cultural Scottishness issues, which have now become less of a centripetal force. Nowadays the linguistic choice for Scottish poets it’s obvious English for at least two reasons: its status and its accessibility, but the “English as it is spoken in Scotland (…), very full of Scottish character”[6].  During the debates about Scottishness kitsch, twee and inaccurate imagery based on ethnic stereotypes poetry is often highlight as a consumerist manifestation of national identity in popular culture[7].

For the history books, T.S. Eliot made a bold separation of the literature progression of his country of birth: The first part of the history of Scottish literature is a part of history of English Literature when English was several dialects, the second part is a part of English literature when English was two dialects – English and Scots, the third part is something quite different – it is the history of a provincial literature.[8]

With this we get an inside look from what one of the greatest poets of Scotland thinks. He states that Scottish Literature was always part of English literature, yet in a way independent. A small island surrounded by the sea. Truth be told, the Scottish literature is to a degree compared to the one of England, mostly putting them in the same basket. With this comparison pressure put on the works, Scottish writers have kept their Scots vocabulary which brings a unique Scotlandish feeling to the poems. It’s the spice that is needed to make a huge difference, even at first sight it looks like the English and Scottish Literature are one and the same.

Due to a rather English focused education literary system, the Scottish educated elite started to feel embarrassed of its language heritage. With the conviction that one will get a better job if they use the English language, which some considered more polite and richer than their own Scots language, the population again started to lose some of its identity and assimilated with England. “Scotland was neglectful of its poets and artists, chiefly, it would seem, because as a non-nation it was scarcely aware of possessing any.”[9]

It’s important to know that Scotland has a rich history, not excluding works of arts. The country is a stateless nation that finds itself in a difficult situation. Its identity is worldwide known and yet its literature is still fighting for its freedom the same way the people fight for independents.

On one part we have the works of Scots that provoke unrest in the hearts of the Scottish people, but are hard to understand for the global audience, while on the other hand we have the English-Scots poems that are reaching a wider audience, yet because they are written in English they also force the fusion of English and Scottish Literature, calling it altogether British Literature. A worrisome byproduct of the rhythmical English language is a bit of a loss of identity, which Scottish organizations try to fix by implementing Scottish works into the literary curriculum.

In spite of the image of Scotland’s identity, the mental image of Scotland is in a constant fight with reality. Through nationalistic works, an image was created and implanted in the mind of outsiders that differs from the reality. That image is kept alive through the aspiration of it nationalists.

Scottish national identity has never fully integrated Catholic and Protestant. In the late twentieth century, there is still evidence of religious-based ethnic division which confounds a common identity. […] For Protestants the Church of Scotland in the late twentieth century has failed to arouse enough interest or passion to “defend” it against perceived threats. Yet, if secularization has undermined popular Presbyterianism, it has thus far not destroyed sectarian identities in Scotland[10].

Medieval thinkers could deploy intellectualist’s or voluntaries’ perspectives to deal with both ethical and theological issues. By the end of the twentieth century, however, it might seem for many Scots that God is barely conspicuous by his absence. Ethical issues may continue to be answered by one or other tendency of mind, but theological issues are now better explored through a different approach[11]. Education was, and is, a defining aspect of Scottish national identity and as such has been the arena of national effort and reflection by teachers, educationalists, historians and sociologists.

The idea of education as a great human pursuit to which Scots seemed specially attached, and which could perhaps lead to increased personal prosperity, summed up in the Scots fixation with “getting on”. Education was an important feature of national identity for Scots generally and such ethical qualities as equality, associated with access to education and progress through education, could well have been appropriated on a grander scale than MacLaren’s conservatism might have conceived[12].

When we talk about the forming of Scottish identity through poetry we have to firstly mention the poetic works that set the corner stone, mainly The Bruce and The Wallace. The Bruce is a narrative poem written by John Barbour in 1375, and described the events that occurred during the Scottish War of Independence, focusing mainly on the actions of Robert the Bruce and Black Douglas.

We do not know much about the early life of the now famous churchman and writer of the 14th century John Barbour as he was born in a low ranking family or simply he was a commoner who worked his way up in the ranks of the church. The first mention of his name was in 1357 when he applied for a safe passage to the University of Oxford for him and three other scholars. At that point of time Barbour was archdeacon of Aberdeen, thus historians claim that he must’ve been at least at the age of twenty-five if not a few years older.

His request was granted by the King of Scotland, ‘David de Bruys” who was in captivity in the courts of King Edward III. The goal of his request was, as historians assume, to lead the scholars to Oxford and further their education there since Scotland didn’t have a university. In the same year, he had been added to a commission for the ransom of King David, after which he was granted a few more safe-conducts that allowed him to travel to France where he continued to study.

At his returns from abroad he was promoted to cleric of the audit of the king’s household in 1372, while in 1373 he was also added as one of the auditors of the exchequer. In early 1376 he finishes The Bruce, and he is soon greatly rewarded by the successor of Robert Bruce, Robert II (Bruce’s grandson) with ten pounds of the revenues of the city of Aberdeen.

Only two years after, in 1378, he was given a pension for life that brought him an income of twenty shillings sterling from the same source, the revenues of the city of Aberdeen. It was a benefaction which he later on transferred to the cathedral of Aberdeen so they would hold a mass for the souls of his parents, himself and all the faithful dead.

As for how to divide the pension between the staff of the cathedral, Barbour left a few instructions so that none of the staff members would be left unpaid, he even gave some to the sacrist. Barbour later received other sums that were paid to him by the king’s order from the revenues of Aberdeen, and in 1388 his pension was raised due to his faithful service to the king. His pension was now standing at ten pounds and was to be paid half-yearly at the Scottish terms of Whitsunday and Martinmas. After a long life for that age, Barbour found his end on March the 13th in 1396. During his life time he also received the ward ship of a minor who lived in his parish of Rayne from 1380 to 1381.

This much is known about the thirty-eight years of the life of Barbour, his work The Bruce was a very influential and powerful poem that served as insurance for King Robert II as rightful successor of the throne of Scotland and as the historic document that kept his rivals at bay.

In his famous depiction of the Scottish struggle during the War of Independence, Barbour shows us the Robert the Bruce and good James of Douglas or Black Douglas as men of true character who despise treacherous people and admire loyalty. It is a fictional poem that even though is meant to be as an anti-English work that shows the independence of Scotland it indeed contains a few lines which clearly show a bit of realism in which not all Englishman are evil and not all Scots are good.

The work, clearly romantic, was reinforcing Scottish identity as the identity of the brave, loyal and unconquerable people of the highlands, who seek nothing more than freedom. The keyword here is freedom as one of the most quoted lines from The Bruce is the following: Ah! Freedom is a noble thing!

Which just enforces the statement of the free spirited Scottish people and their constant battle of achieving that freedom, reinforcing the brave heart identity of the Scots. The text surrounding this quote, has a very deep meaning as this is one of the rare statements of his own sentiments through the work. It breaks the narrative and expresses his own sentiments about Liberty. Deeply affected by the time he was born in vividly witnessing the birth and death of his own country, struggling with its independence and own identity. A rather hefty topic that some modern readers cannot get into due to not many of such events happening in the modern world, the Western World.

As a member of a former country praised for its communist regime, living through the break of Yugoslavia into smaller countries from the tales of my grand grandparents and elder survivors of the countries fall, witnessing the horrors of wars through the bombing of Serbia during Slobodan Milosevic’s regime, he dropping of the bombs on Serbia by Nato, the unification of Serbia and Montenegro into the Federation of Yugoslavia and its fall, while living as a minority group and with identity that is connected to a form of magic, paganism and traditions dating far beyond the Slavs and the Romans, I understand the importance of forming a strong opinion in the peoples mind about freedom.

With it, the people get the power back, with the mindset of wanting freedom more than anything brings a new outlook to the world around oneself.  Comparable to the Scottish people, the Wallachian population never had the will nor an artist to fuel their quest for freedom, hence I, and majority of countries respect the Scottish comparison with freedom, the poems of The Bruce and The Wallace leave a trace in the lives of people who are fighting an oppressive battle with no clear ending in sight. It is that kind of mindset that brought the Scottish people to the present, to have a high recognition in the world even if they are in union with England, Britain.

The effect of The Bruce has been without a doubt a key component to the start of the formation of Scottish identity. It is also important to note that Barbour himself was a God-fearing man, a follower of the church and as such he was limited, yet he was able to produce a masterpiece, at least when it comes to the description of the battle of Bannockburn, a plain style and simple idea that laid the foundation for generations to come. Barbour efforts were only continued through the works of Blind Harry or just simply known as Harry the writer of The Wallace, the tale of William Wallace who has risen to heroic statues through Harry’s work.

The Bruce was a remarkable art piece of its time, and has clearly influenced the Scottish identity, but The Wallace beat it easily in popularity and overthrew it in no time. As stated, The Wallace is one of the rare manuscripts that survived the printing age, which enabled it to grow immensely in popularity, going even so far that at least one of the few books owned in each household in the 19th century was in fact The Wallace. Compared to The Bruce, that was moderately historical and contained some truths, The Wallace on the other hand was simply just a few truths spiced up with heroic deeds and impossible wins, in which William Wallace is associated with some events he never had anything to do with.

In The Wallace, Harry inconsistently represents his hero as a fighter from his eighteenth to his forty-fifth without any historical proof to back this up. Comparing the main heroes in the two works, one can easily see the good Bruce and the perfectly violent Wallace. The perfectly violent description is made on the facts that, again comparing the two, Bruce would have been shown as a warrior that would win more than lose, while Wallace was shown as a ruthless warrior whom no one could stop. As to define it easier, where Bruce would kill a thousand men, Wallace would kill ten thousands.

In the time of Barbour, The Wallace wouldn’t be so popular, but precisely due to the time in which it was written it gained its national status. When The Wallace was written problems arouse within the union and the Scots lost even the little compassion they had for the English. Hence William Wallace appeared to the massive population through his violent path to success and the defiance of the English. It was rather pure hate that was that fueled the people towards the English, and probably none other represented their emotions better than William Wallace, a ruthless general leading armies against the oppressor without seeking power as reward, but rather the freedom of his people.

The people of Scotland found comfort in the poem of William Wallace, it was one that gave them hope and furthered the brave heart mindset that was always seeking freedom. With this poem the foundation is finished. Scotland is seen as the land of the brave, the ones who never give up for their freedom by the outside world and this outlooks is relevant even to this day. The value of poetry is undermined in our modern times, yet through those two examples we can clearly see a force in poetry, a power that can change the flow of history and the outlook of a whole population. Modern poets struggle with their own identity, while in the past we had people who formed an identity for a country and not only for their life time, but decades to come. From the contemporary poets who made an impression on the issue of Scottish identity I have chosen three particular authors: Kathleen Jamie, Jackie Kay and Robert Crawford.

The poem “Mr. and Mrs. Scotland are Dead” belong to the collection “Poems 1986-1994”. It begins with the images of rubbish and waste from “the dump beyond the cemetery” which latter focuses on items of previous generations and so we are introduced in a depressive atmosphere. From personal things, as the “old ladies’ bag, open mouthed”, postcards from Scotland, etc., the poet moves to impersonal object, also old-fashion ones, as “landfill site”, “30 mile an hour sign”, “toppled fridge”. The contrast between those two categories of objects the personal and anonymous ones indicate a nuance of nostalgia for the past times which is “tined in the dirt”. Briefs from the messages on the postcards addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Scotland, without any kind of link implied a worry-free past’s life, but, as the poet says: “Mr. and Mrs. Scotland are dead”.  The poetic voice links the past with the present with a new series of things: “sweat stinking anorak”, “Dictionary for Mothers” which are not chosen in a random way, but by their significations: hard work – hard life, and no one needs books anymore, in special the ones on whom depends the education: the mothers.  The meaning beyond the literal is given by the choice of language, punctuation and style.

If the poem begins emotions-free with a description, the revolt appears suddenly and it’s, in this way, sorer. And the bitterness about the nowadays’ life is maintained until the end. In one moment the poet put a rhetorical question:  Couldn’t he have burned them? Released/ in a grey curl of smoke denoting not only anger with the one who let the past to decline, but in one point the wish that she hasn’t seen that decline because any comparison with the present provoke pain. The nothingness and the emptiness of the present are expressed in more statements:

-traditions and values of the past have been lost in modern Scotland;

-present culture is one of consumption and waste

-modern life is anonymous and uncaring, so we can learn from the past

-what goes around comes around

-the horror of realizing that in no time, we’ll become part of the unworthy past

-the experience of clearing the way from something else and the paradox between nostalgia for old and the wish for new

-the loss of the past means not only the loss of personal identity, but also, the loss of national identity.

The poem “Mr. and Mrs. Scotland are dead” offers a perspective on Scottish’s nowadays individuals, community and society. The poetess Jackie Kay often explores within her work the fluidity of identity by turning evading and confronting categorization.

No long time ago, this year, Jackie Kay has been named as the country’s national poet, or, the new makar. Her work is centered on the theme of Scottish identity. When accepted the award, she said that she hoped to “open up the conversation, the blathers, the arguments and celebrations that Scotland has with itself and with the rest of the world”, and that it was “an extraordinary time to be Scottish”[13]. Her first collection of poetry, “The Adoption Papers”, was published in 1991 and was named Scottish First Book of the Year.

In 2009, Kay was commissioned to write a poem for the 250th anniversary or Burns. So, she wrote “Fiere”. Along with other poems, this poem was published in a collection of poetry under the same name, “Fiere”. The word fiere means in Scottish companion, dear friend. It’s a long love poem which had the model of Burns’ “John Anderson my jo”. It’s a celebration of love between women and drag together the languages and landscapes from Scotland and Nigeria. Kay has a powerful modus to write trough her clear, plain style and her fearless spoken bitterness.

“Fiere” is a mix of old and new Scots words: O’er a lifetime, my fiere, my bonnie lassie, / I’d defend you – you, me; blithe and blatter, / here we gang doon the hill, nae matter, / past the bracken, bonny braes, barley, / oot by the roaring sea, still havin a blether.

The use of vernacular serves to bolster the sentiment. The poem doesn’t offer nothing special unless a balance of sincerity and knowingness and uncertainty.

The poem is concern with communicating much more complex emotions, often in a richly way of understanding. Communication is the key, so the poet is aware that it is not enough to merely provoke emotion if a poem is allow for a fuller understanding of how and why people interact and feel in a particular way.


The poetry is part of the beauty of the world. If poets stop writing, that part will die. Sometimes, verses remain in the mind of the people, they became folklore. Often, the names of the poets became unimportant, but their poetry continues to influence the psychical and emotional life of millions. Poetical way is the easier modus for reaching at the mind and the soul of human. The power of example from poetry wakes up patriotic sentiments of national identity. Scottish poetry is full of contradictions. They are the internal motor of their power, as the life itself.

As I pointed in my work, in Scotland is not a Scots language, there are several tongues. But this is not a reason to minimalize their importance. In the era of globalization, within a unite Europe, every minority is an important part of the multicultural community. Among other things the charisma of Scotland stands and in its multiculturalism.

At the beginning of the XX century, T. S. Eliot raised a question. He asked if we can talk about Scottish literature. Scottish literature entered the twentieth century at one of its lowest ebbs, but reached the twenty-first in a full-voiced, multi-voiced Renaissance. Nowadays, nobody can contest this. The Scottish literature is a distinctive one and has an important place in wakening the national identity and in changing the usual commercial stereotype about Scotland and Scots. If language could be defined as the stone foundation of a nation, its purest form, the poetry could be described as a diamond. Poems describe the sentiments which the people can’t let it out in any different way.

At the beginning, national identity exists only in imagination. The love for the mother country is, interblend, in the sentimental mode, with the national identity. The landscape runs through the centuries as an emblem of Scotland, not only for its actuality but also as a machine for a complex of ideas and emotions. At the surface of any nation’s identity is its vision of landscape, and its continued viability as a powerful form of national mythmaking.

Although Scotland has maritime in the heart of its identity, the sea has never eclipsed the central role in poetry of the countryside. Scottish identity has been created in terms of its landscape even trough today majority of Scots lives in towns or cities. The poetical representation of rural, urban or even industrial scenes, defines the national identity in Scotland. At the same time, landscapes evoke the national history.

In the XVIII century the love of the country of birth was shown through the fashionable attention given to country houses, picturesque ruins and natural landscapes. The first generation of travelers added the new ways of transport combined with a spirit of practical enquiry. Idea of local attachment became established in Scottish culture and the charm of the local in modern urban society reaffirmed the vital importance of poetry as a response to social crises.

National Scottish identity was and is an explored field. The search for belonging is an important theme in the poetry both for the own sense of identity and to the lyric writing. The sense of place is used of writers from diaspora. The Scots’ multicultural pre-Christian heritage is still actual.

But, nowadays, it’s complicated to make a distinction between “us” and “them” approach to immigration, and pointed out that the issue of national identity is everyone’s concern. It’s true that poetry has a vital role to play in the debate about identity because brings individual stories to light and sets recent experiences against those of other nations and other eras.

The discussions about identity, no matter national or other, are very complicated and unstable. In a continue transforming world, the concepts suffer modifications every day. One of the domains which are moving in the rhythm of the changes is poetry. And sometimes, it is the fact which determines changes, as it was recently in the Scottish consciousness. As McGonigal says: “The unknowable is difficult territory for poets, but they return to its borderlands time and time over.”[14]

The patriotic poetry in Scotland appears in order to praise the brave ancestors. But its message, as a stone throw in a lake, made waves. And those waves stroke repeatedly, continually in the conscientious of the people. And the effect was in the gain of the international recognition of an identity.

Self-definition through the act of writing fiction is complicated for an ethic minority writer in Scotland by issues of language, voice and cultural identity. Employing narrative structures that deliberately express that complexity through multiple time-frames and voices can undercut still-powerful colonial mythologies, and present an alternative paradigm of the inner life of social minorities, by means of an allusive, transcendental or musical approach to the poetics and politics of fiction in a multi-ethnic society.[15]



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Dawson, P.M., Poetry in an Age of Revolution,  New York, Cambridge University Press, 2010.

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Dosa, Attila, Beyond Identity. New horizonts in Modern Scottish Poetry, Amsterdam-New York, Rodopi, 2009.

Dunn, Douglas,  A different Drummer,  1992, p. XXXIV in Attila Dosa.

Eliot, T.S. Was there a Scottish Literature? The Atheneum, 1 August 1919, pp.680-1, reprinted in McCulloch (ed.) Modernism and Nationalism.

Gunn, M. Neil, “The Narrow Place” from Scots Magazine, May 1943.

Kidd, Colin, Subverting Scotland’s Past: Scottish Whig Historians and the Creation of an Anglo-British Identity 1689–1830, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2003.

McGonigal, James, Stirling, Kirsten, Ethically Speaking. Voice and values in Modern Scottish Writing, Amsterdam-New York, University of Glasgow, 2006.

Muir, Edwin, Essays on Literature and Society, London, Hogarth Press, 1949.

Muir, Edward, We modernist, 1935, p.16 reprinted in Mc Culloch, Modernism and Nationalism.

Muir, Edwin, Scottish Journey, London: Heinemann in association with Victor Gollancz, 1935.

Mull, Brett, Constructions of culture: Robert Burns’ Contributions to Scottish National Identity, Boulder, University of Colorado, 2012.

Palmer, Margery, McCulloch and its Contexts 1918-1959, Edinburg, Edinburg University Press,1988.

Saadi, Suhayl, Songs of the Village Idiot: Ethnicity, Writing and Identity, Glasgow, Fiction, 2006.

Weaver, Robin, Identity and Post-Referendum Scotland, “National Collective”,


[1] Eliot, T.S. Was there a Scottish Literature? The Atheneum, 1 August 1919, pp.680-1, reprinted in McCulloch (ed.) Modernism and Nationalism, pp.7-10.

[2] Weaver, Robin, Identity and Post-Referendum Scotland, “National Collective”,

[3] Kidd, Colin, Subverting Scotland’s Past: Scottish Whig Historians and the Creation of an Anglo-British Identity 1689–1830, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2003.p. 110.

[4] Clancy, Thomes Owen; Pitteck, Murray; Brown, Ian and Manning, Susan, The Edinburg History of Scottish Literature, Volum One: From Columba to the Union, Edinburg: Edinburg University Press, 2007,; pp.238-239

[5] Ibid. p.136.

[6] Muir, Edward, We modernist, 1935, p.16 reprinted in Mc Culloch, Modernism and Nationalism, p.169.

[7] Dosa, Attila, Beyond Identity. New horizonts in Modern Scottish Poetry, Rodopi, Amsterdam-New York, 2009, p.16.

[8] Muir, Edwin, Scottish Journey, London: Heinemann in association with Victor Gollancz, 1935, p.681.

[9] Dunn, Douglas,  A different Drummer,  1992, p. XXXIV in Attila Dosa, p.69.

[10] Clancy, Thomes Owen; Pitteck, Murray; Brown, Ian and Manning, Susan, The Edinburg History of Scottish Literature, Volum One: From Columba to the Union, Edinburg: Edinburg University Press, 2007, pp. 195-196.

[11] Mc Gonigal, James; Stirling, Kirsten, Ethically Speaking Voice and Values in Modern Scottish Writing, University of Glasgow, Amsterdam-New York,2006, p.226.

[12] Dickson, Beth, The Idea of Education in Modern Scottish Fiction, University of Glasgow, Amsterdam-New York, 2006, pp 201-222.

[13] Interview of Jackie Kay for The Guardian from 15 May 2016.

[14] McGonigal, James, Stirling, Kirsten, Ethically Speaking. Voice and values in Modern Scottish Writing, University of Glasgow, Amsterdam-New York, 2006, p.117.

[15] Saadi, Suhayl, Songs of the Village Idiot: Ethnicity, Writing and Identity, in McGonigal, James; Stirling, Kirsten, Ethically Speaking. Voice and values in Modern Scottish Writing, University of Glasgow, Amsterdam-New York, 2006, p.117.

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