Sorley MacLean

Scottish poet

Sorley MacLean (26 October 1911 – 24 November 1996; Scottish Gaelic: Somhairle MacGill-Eain) was a Scottish Gaelic poet. His book Dàin do Eimhir is considered the most important book published in Scottish Gaelic in the twentieth century, while his poem Hallaig achieved "cult status" in the English-speaking world for its representation of the Highland Clearances. He worked as a schoolteacher. MacLean is regarded as the most influential Scottish Gaelic poet in history.

Poetry edit

  • Time, the deer, is in the wood of Hallaig ("Tha tìm, am fiadh, an coille Hallaig")

Letters and interviews edit

  • I believe Mull had much to do with my poetry: its physical beauty, so different from Skye’s, with the terrible imprint of the clearances on it, made it almost intolerable for a Gael.
  • The whole prospect of Gaelic appals me, the more I think of the difficulties and the likelihood of its extinction in a generation or two. A ... language with ... no modern prose of any account, no philosophical or technical vocabulary to speak of, no correct usage except among old people and a few university students, colloquially full of gross English idiom lately taken over, exact shades of meanings of most words not to be found in any of its dictionaries and dialectally varying enormously (what chance of the appreciation of the overtones of poetry, except amongst a handful?) Above all, all economic, social and political factors working against it, and, with that, the notorious, moral cowardice of the Highlanders themselves.
  • [T]he Celtic Twilightists achieved the remarkable feat of attributing to Gaelic poetry the very opposite of every quality which it actually has.
  • My obsession was the preservation of the Gaelic language so that there would be people left in the world who could hear its great songs as they really were. No poetry could be translated, still less could song poetry, and the great language of Gaelic song made me fanatical about the beauty of the Gaelic language and its astonishing ability to indicate shades and positions of emphasis with natural inversions and the use of particles.

About him edit

  • I personally have a great sense of honour and gratitude just for knowing him... It's easier for us to trust in the utter reality of poetry, trust in it as a necessity because you feel it's verified by somebody like him. He saved Gaelic poetry... in this century and therefore in a sense, saved it for all time.
  • MacLean's voice had a certain bardic weirdness that sounded both stricken and enraptured.
  • He is gifted with what the Welsh call Hwyl, the power of elevated declamation, and his declamation is full of feeling.
  • The best poetry written in our generation in the British Isles has been in Scottish Gaelic, by Sorley MacLean.
    • Douglas Young in Van Eerde, John; Williamson, Robert (1978). "Sorley MacLean: A Bard and Scottish Gaelic".
  • Although MacLean was very much cast as a representative of Gaelic Scotland when his writing was rediscovered and justly celebrated in the 1980s and afterwards, the resulting mix is comparatively unGaelic, elitist rather then populist, and permeable only with difficulty to the community which uses the language in its day to day existence.
  • How many people know that the best living Scottish poet, by a whole head and shoulders, after the two major figures in this century, Edwin Muir and Hugh MacDiarmid, is not any of the English writing pocts, but Sorley MacLean? Yet he alone takes his place easily and indubitably beside these two major poets: and he writes only in Gaelic [...] That Sorley MacLean is a great poet in the Gaelic tradition, a man not merely for time, but for eternity, I have no doubt whatever [...] If MacLean is not a major poet, then I do not know what major poetry is.
    • Tom Scott, in the preface to Four Points of a Saltire, 1970
  • Sorley MacLean's mastery of his chosen medium and his engagement with the European poetic tradition and European politics make him one of the major Scottish poets of the modern era.
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