Us Scots are a little hung up on Burns. He was a great poet and is responsible for the renaissance that put Scots poetry back on the map. Is he our best poet? Well, that depends on who you ask.
Hugh MacDiarmid thought that we should go back to the medieval period to get a real flavour of what Scots poetry was all about. It’s no coincidence that the middle Scots period is often referred to as the golden age of Scots poetry and MacDiarmid was aware of this, eventually concocting the tag like “Not Burns – Dunbar”.
William Dunbar was one of the makars and belongs to an age where three of the most influential poets in medieval European literature lead Scotland into the Renaissance. What follows is MacDiarmid’s ‘Homage to Dunbar’. A truly great poet reflecting on a truly great poet.
We celebrate Burns ever year here in Scotland, but he wasn’t our greatest. That honour belongs to Dunbar. We would do well to recognise this.
Homage to Dunbar
Wha wull may gang to Scott’s or Burn’s grave
But nane to yours, in your lost Scotland, lost
Neth this oor Scotland as neth the ocean wave
Atlantis lies, and haud’n a greater host
Than Brankstone’s deidly barrow ten times ower
To reckon nane but men o’ wit and worth.
The floo’ers o’ the Forest wede in Flodden’s earth
Were nocht but weeds to you, Scotland’s best floo’er.
Still, like the beels o’ Ys frae unplumbed deeps,
Whiles through Life’s drumlie wash your music leaps
To’n antrin ear, as a’e bird’s wheep defines
In some lane place the solitude’s ootlines
(As a sculptor the form frae the marble
A greater silence’s you wi’ your warble
– A’ th’ auld Scotland abandoned, unexplored
Brocht oot vastly, awesomely, in your a’e word!)
And wee wings shak’ the immobility
And outshine the vera sunshine suddenly
– Oh, in your unkent grave there’s mair life yet
Than Scotland’s had else or’s like to get!