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This report is taken from PN Review 126, Volume 25 Number 4, March - April 1999.

Iain Crichton Smith Alan Riach

No less than his contemporary Ted Hughes, Iain Crichton Smith is one of the unmistakable and essential poets of the era now ending.

He was born in Glasgow on 1 January 1928. When he died, on 15 October 1998, he was known primarily as a poet of Lewis, the largest island of the Outer Hebrides, where religious austerity and bleak landscapes confirmed the self-questioning character of his childhood imagination. Gaelic was his first language and he never abandoned it, but the tensions of different tongues were always with him. Between Gaelic and English, Smith was determined to find a point of balance. This determination charged him with urgency in a quest to see beyond the enclosures of any language to the elemental world. The silent stare of the 'Deer on the High Hills' is eerie and eloquent beyond words: 'A deer looks through you to the other side / and what it is and sees is an inhuman pride.' The central tension in Smith's work is between the inhuman world and the desired ideal of a humane community, absolute dogma and diffident actuality. He feels the weasel's teeth in the rabbit's neck, observes an owl in a nocturnal landscape, where 'All seems immortal but for the dangling mouse.' The deer sees past the human to the real and metaphysical landscapes surrounding it, but human words are all we have to come to terms with either.

But his concern with exile, both from place and from ...


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