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This article is taken from Poetry Nation 2 Number 2, 1974.

The Poems Of George Mackay Brown Douglas Dunn
The Poems of George Mackay Brown

THERE ARE PARTS of the British Isles so far from London they cannot be called 'provincial'. They differ from that hypothetical standard of what is held to be 'national' - a standard promoted by the occasional necessities of common cause - that they are British only by circumstances of history and geography and not identity.

In a country such as Scotland, of frustrated independence, and of the severe and obvious historical transformations embodied both sentimentally and realistically in the dates 1603 and 1707, nostalgia for a self-governing and unified past is understandable, if not always useful. While it would be foolish to claim that George Mackay Brown was an Orkney nationalist, it is still true that the Orkney Islands stand culturally and historically in a comparable relationship to Scotland as Scotland does to England.

Although part of Scotland since their annexation to the Scottish crown in 1612, the Orkney Islands had been an Earldom owing allegiance to the Danish Kings, with a long history of Norse and Viking settlement. They became a Scottish possession in 1468 de facto if not de jure, the consequence of a marriage settlement in which both sides seem to have defaulted. Five hundred or so years is a long association; but the record of Orcadian individuality is almost unbroken. In 1604, objection to Highlanders of the mainland was made clear: 'beggaris, sornaris, and vacaboundis', they claimed, had 'broken fra thair companeis and clanis out ...

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