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This review is taken from PN Review 63, Volume 15 Number 1, September - October 1988.

THE DRUNK MAN AGAIN Hugh MacDiarmid, A drunk man looks at the thistle, edited by Kenneth Buthlay (Scottish Academic Press) £12.50, £4.95 pb.

That is it in Scots is not the only trouble with MacDiarmid's poem. If it were, the differences from English could be explained and anything left obscure clarified in translation. One additional difficulty is MacDiarmid's treatment of the language, at times arbitrary, at times uncertain. Another is the fact that ideas implied in the writing remain in posse, being aspects of the matter it is struggling to express. More troubling still for certain readers is the discovery that among the most striking of its stylistic features are some they have been taught to think flippant or clumsy.

This annotated text issued by The Association for Scottish Literary Studies offers to remove the immediate hindrances. It does not pretend to explain everything, but provides the first-order information necessary before any attempt to interpret. In the process it corrects some misconceptions. One of its own and some points of detail are open to objection.

The editor Kenneth Buthlay pioneered the study of MacDiarmid in his introductory handbook published in Oliver and Boyd's Writers and critics series in 1964. It is still available in the Scottish writers series of the Scottish Academic Press. His edition of A drunk man looks at the thistle displays the same solid spade-work and eye for literary qualities while standing like his handbook somewhat aloof from ideology.

The book is made the more useful by material expedients. An unmarked text is printed on left-hand pages with glosses at the foot in ...


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