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This article is taken from PN Review 34, Volume 10 Number 2, November - December 1983.

'Plundering the Harp' - the poetry of Derick Thompson John Killick

IN recent years against all the odds Scottish Gaelic poetry has made an impact on the English poetry-reading public. This is entirely the result of the belated discovery of a major talent working in the language - Sorley Maclean. We have read him in Iain Crichton Smith's impressive translations, and the poet's own more rudimentary versions, and we have heard Maclean's authentic declamations of the originals. We might be forgiven for supposing that he is a sport, the only mountain rising from a plain. But that would be wrong: there is a twin peak, less craggy, more rounded, but of comparable stature, and in many ways more conforming to the idea of what poetry in English in the mid- to late- twentieth century should offer us.

Derick Thomson is more prolific than Maclean - his Collected Poems (published by MacDonald) recently published run to nearly 300 pages - and he is more elegiac, less heroic than the senior poet. Yet there are many correspondences between them: a strong feeling for landscape, a penchant for love-lyrics, and a deep concern for the fate in the modern world of a people, their unique life-style and their language, which ultimately resolves into an involvement with politics. But there is a sense in which the two poets' careers work in reverse: Maclean began with a passionate adherence to socialism and the democratic cause in the Spanish Civil War, but his later poems have less overt ideological commitment. Thomson's work, on the ...

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