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This review is taken from PN Review 206, Volume 38 Number 6, July - August 2012.

Clio of the World White Leaping Flame: Collected Poems of Sorley MacLean, edited by Christopher Whyte and Emma Dymock (Birlinn) £25

This handsome volume is a summation of Christopher Whyte's unstinting critical and detective work over the last 20 years. It includes essays, background material, and excellent translations by Whyte and Emma Dymock of previously unpublished poems. It will help at last to place MacLean where he belongs - in the high pantheon of European poets of the twentieth century.

MacLean's two longest and most significant works, Dàin do Eimhir and An Cuilithionn,grapple unflinchingly with the deepest issues of individual responsibility in a morally fractured world. He wrote them in a period of intense emotional disturbance coinciding with the political deracination of Europe between the defeat of the Republicans in Spain and the Nazi invasion of Russia. Though he stood firmly on the unyielding rock of his native Hebrides he cast his gaze across all of Europe and beyond. He wrote in a declining minority language - a choice that was itself an act of great courage - but his words were universal.

It was remarkable in the circumstances that these two works were published at all. By the time the poems were ready for publication MacLean was serving as a soldier in North Africa. He depended on his friend the Greek scholar Douglas Young (who was held at the time in an Edinburgh gaol for his stand against conscription) to steer a selective edition of the Dàin through to publication in 1943. A full, though incomplete, version of An Cuilithionn was only published in the ...


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