Monday, 15 October 2018

Scottish Roses

  On a visit to Glasgow at the end of the summer I chanced across the Scottish Poetry Rose Garden in Queens Park, just up the road from where we were staying. Walking around the pathways inlaid with the names and dates of Scottish poets from Henryson and Dunbar to Edwin Morgan and Carol Anne Duffy (as well as some lesser-known figures like Violet Jacob (1863-1946)), some of the stones decorated with fallen rose-petals, I was reminded of the astounding richness of this tradition and the vital contribution and influence it has exerted on the history of poetry in English, even as (like Scotland itself) it's had to continually fight for recognition of its distinctive voice and linguistic vigour. 

   It seemed fitting to find this craggy monument to Hugh MacDiarmid at the head of the garden, that dogged proponent of Scottish nationalism who argued for poetry as an ambitious, polymathic tool for change, very much with a modernist, internationalist agenda at its heart. The poem inscribed on the stone is a brief but resonant quatrain:

"The rose of all the world is not for me.
I want for my part
Only the little white rose of Scotland
That smells sharp and sweet—and breaks the heart."

   MacDiarmid's white rose has become a symbol of Scottish independence, in fact, since SNP MPs took to wearing the flowers to parliament for the Queens Speech in 2015. As Scotland is dragged towards the fiasco of Brexit, an impending calamity which the majority of its citizens never voted for, it will be intriguing to see if they're given another opportunity to make a choice about their own independence and whether they will use it to finally break away from our increasingly disunited kingdom in order to remain a part of Europe.

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