5 Oct 2015

Scottish Student Verse 1937 – 1947

Scottish Student Verse 1937 – 1947 Eric Linklater
Be The Most Recent To Like This!
Those were the days.  In 1948, for three shillings and sixpence, one could purchase Scottish Student Verse 1937 – 1947, a kind of Be The First To Like This of its day, an anthology of the up and coming super-happening poets of the now.

Sorry - but in reading Scottish Student Verse in 2015 the first exercise was in seeing how many of the poets included ‘made it’ out of this collection of contemporaneous juvenilia, and became fully fledged adult poets, or indeed stars. 

There would have been an assumption at the time that the next generation of poets would have been restricted virtually to the university campuses, as there were not at that time many street or working class poets represented by the publishing houses of Scotland. 

Although there are always exceptions.  Look at that guy Hugh MacDiarmid.  He never had a university education although he went on to make poetic history.


To get aa that over and done with, there are not in fact a plethora of well-known names in Scottish Student Verse 1937 – 1947, which was published by The Ettrick Press. 

There is Alex Scott, who became well known and loved as a poet in Edinburgh in the 1970s, and representing Aberdeen University, he includes six poems, more than anyone else in the volume.

Alex Scott Scottish Poet
Poem Before Birth by Alex Scott


There is also Derick S. Thomson, likewise of Aberdeen, who also made it as a Scottish poet and while best known for establishing the Gaelic language magazine Gairm, was also an Honorary President of the Scottish Poetry Library, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

Derick Thomson at Wikipedia


To add to this, find also Alastair Reid, representing St. Andrews. Reid, who died in 2014, was a poet and a scholar of South American literature and was known for his light-hearted poems and for his translations of South American poets Jorge Luis Borges and Pablo Neruda. 

Alastair Reid at Wikipedia


Of course, it appears that in these days there were only four universities in Scotland (compare that with fifteen today) and so it is fairly elitist stuff.  

That said, the overall tone tends towards a pre-chrisgrievian era, as the subject matter is shamelessly parochial at times, and almost exclusively in English.

Alastair Reid, poet
Alastair Reid 1947

You’ll find exceptions such as a strong few lines in Shetlandic from John J Graham, who went on to be a great champion of that tongue, and went to so far to edit a Shetlandic grammar, which was reprinted as recently as 1991.

John J Graham at Shetland Dialect


This is from Unidentified by Graham:

We fan him face-doon ida gjo
Whaur da luna-brak was faerce,
Wi nane but keenin skories
Ta murn ower his watery hairse.

Also within is a touching poem by Una Maclean who could have been no more than 18 years of age at the moment of publication. She describes the shoppers of Princes Street as ‘a people fretted by the curse of leisure’ in her poem Promenade.

Una Maclean at Wikipedia


The poems confected within Scottish Student Verse 1937 – 1947 are in general light in tone and optimistic in flavour, a fact doubtless due to the young ages of the contributors. There is a lot of slightly ribald stuff, verse intended to have a room guffaw.

The recent global war is barely mentioned, and instead the poetry recalls other issues of the age, some domestic, as in the modern girls discussed in Kosmetikos by Patricia McNeill, and in other places the cultural movements of the era. Here is one worth the repetition, for example:

Scottish Renaissance
By AH Emslie-Smith
Now is the yaird kail boiled and hashed
While Muses feed in slums;
The Ball of Kirriemuir has smashed
The window-pane of Thrums.

On top of this, the editors of Scottish Student Verse 1937 – 1947 claimed to have found a pattern based on the nature of poetry emanating from each of the country’s four universities:

Glasgow, leading in the comical, St Andrews in the philosophic, Aberdeen in the realistic, and Edinburgh providing a bit of everything.

For an environment recently emerged from world war, the tone of Scottish Student Verse 1937 – 1947 is remarkably light. This perhaps reflects the roots of much of the material and the now defunct traditions that it personifies. Many of the poems like Feline Warfare by J. Hector Gray and The Noodle’s Boodle by GWL Telfer indicate a world of howffs and living rooms, where the poems are quick, to the point and read for entertainment.