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Scottish Renaissance

The Scottish Renaissance was a literary movement that took place in the mid-20th century in Scotland. It is often referred to as the Scottish version of modernism. 

The movement is mostly defined as a literary one. But, there were broad developments in music, dance, and art as well. The Scottish Renaissance has been compared to the Harlem Renaissance in the United States, the Irish Literary Revival, and more contemporary movements. The term “Scottish Renaissance” was first prominent used by the poet and scholar Denis Saurat. He used the term in “Le Groupe de la Renaissance Écossaise,” a French article published in 1924. Previously, the term appeared in 1922 in a book review for the Scottish Chapbook

Scottish Renaissance

Scottish Renaissance Definition

The Scottish Renaissance, much like the Celtic Revival, was based around a reawakening of national spirit in Scotland.

Writers of this modernist generation found a new appreciation for their heritage and looked back to “Makar “ poets. These were royal court poets from the Medieval period, specifically the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. They included Robert Henryson and Gavin Douglas. 

The poets who made up the Scottish Renaissance also sought out the influence of T.S. Eliot and other prominent modernists like D.H. Lawrence and Ezra Pound. 

As the Scottish Renaissance developed, the novel became the primary focus. The novel The Green Isle of the Great Deep is a good example. 

Examples of Literature from the Scottish Renaissance 

The House with the Green Shutters by George Douglas Brown 

The House with the Green Shutters is a fairly well-known novel from the period. It was published before the real start of the Scottish Renaissance but is often referenced when researching the movement. It was published in 1901 and is set in the mid-19t century in Ayrshire. The novel focuses on the life of John Gourlay, a carrier. Here is a quote from the novel: 

For, like most scorners of the world’s opinion, Gourlay was its slave, and showed his subjection to the popular estimate by his anxiety to flout it. He was not great enough for the carelessness of perfect scorn. 

These lines appear early in the novel and demonstrate Brown’s style

Glory by Violet Jacob 

This poem is a great example of who some poets who were part of the Scottish Renaissance turned to traditional vernacular as a way to celebrate the past. Jacob penned this poem in the late 1910s and published it in More Songs of Angus, and others. The first lines read: 

I canna’ see ye, lad, I canna’ see ye,

For a’ yon glory that’s aboot yer heid,

Yon licht that haps ye, an’ the hosts that’s wi’ ye,

Aye, but ye live, an’ it’s mysel’ that’s deid!

While reading this kind of poetry may seem daunting at first, by taking the time to read the words as they sound, most readers shouldn’t have trouble figuring out what Jacob wrote. The next stanza read: 

They gae’d frae mill and mart; frae wind-blawn places,

And grey toon-closes; i’ the empty street

Nae mair the bairns ken their steps, their faces,

Nor stand to listen to the trampin’ feet.

A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle by Hugh MacDiarmid

It was with MacDiarmid’s work that the Scottish Renaissance truly began. This long poem is a prime example of what he accomplished. It was published in 1926 and is composed as a monologue. Throughout, readers can see examples of stream of consciousness style writing, something that many modernist writers made use of. There are more comic moments in the text and far more serious ones. It touches on a wide variety of topics like science and politics. Here is a quote: 

The function, as it seems to me,   

O’ Poetry is to bring to be   

At lang, lang last that unity …   

But wae’s me on the weary wheel!   

Higgledy-piggledy in’t we reel,   

And little it cares hoo we may feel.

The poet uses tercets throughout the poem. These use a consistent rhyme scheme of AAA BBB, and so on. 

Art in the Scottish Renaissance 

Popular artists from this period include Stanley Cursiter and William McCance. These artists are known for finding inspiration in the Celtic revival and the post-impressionism movements. Futurism was also a major influence. These influences can be seen in works like Regatta and Rain on Princes Street by Stanley Cursiter. Other artists of the period include James McIntosh Patrick and Edward Baird. 


Was the Renaissance in Scotland?

Yes, the Renaissance during the 15th and 16th centuries did touch Scotland. It changed the Court and the Church and triggered many social changes. 

When was the Scottish Modernist Renaissance?

The Scottish Renaissance took place in the early-mid 1900s. It was said to begin around the mid-1920s when artists and writers started drawing inspiration from their national heritage. 

What is the importance of the Scottish Renaissance?

The Scottish Renaissance is important as the primary modernist movement in the country. It reflected similar changes in England and Ireland. This allows scholars to compare influences and social beliefs. 


Related Literary Terms 

  • Confessional Poetry: a style of poetry that is personal, often making use of a first-person narrator. It is a branch of Postmodernism that emerged in the US in the 1950s.
  • Literary Modernism: originated in the late 19th and 20th centuries. It was mainly focused in Europe and North America.
  • Magical Realism: a genre of fiction writing that is interested in imbuing the modern realistic world with magical, fantastical elements.
  • Irish Literary Revival: a literary period in the late 19th and early 20th century in Ireland.
  • Line Break: occurs when a poet decides to stop a line and begin another. It can happen with or without punctuation.
  • Novel: a long, written, fictional narrative that includes some amount of realism.

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