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Literature and Writing

Scottish Literature

Auld Reekie, Robert Fergusson, John Barbour, Allan Ramsay, Lowland Scots

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>  20th-Century Poetry

Scottish Literature, literature in any of the languages of Scotland: Scottish Gaelic, Lowland Scots, or Standard English. This article deals with poetry and prose in Scots and in English, written in Scotland or by Scottish-born authors living abroad but dealing primarily with Scottish themes and settings.

Early Works

The earliest literature in the northern dialect of English known as Scottish or Lowland Scots is a fragment of an anonymous 13th-century poem on the condition of Scotland after the death of King Alexander III. One of the first major Scottish poets was John Barbour, archdeacon of Aberdeen, who wrote The Bruce (1375); its 14,000 lines tell the story of the heroic Scottish king Robert Bruce. Harry the Minstrel also wrote in the tradition of military epic and wrote the 12,000-line poem Sir William Wallace in the late 15th century.

18th Century

Three 18th-century poets used the Scots vernacular and restored a true national literary tradition. Allan Ramsay, a poet in his own right, through his anthologies The Tea-Table Miscellany (4 volumes, 1724-1737) and The Ever Green (2 volumes, 1724), made the work of the makars and later Scottish poetry known to his contemporaries. Robert Fergusson was one of a line of 18th-century Scottish poets that continues to the present day, devoted to sympathetic but realistic evocations of Glasgow and Edinburgh. “Auld Reekie” is one of his many lively descriptions of Edinburgh streets and citizens. Robert Burns, the most beloved of all Scottish poets, refused to turn to English for his poetry; the bulk of his work is therefore squarely in the Scottish tradition, in language, forms (based to a large extent on folk poetry), and content.

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