Introduction

First published in 1984, Edwin Morgan's Sonnets from Scotland combine many of the poet's central preoccupations with a broad historical perspective, which contrasts in a fascinating way with the tight formal control Morgan exercises over the individual poems. Like any sonnet-sequence, Sonnets from Scotland contains poems which stand on their own as discrete units; the overall meaning, however, comprises both the effect of these particular statements and the interactions which are set up between them. The meaning of the sequence as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Of the sequence's 51 sonnets, eighteen are discussed in the short commentaries which follow. We have generally chosen those which contain the most specific historical references, and we have attempted both to elucidate the ways in which Morgan reacts to the Scottish past and to explore the ambiguities which he frequently creates. The first poem discussed is 'Ring of Brodgar', the fifth sonnet in the sequence, the last 'Matt McGinn', the twenty-eighth. This commentary, then, privileges the historical dimension of particular poems, and pays little attention to other aspects of the work, such as the science-fiction framework, which recurs with more and more insistence in the closing stages. 'Ring of Brodgar' does, of course, employ the science-fiction conceit in dealing with that ancient circle, so that this important side of the sequence - and of Morgan's poetry in general - is not entirely left out of account.

The commentaries were written by three third- and fourth-year students of English at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (Guusje Groote, Paula Jansen and Sebastiaan Verweij) as part of a specialist option on 'History and Literature in Contemporary Scotland'. They are intended as support for the general reader in exploring the resonances of Sonnets from Scotland, and may suggest further lines of enquiry in considering the sequence in its entirety.

Rod Lyall, August 2002

 

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