Tag Archives: Robert Fergusson

Edina Europa: after the Fringe

These are a few photos from the Edina Europa poetry walks, which took place during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival last month. They were taken by Alison Lloyd; my thanks to her for letting me use them here.

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In the Canongate Kirkyard, looking towards the Nelson Monument on Calton Hill and the Old Royal High School.

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At the grave of Johann Friedrich Lampe (1703–1751), a composer and bassonist who came to Edinburgh in 1750 to play at the recently opened Canongate Playhouse. I read from Robert Fergusson’s poem, ‘On the Canongate Playhouse in Ruins’, written after the theatre closed in 1769, and which includes the lines evoking the sounds of the playhouse:

Here shepherds, lolling in their woven bowers,
In dull recitativo often sung
Their loves, accompanied with clangour strong
From horns, from trumpets, clarinets, bassoons;
From violinos sharp, or droning bass,
Or the brisk tinkling of a harpsichord.

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Reading from Burns, with the Burns Monument emerging from the trees in the background.

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Reading another Burns poem at the grave of Adam Smith.

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Taking advantage of having the poet on hand, I asked Angus Reid to read his ‘split sonnet’ about the Scottish parliament building, dedicated to Donald Dewar and beginning with the question:

And with what sign should     the gathering place
be shown…

Thanks to everyone who came on the walks – it was as ever a pleasure to share the poems with you, and the unfolding conversations.

 

Postcards from Edinburgh (1)

I’ve been tweeting some quotes from about Edinburgh, and here’s a wee collection of the first few.

EPT Wordsworth 02

 

EPT RLS 10

 

EPT DBM 02

 

EPT Garioch 02

 

EPT Piozzi 01

Dorothy Wordsworth recorded in her diary arriving in Edinburgh with her brother William on 15 September 1803. – Robert Louis Stevenson’s Edinburgh: Picturesque Notes (1878) still speaks to the city today.– Donnchadh Bàn Mac an t-Saoir, or in English Duncan Ban MacIntyre, was a Gaelic poet from Argyll who was a member of City Guard in the late 18th century; the lines, from his poem ‘Oran Dhun Eidann’ (‘Song of Edinburgh’), first published in 1804, translate as ‘Edinburgh is beautiful / in many diverse ways…’. – In ‘To Robert Fergusson’ Robert Garioch (1909–1981) imagines rattling the ‘rigg-bane’ or spine of the Old Town in the company of the energetic earlier poet. – Hester Piozzi, aka Dr Johnson’s confidante Mrs Thrale, visited the city in the summer of 1789, anxious she would encounter ‘a second hand London’, but found something quite different.

 

 

An Edinburgh Alphabet, A–G

An Edinburgh AlphabetThis Edinburgh Alphabet features poems (and some prose) about the city; I’m posting it on Facebook in July and August. I’ve taken the idea partly from J.F. Birrell’s book  from 1980, which I came across by chance recently in an Oxfam bookshop; and partly from the exhibition currently running at the City Art Centre.

 

A is for Auld Reikie

Auld_Reikie_RF  Burns Fergusson epitaph

Edinburgh’s cramped and densely populated Old Town was known as Auld Reikie (‘Old Smoky’). The poet of its bustle and vapours was Robert Fergusson, who wrote in both Scots and English, but it’s for the Scots work that he is best remembered; his longest poem ‘Auld Reikie’, captures the sights, sounds and smells of the city he lived in.

He died in 1774, tragically young, and was buried in the Canongate Kirkyard. beneath a stone commissioned by Robert Burns. Today on the Canongate, David Annand’s bronze statue of the poet, book in hand, walks beneath the cherry trees. At his feet are inscribed the opening lines of ‘Auld Reikie’.

Auld Reikie, wale o’ ilka toun
That Scotland kens beneath the moon;
Whare couthy chiels at e’ening meet
Their bizzing craigs and mous to weet;
And blythely gar auld Care gae by
wi blinkit and wi bleering eye…

(wale: best; ilka: each; mouthy: friendly; chiels: fellows; craigs: throats)

B is for Burns

Burns Moument 1 Burns Moument 2 Burns Moument 3

Robert Burns (1759–1796) was born, grew up and farmed in Ayrshire. His Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect were published to acclaim in 1786, and he travelled to Edinburgh at the end of that year hoping to find a patron. He was welcomed and celebrated, but disappointed in his hopes; eventually he had to take a job as an exciseman to achieve a measure of financial security.

While in Edinburgh he arranged for a stone to be erected in the Canongate Kirkyard for the poet Robert Fergusson (1750–1774), who had been buried there in a pauper’s grave. Burns knew and admired his work, and wrote this epitaph for his stone:

No sculptur’d Marble here, nor pompous lay,
No storied Urn nor animated Bust;
This simple stone directs pale Scotia’s way
To pour her sorrows o’er the Poet’s dust.

Ironically, Burns himself was memorialised in ‘sculptur’d marble’ by the citizens of Edinburgh. In 1824 John Flaxman was commissioned to produce a life-size statue of Burns in white marble, and a monument was built to house it, designed by Thomas Hamilton. If Fergusson lived in Auld Reikie, after his death the city become known as the ‘Athens of the North’, thanks to such buildings as Hamilton’s neo-classical Royal High School. As his template for the nearby Burns’ monument, Hamilton chose the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates in Athens. Completed in 1831, in 1839 it was handed over to the care of the city council, when the statue was moved due to smoke from the gasworks below discolouring the marble; Auld Reikie was determined not to be forgotten. The statue is now in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery on Queen Street.

 

C is for Clarinda

Clarinda

‘Clarinda’ was Agnes (Nancy) M’Lehose (1758–1841). She met Robert Burns in December 1787 when he was visiting Edinburgh for the second time, and they began a ‘passionate friendship’. Married with four children, she was estranged from her husband (who lived in Jamaica where he owned a plantation). She had moved from Glasgow to Edinburgh where she was supported by relatives including her cousin William Craig, a lawyer and judge.

It’s thought her and Burns’ relationship wasn’t sexual – as a married woman she had too much to lose. Burns managed to get one of her serving girls pregnant – perhaps a sign of his frustration at this state of affairs. When he left Edinburgh they wrote to each other, and it was her idea to use the ‘Arcadian’ names of Clarinda and Sylvander. He wrote several poems to her, which don’t rank amoing his finest.

They last met in December 1791. She was about to sail for the West Indies to attempt – vainly, as it turned out – a reconcilation with her husband. By then he was married, and living in Dumfries where he worked for the Excise department. On the occasion of their last meeting he wrote for her ‘Ae Fond Kiss’.

 

D is for Dùn Eideann

DùnEideann_DBMgrave

Dùn Eideann is the Gaelic name for Edinburgh. A Gaelic speaker who lived in the city was the poet Donnchadh Bàn Mac an t-Saoir, whose name is anglicised as Duncan Ban MacIntyre (1724–1812). From Glen Orchy in Argyll, he worked there and in Perthshire before settling in Edinburgh in 1767 where he served with the City Guard. He is buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard.

Among his poems is ‘Oran Dhùn Eideann’ (Song to Edinburgh), which praises many aspects of the city: soldiers, ladies, and judges; lamps, bells and coaches; the castle, palace and infirmary. Below is the opening verse in Gaelic and English (translated by Angus Macleod, in The songs of Duncan Ban Macintyre, 1978), and I’ll add a link to a now digitised earlier edition of his work published in France.

‘S e baile mór Dhùn Eideann
A b’ éibhinn leam bhith ann,
Aite fialaidh farsaing
A bha tlachdmhor anns gach ball;
Gearasdain is batraidh
Is rampairean gu teann,
Taighean móra ‘s caisteal
Anns an tric an d’ stad an camp.

‘Tis in Edinburgh city
I would rejoice to be—
a bountiful and spacious place
that pleased in all respects:
garrison and battery
and ramparts all compact;
great buildings and a castle

where oft the camp has stayed.

E is for Eneados

Eneados_GavinDouglas Eneados_GavinDouglas_MakarsCourt Eneados_SicIturAdAstra

When Gavin Douglas (1474–1522) translated Virgil’s Aeneid into Scots – ‘our awyn langage’, as he put it – in 1512–13, he was Provost of St Giles in Edinburgh. Soon after it was completed came the disastrous Scottish defeat at the Battle of Flodden, and Douglas spent the rest of his life involved in political intrigues. He died in London, where his Eneados was published thirty years after his death. It was the first complete translation of Virgil’s work into a northern European language, and was extended by Douglas’s own prologues; Ezra Pound reckoned it “better than the original, as Douglas had heard the sea”.

From its founding in 1128 until its amalgamation with Edinburgh in 1856, the Canongate was an independent burgh. Its Latin motto, SIC ITUR AD ASTRA – ‘thus one travels to the stars’ – was taken from the Aeneid. Virgil’s epic tells the story of Aeneas, a Trojan who is destined to found the imperial city of Rome. The phrase comes in a section which describes the God Apollo descending to praise Aeneas’ son Iulus, who has distinguished himself in battle. Douglas’s version runs

Down from the regioun of the hevin tho
The brycht curland haryt Appollo,
Apon a clowd syttand quhayr he wald,
The ostis of Italianis can behald,
And eyk new Troyis cite, with cheyr glayd
Till lulus the victor thus he sayd :
Eik and continew thy new vailyeand deidis,
Thou yong child ; for that is the way the ledis
Up to the sternis and the hevynnis hie,
Thou verray Goddis ofspring, quod he,
That sal engendir Goddis of thy seyd.

F is for Finlay

Finlay Coble SP 1 Finlay Green Waters SPL Finlay Hunter Square 1 Finlay RLS A Man of Letters 2

Ian Hamilton Finlay (1925–2006) is a poet best known for his garden, Little Sparta, south of Edinburgh in the Pentland Hills, made with his wife Sue. It is a small piece of the world dense with resonances and echoes, especially of the absent worlds of the sea and classical antiquity. Finlay made several works for sites in Edinburgh. A tapestry of the poem ‘Green Waters’, made of fishing boat names, hangs in the Scottish Poetry Library, while ‘Coble’ can be found in the The Scottish Parliament; bronze baskets of northern and southern fruits with accompanying quotations can be found in Hunter Square, by the Tron Kirk on the High Street; and his memorial to Robert Louis Stevenson, ‘A Man of Letters’, is in Princes Street Gardens.

G is for Golden

Golden City 1 Golden City 2 Golden City 3

In 1965 James T.R. Ritchie published Golden City, a follow-up to his earlier collection (and film) of Edinburgh children’s rhymes, songs and sayings, The Singing Street. He writes in the Prologue to Golden City that “I made it a rule never to take any rhymes out of any book, only to note down what I heard by word of mouth, and from the pupils of this one school.” (The school was Norton Park School, just off Easter Road.)

 

Words on the Street

Canongate Stars & Stories is an illuminated walking trail for Edinburgh’s Old Town, organised by Edinburgh City of Literature Trust. There are 20 lightboxes featuring quotations on the lower High Street, Canongate and surrounding streets and closes. Best seen after dark, they’ll be in situ till, I believe, the end of March. Below are photos of some of the light boxes, and notes about the quotations.

Fountain Close: Blessed be the sempill lyfe, Robert Henryson (c.1420–c.1490), from the fable ‘The Twa’ Mice’ (c.1480s), printed by Thomas Bassandyne (d.1577) who lived in Fountain Close.

Blissed be sempill lyfe withoutin dreid;
Blissed be sober feist in quietie;
Quha hes aneuch, of na mair hes he neid,
Thocht it be littill into quantatie.
Grit aboundance and blind prosperitie
Oftymes makis ane evill conclusioun:
The sweitest lyfe thairfoir, in this cuntrie,
Is sickernes with small possessioun.

The White Horse Inn, Canongate: Every writer has his use, by Samuel Johnson (1709–1784), from Rambler, no.145 (6 August, 1751). Established in 1742, The White Horse is the oldest pub on the Royal Mile and on 14 August 1773 received Johnson, who had arrived in Edinburgh to meet his friend and biographer James Boswell (1740 –1795) before their tour of the Hebrides. Around the corner off St Mary’s Street, a plaque at Boyd’s Entry (named for the proprietor of the White Horse, James Boyd) commemorates the event.
As every writer has his use, every writer ought to have his patrons; and since no man, however high he may now stand, can be certain that he shall not be soon thrown down from his elevation by criticism or caprice, the common interest of learning requires that her sons should cease from intestine hostilities, and, instead of sacrificing each other to malice and contempt, endeavour to avert persecution from the meanest of their fraternity.

Our Dynamic Earth: Nothing but time, by James Hutton (1726 –1797), from Theory of the Earth (1788 / 1795). Edinburgh born and educated, James Hutton is often referred to as the ‘Father of Modern Geology.’ His research into local rock formations, particularly Salisbury Crags in Edinburgh, led him to formulate a new theory of the origins of the earth – an earth much older than previously thought, made of layers or rock with a molten core. He first presented his Theory of the Earth to the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1785, but his ideas only gained wide circulation and influence after his death.
From the top of those decaying pyramids to the sea, we have a chain of facts which clearly demonstrate this proposition, That the materials of the wasted mountains have travelled through the rivers; for, in every step of this progress, we may see the effect, and thus acknowledge the proper cause. We may often even be witness to the action; but it is only a small part of the whole progress that we may thus perceive, nevertheless it is equally satisfactory as if we saw the whole; for, throughout the whole of this long course, we may see some part of the mountain moving some part of the way. What more can we require? Nothing but time. It is not any part of the process that will be disputed; but, after allowing all the parts, the whole will be denied; and, For what?—only because we are not disposed to allow that quantity of time which the ablution of so much wasted mountain might require.

St John’s Pend: Edinburgh is a hot-bed of genius, by Tobias Smollett (1721 – 1771), from The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker (1771). Smollett occasionally lodged with his sister at St John’s Pend, just off the Canongate. Along with his famous 1755 translation of Cervantes’ Don Quixote, Smollett was a popular author of ‘picaresque’ novels. The Expedition of Humphry Clinker, a epistolary novel, follows Mathew Bramble, his family, and his servants as they travel through England and Scotland.
Edinburgh is a hot-bed of genius. — I have had the good fortune to be made acquainted with many authors of the first distinction; such as the two Humes, Robertson, Smith, Wallace, Blair, Ferguson, Wilkie, &c. and I have found them all as agreeable in conversation as they are instructive and entertaining in their writings. These acquaintances I owe to the friendship of Dr Carlyle, who wants nothing but inclination to figure with the rest upon paper.

Canongate Kirkyard: Ill-fated genius! by Robert Burns (1759–1796), from ‘Lines On Fergusson, The Poet’ (1787). Robert Fergusson (1750 –1774) was a brilliant Edinburgh-born poet who died tragically young, and in such poverty that he was buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave in the Canongate Kirkyard. Dismayed by this injustice, Robert Burns arranged for him to have a proper gravestone.

Ill-fated genius! Heaven-taught Fergusson!
What heart that feels and will not yield a tear,
To think Life’s sun did set e’er well begun
To shed its influence on thy bright career.

O why should truest Worth and Genius pine
Beneath the iron grasp of Want and Woe,
While titled knaves and idiot-Greatness shine
In all the splendour Fortune can bestow?

Jeffrey Street: the happier productions of female genius, by Francis Jeffrey (1773–1850), from a review of a book of poetry by Felicia Hemans (1793–1835) in Edinburgh Review (1828). Francis Jeffrey, after whom Jeffrey Street is named, began his Edinburgh Review in 1802 in order to guide contemporary readers toward works of high acclaim; the magazine was published quarterly until 1929.
No Man, we will venture to say, could have written the Letters of Madame de Sevigné, or the Novels of Miss Austin, or the Hymns and Early Lessons of Mrs. Barbauld, or the Conversations of Mrs. Marcet. These performances, too, are not only essentially and intensely feminine, but they are, in our judgement, decidedly more perfect than any masculine productions with which they can be brought into comparison. (…) We think the poetry of Mrs Hemans a fine exemplification of Female Poetry – and we think it has much of the perfection which we have ventured to ascribe to the happier productions of female genius.

Chessel’s Court: Man is not truly one, but truly two, by Robert Louis Stevenson (1850–1894), from The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886). Chessel’s Court was scene of an infamous crime that inspired Stevenson. Deacon Brodie (1741 – 1788), city councillor and master cabinet-maker, used his position to steal from the wealthy who sought his services. A botched robbery of the Customs Office in Chessel’s Court led eventually to his arrest and execution, and revealed to the public his double life. As a child Stevenson slept with one of Brodie’s cabinets in his bedroom (it is now displayed in the Writers’ Museum in the Lawnmarket).
With every day, and from both sides of my intelligence, the moral and the intellectual, I thus drew steadily nearer to that truth, by whose partial discovery I have been doomed to such a dreadful shipwreck: that man is not truly one, but truly two. (…) It was on the moral side, and in my own person, that I learned to recognise the thorough and primitive duality of man; I saw that, of the two natures that contended in the field of my consciousness, even if I could rightly be said to be either, it was only because I was radically both; and from an early date, even before the course of my scientific discoveries had begun to suggest the most naked possibility of such a miracle, I had learned to dwell with pleasure, as a beloved day-dream, on the thought of the separation of these elements.

Dunbar’s Close: A city is a drama in time, by Patrick Geddes (1854–1932) from Civics: as Applied Sociology (1904). Geddes renovated buildings and developed green spaces, including the garden at Dunbar’s Close, in Edinburgh’s delapidated Old Town at the end of the 19th century. Geddes is renowned for his innovative ideas on social reform, environmentalism, and town planning, and his phrase ‘by leaves we live’ lives on in the Scottish Poetry Library’s Twitter handle.
But a city is more than a place in space, it is a drama in time. Though the claim of geography be fundamental out interest in the history of the city is supremely greater; it is obviously no mere geographic circumstances which developed one hill-fort in Judea, and another in Attica, into world centres, to this day more deeply influential than are the vastest modern capitals. […] Again the answer comes through geography, though no longer in mere map or relief, but now in vertical section – in order of strata ascending form past to present, whether we study rock-formations with the geologist, excavate more recent accumulations with the archaeologist, or interpret ruins or monuments with the historian. Though the primitive conditions we have above noted with the physiographer remain apparent, indeed usually permanent, cities have none the less their characteristic phases of historic development decipherable superposed. […] In a word, not only does the main series of active cities display traces of all the past phases of evolution, but beside this lie fossils, or linger survivals, of almost every preceding phase.

The World’s End: For ever and aye till the World’s End, by Sydney Goodsir Smith (1915 – 1975), from Kynd Kittock’s Land (1965). The World’s End pub stands at the top of World’s End Close, on what was once the edge of Edinburgh by the former city walls. Smith’s words conclude his poem based on a character in a medieval poem, an innkeeper who, admitted to heaven after her death, leaves again ‘for to get hir ane fresche drink, the aill of hevin wes sour’.

Here I be and here I drink,
This is myne, Kynd Kittock’s Land,
For ever and aye while stane shall stand—
For ever and aye till the World’s End.

Walks on National Poetry Day

KC reading
I ran two walks on National Poetry Day 2015 – Thursday 8 October – starting at the Scottish Storytelling Centre and walking down to the Scottish Parliament. The weather was kind, with some gentle autumn sun, and on the way I read poems by Christine De Luca and Ingrid Murray, Tessa Ransford, Muriel Spark, Norman MacCaig, Roberts Burns, Fergusson and Garioch, Bert Brecht, Stewart Conn, Angus Reid and Edwin Morgan, as well as the great Anon, and one of my own.

I’m grateful to Elaine Erb (from Alberta, Canada), for the photographs here, taken during the morning walk. The large-scale poem on the the printed scaffolding sheet (a huge new development is being put up behind it) is ‘Spiral’ by Elizabeth Burns, installed earlier that morning. At 25 by 12 metres, it’s reputedly the largest poem in the UK, and will stay up on the building until summer 2016.