The decade spanning 1980 to 1990 has seen a proliferation of critical
studies and re-appraisal of the nature and development of Scottish
literature. In this substantial body ofwork, however, little or no attention
has been focused on the works of Sydney Goodsir Smith who, since his
death in 1975, has come to seem increasingly isolated and neglected.
This thesis then aims to provide the first comprehensive examination
of the eclectic span of Goodsir Smith's poetry, fiction and drama. The
study draws on interviews with Goodsir Smith's literary contemporaries,
family and friends and seeks to relate the works, where relevant, to the
socio-political and literary context of the period, while examining some
of the significant autobiographical material incorporated in the works.
Chapter One focuses on Goodsir Smith's early background and his
growing attachment to both Scotland and Scottish literature and studies
the nature of his earliest poetry in both Scots and English.
Chapter Two looks at the poetry written during World War Two,
considers the combined influences of modernism and the Scottish
renaissance as well as Goodsir Smith's growing interest in the long
The end of World War Two signals the opening of a new phase, at
once post-MacDiarmid and post-visionary. Chapters Three and Four
of this thesis look at ways in which the literary context was changing
and argues that Goodsir Smith's Under The Eildon Tree (1948) can be
seen as breaking into new aesthetic areas and perspectives prefiguring
developments emerging more fully in the 1950s as what we now recognise
as the postmodern.
Chapter Five examines what may be termed parallel developments and
looks at the shorter poetry written in the immediate post-war period, its
related aesthetic components and its powerful biographical substrata.
Chapter Six moves into related though radically divergent areas of
experimentation, the innovative prose fiction of Carotid Comucopius and
the challenging (and to date, unpublished) play Colickie Meg, pursuing
the seminal strands of the postmodern. This chapter also considers the
more conventional play. The Wallace.
Chapter Seven focuses on the complex amalgam of diverse approaches
collected in Figs and Thistles, framing the book as ranking, with Under
The Eildon Tree, among Goodsir Smith's finest works.
Chapter Eight opens with a consideration of some aspects of the
longer, more calm, if still deviant and discursive poetry of Goodsir
Smith's later years. This leads on to the conclusion of this thesis with
an assessment of the nature of Goodsir Smith's achievement. It is
argued that not only is his work drastically under-rated, but that it
will in the long term be seen as integral to the central experimental
thrust of European and Anglo-American literature and as crucial to
the development of modern Scottish literature. This is particularly so
with regard to Under The Eildon Tree which moves significantly beyond
the ground-breaking work of MacDiarmid's A Drunk Man Looks at the
Thistle. It is also argued that this work suggests pathways into the future
of Scottish literature which have been far from fully or even usefully