Antisyzygy: An Escape Route

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Such is the famous cul-de-sac where Hugh MacDiarmid parked his superlative, 2650-line poem, A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle. Regularly cited by all manners of vexed Scottish intellectuals, MacDiarmid’s conclusion is perhaps his most significant contribution to Scottish thought. Indeed, those morose lines end the poem’s attempt to unravel Scotland’s contradictory state – in-between fanciful ‘Celtic’ independence and pragmatic ‘Saxon’ subservience. Encouraging both the epic structure of the poem and its blend of variegated tones, this insight initially appears exhilarating. Upon reflection at the poem’s end, however, the drunk man worries that Scotland’s paradox has become a bane for its future development. ‘The only race in History who’ve / Bidden in the same category’ (ll. 2622–23) is impaled on its own rigid thorn and the prescient poet is left stranded in despair.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBottle Imp
Issue number31
Publication statusPublished - 30 Mar 2023


  • Hugh MacDiarmid
  • Literary Theory
  • Caledonian Antisyzygy
  • Scottish literature


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