Tom Scott

Tom Scott (1918 - 1995) : was born in Portobello, near Edinburgh. Scott began writing political poetry written in English but after the brutal upheavals of the Second World War he concentrated on writing in Scots and became an ardent supporter of Lallans, extending the work of Hugh MacDiarmid and the other writers of the Scottish literary renaissance.

He first came to notice in 1953 with a collection of translations into Scots of the French poet Francis Villon, entitled Seeven Poems o Maister Villon, though it took until 1963 and the publication of The Ship and Ither Poems before he gained recognition for work which was entirely his own. The Ship is a long allegorical poem in which the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 is used as a metaphor for the economic and social decline of the whole of Europe.

Scott was interested in medieval literature, particularly the work of the Makars, and his own writing bears evidence of their influence. He worked throughout his life on a history of Scots literature, but it was never published in his lifetime. The Robert Henryson Society has now published the first three chapters of Scott’s study on-line. You can read it here: click here

Scott’s best work is seen in the long poems The Ship and Brand the Builder.

In 1981, in an article in Scottish literary magazine Chapman (number 30), Scott explained his philosophy of long poems: “The long poem can tell a complex tale, spin out a metaphor for hundreds or even thousands of lines, keep four or more levels of meaning in counterpoint at the same time, deal with a complex action or actions, plot or myths, combine many kinds of poetry in one complex poem. The long poem, indeed, is to poetry much as the symphony is to orchestral music. The medieval and Renaissance poets, like the ancients, knew the supreme rank of the long poem in poetry ... [It]is the best vehicle for an integrated vision of life.”

Scott not only made his mark on the literary scene with his own work. He was a respected critic and contributed regularly to magazines, journals and newspapers on matters concerning Scottish literature and language. As an anthologist, notably as the editor of the Oxford Book of Scottish Verse and the Penguin Book of Scottish Verse, Scott had a great deal of influence over how and what Scottish poetry was read at the time.

Further Reading

Portobello Local History
Part of the Edinburgh City Council website. This page contains a brief biographical background to Scott and a useful recommended reading list for students keen to pursue their study of Scott’s work.
click here

Scott on Henryson
Tom Scott was a noted scholar was well as a respected poet. This page introduces Scott and his unfinished study of the great medieval Makar.
click here