Tom Scott on Robert Henryson

Tom Scott (1918-1995) was a noted Scottish poet, critic, and anthologist. His poetry in Scots includes The Ship and Ither Poems (1963), Brand the Builder (1975), and a number of translations, including Seven Poems o Maister Francis Villon (1953). The Collected Shorter Poems of Tom Scott was published by Chapman/Agenda in 1993.

Scott read mediaeval Scottish literature at Edinburgh University, and his research there led to his major critical work, Dunbar, a Critical Exposition of the Poems (1963). As an anthologist, he compiled Late Medieval Scottish Poetry (1967) and The Penguin Book of Scottish Verse (1970).

In his obituary in The Times (23rd August, 1995), Scott is described as blending erudition and cantankerousness with 'an occasional but genuine lyrical gift'. The obituarist also notes that 'A critical history of Scottish literature was often announced, but, regrettably, it never appeared.' The Robert Henryson Society in collaboration with Glasgow University's STARN project, is pleased to be able to make available, for the first time, part of Tom Scott's critical history of Scottish literature -- three chapters on the work of Robert Henryson (whom Scott refers to throughout as 'Henrysoun'). Drafted in 1967, these chapters demonstrate much of the vital engagement that Scott brought to his reading of Middle Scots literature. His respect for Henryson is clear; he writes, for example:

No other Scottish poet, before or since, has given us so comprehensive a view of life, and for this reason alone he is our supreme poet. His wholeness of mind and vision, his organic synthesis of experience and theory, is the psychological opposite of our present age of disintegration and analysis, of schism and compartmentalism, fragmentariness and laissez-faire. Henrysoun came at the crest of the great mediaeval wave and gave it its completest expression in Scots verse, before it broke and shattered into modern fragmentation on the rock of the new era ushered in by the Reformation.

In making these extracts available, we hope to add to the general availability of critical writing on Henryson, and also to cast light upon a modern Scots poet whose mission, like his medieval predecessor, was to create a vision of 'the Good Society'.

The Robert Henryson Society and STARN are most grateful to Mrs Heather Scott for making these chapters available for dissemination on the World Wide Web. Her copyright to these materials is not affected by their appearance here.

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