Sunday, February 18, 2007


A Thistle to the Moon

Michael Schmidt, Lives of the Poets (1998; rpt. New York: Vintage Books, 2000), p. 672, quotes a few lines from Hugh MacDiarmid (1892-1978):
For ilka thing a man can be or think or dae
Aye leaves a million mair unbeen, unthocht, undune,
Till his puir warped performance is,
To a' that micht ha' been, a thistle to the mune.
"Unbeen, unthocht, undune" is a good example of a series of asyndetic, privative adjectives.

I can't find the rest of MacDiarmid's poem on the World Wide Web, and I don't even know the title of it.

Update: See the following email.

Dear Michael Gilleland,

'Thistle to the moon' comes from my fellow countryman's masterpiece 'A Drunk Man looks at the Thistle' lines 269 -272, which - mirabile dictu - is more or less at the beginning of the poem, as there are another 2,413 lines to go. The stanza seems to be a variation on the 'mute inglorious Milton' theme of unrealized possibilities. Another Miltonic theme ['Milton, Thou shouldst be living this hour'] occurs a little earlier in the poem in a marvellous outburst of Juvenalian disgust. As Burns' Day has only just passed, it perhaps deserves an airing:
"You canna gang to a Burns supper even
Wiout some wizened scrunt o a knock-knee
Chinee turns round to say "Him Haggis - velly goot"
And ten to wan the piper is a Cokney.

No wan in fifty kens a wurd Burns wrote
But misapplied is aabody's property,
And gin there was his like alive the day
They'd be the last a kennan hand to gie -

Croose London Scotties with their braw shirt fronts
And aa their fancy freinds rejoicean
That similah gatherings in Timbuctoo,
Bagdad - and Hell, nae doot - are voicean

Burns' sentiments o universal love.
In pidgin English and wild-fowl Scots,
And toastan ane wha's nocht to them but an
Excuse for faitherin Genius wi their thochts.

Aa they've to say was aften said afore
A lad was born in Kyle to blaw about.
What unco fate maks him the dumpan-grund
For aa the sloppy rubbish they jaw out?

Mair nonsense has been uttered in his name
Than in ony barran liberty and Christ.
If this keeps spreiden as the drink declines,
Syne turns to tea, wae's me for the Zeitgeist!

Rabbie, wadst thou wert - the warld hath need,
And Scotland mair sae, o the likes o thee!
The whisky that aince moved your lyre's become
The laxative for aa loquacity." [l. 37- 64]
MacDiarmid never suffered coofs, gowks and gomerels gladly.

Best wishes,

Eric Thomson

PS More on eating acorns. Or should that be moron eating acorns. Isn't it typical of Juvenal to tarnish his Golden Age by peopling it with a pair of acorn-belching neanderthals?

[montana uxor] horridior glandem ructante marito Sat. VI, 10

I'll leave the carminative properties of the tannin-rich acorn to others.

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