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Published by jack elliot

In the immediate aftermath of Culloden, Rob Donn (1714-78), in “Song of the Black Cassocks” connects apocalyptic imagery with specific place and time:

I am heartsick for Scotland

The people, so badly divided:

Motives, desires, the mind of the country,

All split apart. Nothing binds us together.

And the Government reads this, starts

Fanning the flames: encouraging greed

And the worst competition. The flames will rise up.

We will tear each other’s throats out.

The poem is locked into its historical moment, a protest against the Disclothing Act of 1747, prohibiting the wearing of Highland dress. The poet’s clan Mackay had been on the Hanoverian side in the ’45, but here Rob Donn is asserting allegiance with all Highlanders, opposing the government’s tyranny. A universal sense of justice is required: “The lion will repay the pain. / Its season will come.”


William Ross (1762-c1791) also stands out in the later 18th century. Although he wrote in a range of forms and has been compared to his immediate contemporary Robert Burns, whose work he seems to have known, Ross is inimitable in the intensity of personal utterance, as in “Another Song”:

I am lost in my grief, a steep pass –

A dram can do nothing to please.

The maggot alive in my mind has

Ended good spirits and ease.

I see her no more, that beautiful girl –

As she walked in the street with such grace –

The gentlest eyes, the loveliest face –

My confidence, broken and fallen

Like leaves from the highest of trees.

As with Duncan Ban and Rob Donn, the individual voice of William Ross, in all its range, arises from a coherent social vision that characterised the Gaelic world before the 18th century, carrying through its ruins traces of what that social identity might yet be again, even in the evocation of its destruction.

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