Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

MacDiarmid is a poet of vast though sometimes helter-skelter erudition. Many of his poems are written in “Lallans,” a Scottish dialect he synthesized out of several existing dialects, along with words that had fallen out of use but that MacDiarmid found in John Jamieson’s Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language (1808). A Scottish nationalist, MacDiarmid saw himself as doing something akin to what Geoffrey Chaucer did with English and Dante did with Italian, writing in the vernacular rather than in the approved language of the dominant academy (Latin in the case of Chaucer and Dante, English in the case of MacDiarmid). Though he sometimes regarded the English as the enemy and often wrote caustically about English political and poetic domination, in “Crystals Like Blood” MacDiarmid uses English to good effect.

If the whole poem is rather mechanical, working out the intersecting comparisons as persistently as the pile drivers work on the cinnabar, the language is quite simple and precise, and the end result is more nearly sentimental than mechanical. MacDiarmid’s aesthetic choice is to confine himself to clear, simple statements of fact in order to concentrate the poem’s emotional impact at the end. Until the last verse paragraph the poem is virtually without emotional language. In the first two verse paragraphs there are no words suggesting emotion at all. In the third verse paragraph emotion creeps into the poem in the word...

(The entire section is 473 words.)