George MacBeth Analysis

Other literary forms

In addition to his numerous volumes of poetry, George MacBeth published poetry pamphlets, chapbooks, and limited-edition books. Many of these, initially published in small editions, became parts of larger books and have thus been incorporated into the mainstream of MacBeth’s work. MacBeth also published children’s books, novels, plays, and an autobiography, and he edited several volumes of poetry.

The sheer volume of MacBeth’s production reveals his almost obsessive dedication to writing and the breadth of his interests. Among his publications other than poetry, the autobiography My Scotland (1973) probably holds the greatest interest for the reader of his poetry because of what it reveals about MacBeth’s background and development. MacBeth himself described the book as a nonlogical, nonnarrative, massive jigsaw of autobiographical bits, a collection of about two hundred short prose pieces about being Scottish.


A corecipient of Sir Geoffrey Faber Award in 1964, George MacBeth was one of the most prolific poets of twentieth century Britain. Volume alone, however, did not account for his significance as a poet; rather, he earned his stature for the diversity of his writing. He was, in the best sense of the word, an “experimental” poet: absolutely fearless in his willingness to attempt new forms and take on unusual subjects, yet simultaneously fascinated by traditional meter and rhyme, as well as by material that has fueled the imagination of poets for centuries. Poems of Love and Death contains poems ranging from the dangerously romantic “The Truth,” with its didactic final stanza that includes the lines “Happiness is a state of mind,/ And grief is something frail and small,” to the satiric “The Flame of Love, by Laura Stargleam,” which mocks the dime-novel story line that it exploits. MacBeth is as likely to write about a missile commander as about evening primroses, and the reader familiar with his writing is not at all surprised to find these disparate topics dealt with in a single book, in this case Buying a Heart. In fact, it is the sense of discovery and the vitality of MacBeth’s imagination that continues to attract many readers.


Booth, Martin. Travelling Through the Senses: A Study of the Poetry of George MacBeth. Isle of Skye, Scotland: Aquila, 1983. A brief assessment of MacBeth’s poetic work.

Dooley, Tim. Review of Collected Poems, 1958-1982, by George MacBeth. The Times Literary Supplement, January 26, 1990, p. 101. According to Dooley, the poems in the volume under review reveal a healthy development: “Formal scrupulousness replaces formal daring and self-examination replaces self-regard.” Dooley praises the “new tenderness” that accompanied MacBeth’s increasing attention to form.

Ries, Lawrence R. “George MacBeth.” In Poets of Great Britain and Ireland Since 1960: Part 2, M-Z, edited by Vincent B. Sherry, Jr. Vol. 40 in Dictionary of Literary Biography. Detroit: Gale Research, 1985. A judicious appreciation that calls attention to MacBeth’s black humor and dexterity as a “trickster.” Some biographical facts are given, but the piece is primarily a survey of the achievements (and disappointments) of MacBeth’s poetry through Poems from Oby.

Robinson, Peter. “Keep on Keeping On: Peter Robinson Salutes Two Collections by Poets Whose Stock May Have Fallen but Who Never Gave Up.” Review of Selected Poems, by George MacBeth, and Residues, by R. S. Thomas. The Guardian, March 8, 2003, p. 25. In this review of two books of poetry, including the MacBeth collection by Anthony Thwaite, Robinson argues that MacBeth’s poetry, while uneven, does not deserve to fade from memory.

Rosenthal, Macha Louis. The New Poets: American and British Poetry Since World War II. New York: Oxford University Press, 1967. Rosenthal discusses MacBeth in the context of all English language poets in the last half of the twentieth century. MacBeth, a prolific and experimental poet, defined his times as well as being a product of them. Contains a bibliography.

Schmidt, Michael, and Grevel Lindop. British Poetry Since 1930: A Critical Survey. Oxford, England: Carcanet Press, 1972. A useful overview that places MacBeth’s poetry in context. MacBeth gave shape to the alienation of modern life by being one of the most fecund and experimental of modern poets.

Thwaite, Anthony. Twentieth-Century English Poetry: An Introduction. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1978. Discusses MacBeth as a member of the Group, with only a very brief characterization of his poetry itself but providing an overview of the twentieth century British poetry that can serve as a context for a student of MacBeth. Contains a bibliography and an index.