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                                                                                                Christopher T. George

   

William Soutar, Flowers of Life: A Selection of Cinquains, edited by Brian Strand. Q.Q.Press, York House, 15 Argyle Terrace, Rothesay, Isle of Butte, PA20 0BD, Scotland, U.K., ISBN 1-9032030-473, card covers, 32 pp., £5.00.

In this slim collection of 119 cinquains by William Soutar (1898–1949), editor Brian Strand has collected together less well known work by the Scottish poet. The poet’s reputation rests on him being classed as one of the Lallans (Lowlands) Scots poets along with the more famous Hugh MacDiarmid, and who worked with Lowlands Scottish dialect from the 1920’s onward as part of a renaissance in Scottish poetry (see http://www.wordswithoutborders.org/article.php?lab=ScotsEssay).

The reader, however, should have no trepidation about the pleasant and entertaining short poems in this book, which are written, have no fear, in English all the way. The poems in the main text of the pamphlet are well chosen if printed closely packed, usually five cinquains to a page. Permission to reprint the cinquains (or epigrams, as they were known in an earlier era) was granted by the National Library of Scotland. The title of the collection, Eternal Spring, is taken from Soutar’s cinquain of the same name, which, editor Brian Strand notes, “echoes the view of so many that poetry is without doubt the flower of literary forms” (see below).

As an afterword that will be helpful to newcomers to the cinquain form, Strand includes a useful definition of the origin, syllable construction, and mode of operation of the form: “Cinquains (or American cinquains) are acknowledged to be the creation of Adelaide Crapsey. A versatile grammatical five line poem that has twenty-two syllables in the sequence 2:4:6:8:2, and with an integral line. In the final line, the poem often has a surprise or contrast to what went on before. Sometimes the final line is a simile of the first line. . . .”

Strand adds that the cinquain form “is particularly suited to the English language. . . and adaptable to a great variety of topics, as is shown by the examples I have selected for this booklet.”

A small taste of the cinquains in the pamphlet bears out the entertaining, effective, and gem-like nature of the poems included in this fine and noteworthy selection of William Soutar’s cinquains—

SEA SERPENT

Broken
Against a cliff
The hissing wave drags back:
Folds, and reforms, and rears again
To strike.

CROCUS

Our hearts
Refresh their hope
Out of this golden cup
Lifted by dead hands from the dark
Of dusk.

THE CRAFTSMAN

Now spring
The craftsman comes
With colours which repaint
The worn designs on the drabbled ball
Of earth.

ETERNAL SPRING

Poems
Are flowers of life
Which being picked rebloom;
Budded on lips out of the heart’s
Warm dust.

© National Library of Scotland

 

   

   

                                                                                                © Christopher T. George

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Loch Raven Review Winter 2005 — Vol. I, No. 2
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