Eminent poets and critics combine in unique tribute to a poet of whom even Robert
Burns stood in awe
‘Heaven-taught Fergusson’, wrote Robert Burns in stylish admiration. This tribute was only one of many bonds between Scotland’s national poet and the poetic master whom he most loved, but never met. The Edinburgh man of letters Henry Mackenzie had termed Burns a ‘heaven-taught ploughman’. The label stuck. In contrast, the late Robert Fergusson had been no farm boy and had spent almost half his short life in formal education. Yet in calling him ‘heaven-taught’, Burns pays tribute to a fellow poet’s genius. He wishes to link himself to a writer whose example both terrified and inspired him.
Later Scottish poets have admired Fergusson in similarly strong terms. The ten specially commissioned poems in this book paying tribute (directly or indirectly) to Fergusson continue a tradition of homage while sounding their own contemporary notes. Sometimes gleeful, sometimes solemn, Heaven-taught Fergusson both winks at and scrutinises a poet who was in several ways strikingly different from Burns. Poets and critics from three continents come together in this volume. In various ways their soundings suggest just what it is about Fergusson that makes him still seem ‘heaven-taught’.
The time has come both locally and internationally to reassess that ‘damned eternal Puppy’ who wrote of St Andrews with both affection and resentment. There are certainly ironies in his alma mater celebrating the poet who so cheeked its Principal and Professors, but, as one of the commissioned poets remarked recently, ‘How could anyone not like Fergusson?’
Editor: Robert Crawford is Professor of English at the University of St Andrews
Contributors: Les Murray; Matthew Simpson; Douglas Dunn; Robert Crawford; Ian Duncan; Kathleen Jamie; Susan Manning; John Burnside; Janet Sorensen; Edwin Morgan; Carl McGuirk; Meg Bateman; Matthew Wickman; Tracey Herd; Andrew Macintosh; W.N.Herbert; Don Paterson.