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DOI 10.12887/32-2019-4-128-09

Halszka LELEŃ, Orcadian Poetics of Hope: Lyrical Dimensions and (Ex)tensions of the Topos in the Poetry of George Mackay Brown

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The article overviews the literary topos of hope in the poetic works of major Scottish Catholic writer George Mackay Brown (1921–1996). It turns out that hope, conceived as a theological virtue, determines the underlying patterns of his literary worlds, although Mackay never made it overexplicit or an obvious conclusion for his readers to draw. Rather than directly speak of faith and of the joy of hope that faith brings, Brown opted for the indirect frames of narrating the poetic stories of individual and community ascent and demise, followed by regeneration. His lyrical visions of Orkney archipelagic communities are made universal by focusing on the cycles of human life, represented by birth, toil, and death, often described as entering some further “door.” The use of Gospels-rooted plain imagery of farming and fishing makes it possible for the poems to touch upon the fundamental truths of human life and to infuse them with the Christian system of beliefs. In foregrounding this aspect, Brown gently conducts his poetic and ethical mission of working for the benefit of his archipelagic homeland, for Scotland, and for humanity in general. Inspired by Gerald Manley Hopkins and St. John Henry Newman, he seems to have launched upon the mission of reviving the sense of union of the whole creation so as to counter the modern crisis of culture. Brown’s imagery of hope and faith can also be set against the Catholic teaching on hope expressed in the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes and in the book Crossing the Threshold of Hope by John Paul II, whom Brown greatly admired. In Brown’s poetic world, art has a sacramental dimension and it can therefore inspire people with hope. At the same time, hope is represented as a virtue which can be found in the most unlikely and poorly facets of individual and communal life. Brown finds glory and hope in the world of everyday work and scarcity. His lyrical evocations get their energy from the juxtaposition of some fundamental signs, highlighted by a sparing use of poetic devices. He frequently operates with runic compactness and saga-like emotional restraint. With the use of the technique of understatement, the idea of hope that permeates the life of an individual and the community among the common daily hardships is all the more powerful and persuasive for the reader who is encouraged to play an active role in searching for the dispersed textual signs.

Keywords: Catholic and universal dimensions of hope, Scottish archipelagic poetry, poetic vision of Orcadian life patterns, George Mackay Brown

Contact: Institute of Literary Studies, University of Warmia and Mazury, ul. Kurta Obitza 1, 10-725 Olsztyn, Poland
E-mail: halszka.lelen@uwm.edu.pl
Phone +48 89 5352012

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  1. ISSN 0860-8024
  2. e-ISSN 2720-5355
  3. The Republic of Poland Ministry of Science and Higher Education Value: 100.00
  4. Quarterly “Ethos” is indexed by the following databases: EBSCO, CEEOL, Index Copernicus (ICV 2017: 55.26), Philosopher’s Index, ERIH Plus.
  5. DOI Prefix 10.12887