Sorley MacLean
Name: Sorley MacLean
Occupation: Poet
Gender: Male
Birth Day: October 26, 1911
Death Date: Nov 24, 1996 (age 85)
Age: Aged 85
Country: Scotland
Zodiac Sign: Scorpio

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Sorley MacLean

Sorley MacLean was born on October 26, 1911 in Scotland (85 years old). Sorley MacLean is a Poet, zodiac sign: Scorpio. Nationality: Scotland. Approx. Net Worth: Undisclosed.

Trivia

His debut poetry collection, Dain do Eimhir agus Dain Eile, is regarded as one of the most significant Gaelic-language works of the twentieth century.

Net Worth 2020

Undisclosed
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Does Sorley MacLean Dead or Alive?

As per our current Database, Sorley MacLean died on Nov 24, 1996 (age 85).

Physique

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Before Fame

He attended the University of Edinburgh and fought in North Africa during World War II.

Biography

Biography Timeline

1911

Sorley MacLean was born in Òsgaig, Raasay on 26 October 1911; Scottish Gaelic was his first language. Before he went to school at the age of six, he spoke very little English. He was the second of five sons born to Malcolm (1880–1951) and Christina MacLean (1886–1974). The family owned a small croft and ran a tailoring business, but they later gave up the croft to move to a better house, which proved detrimental to their finances when the Great Depression took a high toll on the tailoring business. His brothers were John (1910–1970), a schoolteacher and later rector of Oban High School, who was also a piper; Calum (1915–1960), a noted folklorist and ethnographer; and Alasdair (1918–1999) and Norman (c.1917–c.1980), who became general practitioners. Sorley's two younger sisters, Isobel and Mary, were also schoolteachers. His patronymic was Somhairle mac Chaluim 'ic Chaluim 'ic Iain 'ic Tharmaid 'ic Iain 'ic Tharmaid; he could not trace his genealogy with certainty to the eighth generation.

1923

What MacLean learned of the history of the Gaels, especially of the Clearances, had a significant impact on his worldview and politics. On his mother's side were three noteworthy singers, two pipers, and a village bard. Of especial note was MacLean's paternal grandmother, Mary Matheson, whose family had been evicted from Lochalsh in the 18th century. Until her death in 1923, she lived with the family and taught MacLean many traditional songs from Kintail and Lochalsh, as well as Skye. As a child, MacLean enjoyed fishing trips with his aunt Peigi, who taught him other songs. Unlike other members of his family, MacLean could not sing, a fact that he connected with his impetus to write poetry.

1929

He was educated at Raasay Primary School and Portree Secondary School. In 1929, he left home to attend the University of Edinburgh. For economic reasons, he chose to study English instead of Celtic, a decision he later regretted "because I was interested only in poetry and only in some poetry at that." He disliked the head of the English department, Herbert Grierson, who favoured different poets than MacLean; MacLean felt that Grierson imposed his aesthetic preferences on the department. MacLean's academic work has been described as merely "dutiful". While at Edinburgh, MacLean also took classes in the Celtic department, then under William J. Watson. He was involved in left-wing politics, literary circles, and the university shinty team. MacLean later described an occasion in which he had demonstrated against Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists. According to Celtic scholar Emma Dymock, MacLean's education at Edinburgh broadened his horizons and the city itself was significant in his life. While in Edinburgh, he observed urban poverty, slums, and overcrowding, especially severe due to the Great Depression. After his graduation in 1933 with a first-class degree, he remained in Edinburgh and studied at Moray House Teachers' Training College, where he met Hugh MacDiarmid.

1932

Before he went to university, MacLean was writing in both English and Gaelic. After writing a Gaelic poem, A' Chorra-ghritheach ("The Heron"), in 1932, he decided to write only in Gaelic and burned his earlier poems. MacLean later said, "I was not one who could write poetry if it did not come to me in spite of myself, and if it came, it had to come in Gaelic". However, it is also clear from his correspondence with MacDiarmid that his choice was also motivated by his determination to preserve and develop the Gaelic language. The Gaelic language had been in decline for several centuries; the 1931 census registered 136,135 Gaelic speakers in Scotland, only 3% of the Scottish population. Despite his decision to write in the language, at times MacLean doubted that Gaelic would survive and his poetry would be appreciated.

1934

In 1934, he returned to Skye to teach English at Portree High School. After the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, he considered volunteering to fight in the International Brigades; according to his daughter, he would have gone if not for family responsibilities. At the time, his mother was seriously ill and his father's business was failing. In January 1938, MacLean accepted a teaching position at Tobermory High School on Mull, where he stayed until December. The year he spent on Mull had a profound effect on him, because Mull was still devastated from nineteenth-century clearances in which many MacLeans had been evicted. MacLean later said, "I believe Mull had much to do with my poetry: its physical beauty, so different from Skye's, with the terrible imprint of the clearances on it, made it almost intolerable for a Gael." He believed that fascism was likely to emerge victorious in Europe, and was further dismayed by the continuing decline of the Gaelic language.

1939

Between 1939 and 1941, he taught at Boroughmuir High School in Edinburgh, and in Hawick. During this period, he wrote most of the poetry that would become Dàin do Eimhir, including the epic An Cuilthionn. MacLean cultivated friendships with Scottish Renaissance poets, including MacDiarmid, Robert Garioch, Norman MacCaig, Douglas Young, and George Campbell Hay. MacLean, also a noted historian, published two influential papers on nineteenth-century Gaelic poetry in Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness [gd] in 1938 and 1939, which challenged the Celtic Twilight view of Gaelic literature. MacLean accused the "Celtic Twilightists" with "attributing to Gaelic poetry the very opposite of every quality which it actually has", at which they only succeeded because they catered to a credulous English-speaking audience. He pointed out that the apparent sentimentality or impotence of the corpus of Clearance poetry may have been an artefact of the fact that landlords would not have preserved poetry critical of them. His use of Gaelic poetry as a potential source material for historical studies was extremely innovative at the time.

Upon the outbreak of war in 1939, MacLean wanted to volunteer for the Cameron Highlanders but was prevented due to the shortage of teachers. He was drafted into the Royal Corps of Signals in September 1940 and was sent overseas to North Africa in December 1941. In the North African Campaign, he served in the Royal Horse Artillery and was wounded on three occasions, but on the first two not severely enough to be classified as a casualty. His military career ended in November 1942 during the Second Battle of El Alamein. A land mine exploded near the command post where MacLean was working, throwing him thirty feet (nine metres) through the air. He was wounded in the leg and broke several bones in his feet. MacLean wrote a few poems about the war in which he challenged the traditional Gaelic exaltation of heroism, exemplified by the lament for Alasdair of Glengarry; he viewed physical courage as morally neutral, since it was also valued by Nazis and used for evil ends.

1940

In 1940, eight of MacLean's poems were printed in 17 Poems for 6d, along with Scots poems by Robert Garioch. The pamphlet sold better than expected and was reprinted a few weeks later; it received favourable reviews. While MacLean was in North Africa, he left his poetry with Douglas Young, who had promised to help publish it. In November 1943, the poems were published as Dàin do Eimhir agus Dàin Eile (English: Poems to Eimhir and Other Poems). Dàin do Eimhir was a sequence of sixty numbered poems, with twelve missing; of the other poems, the most significant was the long narrative poem An Cuilthionn. The book marked a sharp break in style and substance of Gaelic poetry from earlier eras. In his poetry, MacLean emphasized the struggle between love and duty, which was personified in the poet's difficulty in choosing between his infatuation with a female figure, Eimhir, and what he sees as his moral obligation to volunteer in the Spanish Civil War.

1941

MacLean later said that he had abandoned religion for socialism at the age of twelve, as he refused to accept that a majority of human beings were consigned to eternal damnation. In 1941, he wrote that "perhaps my obsession with the cause of the unhappy, the unsuccessful, the oppressed comes from this." The pessimism of the Calvinist tradition had a strong impact on his world-view, and he also retained "a puritanical contempt for mere worldly riches and power". Later in life, he had a complicated view of the church and religion. Although he criticized the church's suppression of Gaelic song and the oral tradition and the negative effect of church teachings on some social groups, especially women, Professor Donald Meek (gd) wrote that at times MacLean seemed to articulate the ideas of liberation theology. MacLean defended the Free Presbyterian Church against opponents who had little familiarity with it, once describing Free Presbyterian elders as "saintly, just saintly men". Sometimes he altered his poetry to avoid offending the religious members of his family. He also admired the literary sophistication and creativity of Protestant sermons in Gaelic. The wide vocabulary, high register, and passion of these sermons had a significant impact on his poetic style.

MacLean once said that various Communist figures meant more to him than any poet, writing to Douglas Young in 1941 that "Lenin, Stalin and Dimitroff now mean more to me than Prometheus and Shelley did in my teens". Other left-wing figures that inspired MacLean included James Connolly, an Irish trade union leader executed for leading the Easter Rising; John Maclean, Scottish socialist and pacifist; and John Cornford, Julian Bell, and Federico García Lorca, who were killed by the Francoist regime during the Spanish Civil War. Many of these figures were not Gaels, and some critics have noted MacLean's unusual generosity to non-Gaelic people in his work. Perhaps the one uniting theme in his work is MacLean's anti-elitism and focus on social justice.

1943

MacLean returned to Britain for convalescence in March 1943. He was discharged from Raigmore Hospital in Inverness in August 1943 and released from the army in September. In the fall of 1943, he resumed teaching at Boroughmuir, where he met Renee Cameron in 1944. They married on 24 July 1946 in Inverness and had three daughters and six grandchildren. According to friends, their marriage was happy and peaceful, as they complemented each other well, and MacLean "mellowed" with age and family life. He had never been a member of the Communist Party, and the Soviet occupation of Poland after the war caused MacLean to become disillusioned with the Soviet Union and Stalinism. He retained his socialist world-view and strong belief in social justice. During this period, he frequently reviewed poetry and continued to make friends in literary circles, including the younger poets Iain Crichton Smith and George Mackay Brown. He became particularly close to Sydney Goodsir Smith, who shared a flat with MacLean and his family for more than a year. In 1947 he was promoted to Principal Teacher of English at Boroughmuir, but MacLean wanted to return to the western Highlands.

1954

In the English-speaking world, MacLean's best-known poem is Hallaig, a meditation on a Raasay village which had been cleared of its inhabitants. Raasay was cleared between 1852 and 1854 under George Rainy; most of its inhabitants were forced to emigrate. Many of MacLean's relatives were affected, and Hallaig was one of the villages to be depopulated. The poem was written a century later, during MacLean's time in Edinburgh, and originally published in 1954 in the Gaelic-language magazine Gairm. Beginning with the famous line, "Time, the deer, is in the wood of Hallaig", the poem imagines the village as it was before the Clearances, with the long-dead eternally walking through the trees. It is also filled with local names of individuals and places, which have deeper meanings to those intimately familiar with Raasay oral tradition. Unlike most of MacLean's output, Hallaig has no overt political references, and never directly mentions eviction or clearance. For this reason, it was seen as politically "safer" than others of MacLean's poems. Translated and promoted by Irish Nobel Prize Laureate Seamus Heaney, Hallaig achieved "cult status" and came to symbolize Scottish Gaelic poetry in the English-speaking imagination.

1956

In 1956, MacLean was offered the position of head teacher of Plockton High School in Wester Ross, not far from where his paternal grandmother's family had lived. It was a difficult assignment as the remote location was not attractive to teacher candidates, and MacLean frequently had to teach due to vacancies. While at Plockton, he promoted the use of Scottish Gaelic in formal education and campaigned for a Highers exam for learners of Gaelic. Before 1968, there was no separate exam for Gaelic learners, who had to compete with native speakers if they took Gaelic Highers. MacLean felt that this unfair policy discouraged many students from studying Gaelic, although he encouraged his students to take the exam even if they were not native speakers. In 1966, he presented a paper to the Gaelic Society of Inverness outlining the practical issues in Gaelic education. MacLean pointed out that in continental Europe, it was not uncommon to study three or four languages in school. According to MacLean, Scottish children would benefit from studying three languages in school alongside English, and "surely it is not expecting too much of Gaelic patriotism to demand that Gaelic should be one of the three?" MacLean set high academic expectations for his students and also promoted shinty; in 1965, the Plockton team won the cup for Ross and Cromarty.

1971

Although his poetry had a profound impact on the Gaelic-speaking world, it was not until the 1970s and 1980s that MacLean's work became accessible in English translation. His poetry was not very accessible to Gaelic speakers either, since Dàin do Eimhir was not reprinted. To English-speakers, MacLean remained virtually unknown until 1970, when issue 34 of Lines Review was dedicated to his work and some of his poems were reproduced in the anthology Four Points of the Saltire. In the preface to the collection, Tom Scott forcefully argued for the merit of MacLean's poetry. Iain Crichton Smith published an English translation of Dàin do Eimhir in 1971. MacLean was part of the delegation that represented Scotland at the first Cambridge Poetry Festival in 1975, establishing his reputation in England. He was one of five Gaelic poets to be anthologized in the influential 1976 collection Nua-Bhàrdachd Ghàidhlig / Modern Scottish Gaelic Poems with verse translations by the authors. MacLean's verse translations were also included in later publications.

1972

After his retirement in 1972, MacLean moved to his great-grandmother's house at Peinnachorrain in Braes on Skye, with views over the Sound of Raasay, where he entertained frequently. Following the English publication of his poetry, he began to be in demand internationally for poetry readings, for which he traveled to such places as Rotterdam, Baddeck Cape Breton, and Berlin. MacLean was writer in residence at the University of Edinburgh from 1973 to 1975, where he reportedly kept an open door and warm welcome for aspiring Gaelic poets. Later, he was the first filidh at the recently founded Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, a Gaelic-medium university on Skye, from 1975 to 1976. He was involved in founding the institution and also served on its board. In 1993, his daughter Catrìona died at the age of 41; MacLean and his wife helped to raise her three children. The poet died of natural causes on 24 November 1996, aged 85, at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness.

1977

In 1977, Canongate Books published Reothairt is Contraigh: Taghadh de Dhàin 1932–72 (English: Spring tide and Neap tide: Selected Poems 1932–72). MacLean changed the ordering of the Dàin do Eimhir sequence, altering many poems and omitting others. In the original version of An Cuilthionn, MacLean had asked the Red Army to invade Scotland. This passage was expunged, among other alterations and omissions that led the Scottish Poetry Library to describe the 1977 version as having been "bowdlerized". MacLean said that he would only consent to publishing the parts of his older work that he found "tolerable". The critical acclaim and fame that MacLean achieved was almost entirely from critics who did not understand his poetry in the original Gaelic. In 1989, a further compilation of his poetry, O Choille gu Bearradh / From Wood to Ridge: Collected Poems in Gaelic and English won him lasting critical acclaim. Complete annotated editions of his work have since been published.

Hugh MacDiarmid wrote a letter to MacLean in 1977, a year before his death, stating that he and MacLean were the best Scottish poets of the twentieth century. MacDiarmid and MacLean influenced each other's work and maintained an extensive correspondence which has been published. Douglas Young wrote that "the best poetry written in our generation in the British Isles has been in Scottish Gaelic, by Sorley MacLean." John MacInnes called him a "magisterial writer" who "[pushed] Gaelic to its limits". He said that it is "truly astonishing" that Gaelic, so long minoritized, could have produced a writer like MacLean, who could not express what he had to say in any other language: "Somhairle MacGill-Eain needed Gaelic, and Gaelic needed Somhairle MacGill-Eain". According to Iain Crichton Smith, translator of MacLean's poetry, Dàin do Eimhir was "the greatest Gaelic book of this century", an assessment with which Christopher Whyte agreed. According to Maoilios Caimbeul, MacLean was the best Scottish Gaelic poet of all time. Smith compared the calibre of MacLean's love poetry to that of Catallus and William Butler Yeats. Nobel Prize Laureate Seamus Heaney said that MacLean had "saved Gaelic poetry... for all time".

1984

A film, Hallaig, was made in 1984 by Timothy Neat, including a discussion by MacLean of the dominant influences on his poetry, with commentary by Smith and Heaney, and substantial passages from the poem and other work, along with extracts of Gaelic song. The poem also forms part of the lyrics of Peter Maxwell Davies' opera The Jacobite Rising; and MacLean's own reading of it in English and in Gaelic was sampled by Martyn Bennett in his album Bothy Culture for a track of the same name.

1987

In June 1987, MacLean became the first freeman of Skye and Lochalsh. He received seven honorary degrees. Twice, he was the honorary head of the Gaelic Society of Inverness, in 1970 and 1982; he was made honorary president of the Saltire Society in 1985. In 1989, he became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. The next year, he was named the first University of Edinburgh Alumnus of the Year, and awarded a Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry. O Choille gu Bearradh was the Saltire Society Scottish Book of the Year for 1990, and MacLean won the McVitie's Prize for Scottish Writer of the Year. He became a Fellow of the Educational Institute of Scotland in 1991, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1992, an honorary fellow of the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland in 1996, and an honorary Royal Scottish Academician the same year. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1992; it has been suggested that he might have won if he had not written in such a marginalized language. MacLean is commemorated by a stone in Makars' Court, outside the Writers' Museum, Lawnmarket, Edinburgh, unveiled in 1998 by Iain Crichton Smith.

2000

A controversy erupted in 2000, when John MacLeod, chief of Clan MacLeod, put the Black Cuillin mountain range of Skye on the market in order to finance the repair of Dunvegan Castle. His real estate agency, Savills, used excerpts from An Cuilthionn to advertise the property. Many people found this to be an inappropriate use of MacLean's work. Savills apologized unreservedly, which was accepted by Renee MacLean.

🎂 Upcoming Birthday

Currently, Sorley MacLean is 110 years, 11 months and 2 days old. Sorley MacLean will celebrate 111th birthday on a Wednesday 26th of October 2022.

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