Today in class when we brought up Hugh MacDiarmid’s poem, “The Little White Rose,” two things struck me: 1) Who is John Gawsworth, to whom the poem is dedicated? and 2) How can we compare this white rose to Yeats’s red rose of Ireland “upon the Rood of Time?”
First, I entered “John Gawsworth Hugh MacDiarmid” into Google. According to Wikipedia, John Gawsworth was a British writer and poet who also compiled anthologies of poetry and of short stories, who lived from June 29, 1912 to September 3, 1970. He was in fact born Terence Ian Fytton Armstrong (or T. I. F. Armstrong), but also worked under the pseudonym Orpheus Scrannel (which comes into interesting conversation with the class discussion about MacDiarmid/Leslie/Grieve’s pseudonyms). Gawsworth wrote in London and embraced traditionalism instead of modernism. Additionally, he ran the Twyn Barlwm Press, the namesake of which came from the Twyn Barlwm mountain in South Wales, which Arthur Machen, a writer Gawsworth very much admired, had loved himself. The name of the press reflects Gawsworth’s respect for traditional ideas instead of the push ahead to modernism. A fun fact about Gawsworth is that, as the literary executor for M. O. Shiel, another writer Gawsworth had befriended, Gawsworth inherited the throne of the Kingdom of Redonda, henceforth naming himself H. M. Juan I, or King Juan I. Redonda is a micronation in the Caribbean that is about 1 square mile! (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kingdom_of_Redonda)
This is Redonda:
Gawsworth met MacDiarmid in London in 1934, when MacDiarmid stayed in Gawsworth’s home, and MacDiarmid, thirty years later, dedicated an essay to Gawsworth, entitled When the Rat-Race Is Over; an essay in honour of the fiftieth birthday of John Gawsworth (1962).
What I’m wondering is why MacDiarmid dedicated “The Little White Rose” to Gawsworth. Wikipedia states that Gawsworth had been committing himself to writing supernatural fiction at the time he met MacDiarmid, while we know that MacDiarmid wrote for his fellow working-class people. How do their writing styles work together? I’d posit that, since MacDiarmid, in his essay “The Politics and Poetry of Hugh MacDiarmid” (1952), quotes Thomas Hardy, “Literature is the written expression of revolt against accepted things,” that Gawsworth’s supernatural writing must align with this ideal (MacDiarmid, 24). And, of course, the two may just have been good friends. MacDiarmid was always staying connected with his people, after all.
To answer my second question about “The Little White Rose,” I have identified a few critical ideas from Yeats’s poem, “To The Rose Upon the Rood of Time.” Firstly, and most clearly, I suppose, the rose of Ireland is red. It is “proud” and “sad,” and Yeats directs his verse at the rose (Ireland). The speaker beckons the rose repeatedly: to “Come near me…Come near” (Yeats, 6). He wants this specific rose–Ireland–for her ubiquity in the speaker’s history. She is the “Rose of all my [the speaker’s] days,” and it is only by connecting with her will the speaker feel complete. To reiterate the point we made in class a few weeks ago, the red rose here is on the cross of time, alluding to the Crucifixion. And, of course, the red imagery symbolizes love, passion, and blood or violence.
Applying this symbolism to “The Little White Rose” thus accounts for the color: white is the symbol of innocence, purity, and virginity, and Scotland is such a white rose. I wonder — does this imply that Ireland is somehow less innocent than Scotland? Still, both Yeats and MacDiarmid convey strong nationalist ideologies through their heartbreak over their rose-like countries. Only these roses will do, for MacDiarmid writes, “I want for my part / Only the little white rose of Scotland” (MacDiarmid, 422), while Yeats’s entire poem laments a singular rose who has endured the trials of time. And it is interesting that both speakers feminize Ireland and Scotland, objectifying them as unattainable women, for Yeats’s speaker is always asking the rose to “Come near” and MacDiarmid’s speaker admits that the rose, which “smells sharp and sweet…breaks the heart” (MacDiarmid, 422). These feminized states cannot be achieved.
That said, a few questions come into mind after having juxtaposed these poems that I will leave open-ended, for now:
-How do Yeats’s and MacDiarmid’s political ideologies inform or influence their use of rose imagery to represent the country?
-What role does the female lover play in a political context? That said, what does the politicization of the female image (the rose) say about gender and gender-specific agency? What kinds of agency do these roses possess (the power of their beauty, their enduring sadness, the power to break a man’s heart), and do they have more or less than the speakers?
-Yeats chooses a Catholic context for his poem; MacDiarmid does not. Why?