As brave as Dimitrov, as wise as Stalin.

You’re a Gaelic poet and a Stalinist. You remain a Stalinist way past the degenerate stage (invasion of Hungary). While a Stalinist you write and publish a poem with the above line. (A Bulgarian communist, Dimitrov was head of the Comintern from ’34 to ’43. Although all traces of him have been removed from Bulgaria, “A massive painted statue of Dimitrov survives in the centre of Place Bulgarie in Cotonou, Republic of Benin, two decades after the country abandoned Marxism-Leninism and the colossal statue of Vladimir Lenin was removed from Place Lenine. Few Beninois are aware of the history of the statue or its subject.”) You edit the lines out of the poem much later – for a 1989 collection – but now – on the centenary of your birth – a big collection of your work comes out which restores the original passage. You died in 1996, and so have nothing to say about the restoration.

The editors explain that “it is perhaps time to remind people that there is more to [Sorley] MacLean’s work than what he presented himself back in 1989.” Another Gaelic poet comments, “MacLean’s self-shaped ‘biographical legend’ might not stand up to scrutiny in the way he intended, but his status as a major European poet is never in doubt.”

It’s an intriguing moral question. To what extent should editors honor only the poet’s approved versions of much-redacted poems? Especially when the poet has arguably airbrushed his own political history?

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2 Responses to “Sorley Mistaken”

  1. In the provinces Says:

    Georgi Dimitrov actually was brave. He was accused by the Nazi authorities of being the mastermind of the Reichstag fire, and, in his 1934 trial, brilliantly defended himself, incisively cross-examining Hermann Goering about the latter’s responsibility for the fire. His court appearance was so impressive that a Nazi court actually acquitted him and his fellow Bulgarians on trial (framed) for having set fire to the Reichstag. The world-wide impact of Dimitrov’s courageous behavior was why Stalin named him head of the Comintern.

    Now, Stalin’s wisdom is rather another matter.

  2. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Quite right, In the provinces, and I should have mentioned his bravery. Thank you for the reminder.

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