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Environmental and ecological readings

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Philippe Laplace

Part II. Nature, the Environment and the Posthuman: Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries

The Posthuman as an Oxymoronic Mirror to Man’s Paradoxes in Iain Crichton Smith’s Meditative Poem ‘Deer on the High Hills’1

Jean Berton

Texte intégral

  • 1 Iain Crichton Smith, Collected Poems (Manchester: Carcanet, 1992), p. 35-46.
  • 2 The situation must have been traumatic enough for him to transform it into a piece of humour in his (...)
  • 3 Iain Crichton Smith, Towards the Human (Edinburgh: Macdonald – Lines Review Editions, 1986), p. 85.
  • 4 It must be noted that, however unusual it may seem, Iain Crichton Smith had one single first name, (...)

1‘Deer on the High Hills’ is a meditative poem written in English and first published in 1962 when Iain Crichton Smith (1928-1998) was a teacher of both English and Gaelic literatures at Oban High School. Although he had grown up on Lewis in a Gaelic home and environment, as it was the rule at the time, he was educated by English-speaking teachers and forced to use the English language when in school. As soon as he could come to terms with his bilingual position2, and feel confident in handling both Gaelic and English he started writing pieces of poetry in either Gaelic or English – he never mixed those languages, once he had started writing; he wrote ‘ […] it is a good thing to have two languages, for I can change from one to the other and refresh myself. I can look out of two windows instead of one, and each language refreshes the other’.3 Thus ‘Deer on the High Hills’ was penned in English from the first line, but which window was Crichton Smith4 looking out of?

2In the early 60’s, this young poet-novelist-teacher was strongly rhetoric-minded. Also, he took great care about shaping his poems in either language: about ‘Deer on the High Hills’, he declared that his verse are set in the manner of Dante’s ‘Inferno’ because he was reading this poem when travelling on the bus when he caught sight of three deer by the side of the road. It can be said that the form of the verse chosen by Crichton Smith was an imitation. And we can take it as a metaphor of a little congenial area for both ideas to rise and male deer to perform their ritual confrontations – the non-human (or inhuman) nature of the deer is mirroring the paradoxical nature of man. Nevertheless, the single two-line stanza composing the first canto is meant to be clashing with all the following three-line stanzas (bar one). Still, it is a deliberate formal opposition that cannot be properly termed an oxymoron.

  • 5 All references to the text will indicate first the canto number followed by the line number (s).

3This paper aims to give an interpretation of ‘Deer on the High Hills’ through the pervading use of oxymora, as a mode of expressing clashes, a favourite mode of poetry writing with Crichton Smith: ‘Ideas clash on the mountain tops.’ (IV – 10).5 After reading Gilles Mathis’s seminal studies on oxymora and their expansion, we will explore Crichton Smith’s handling of oxymora in this 330-pentameter meditative poem structured in fourteen cantos.

I. Deer forests

4The environment of the deer in Scotland is essentially that of the Highlands (and Jura) where vast expanses of land have been reserved for them to roam freely. Deer forests are first of all economic-designed areas where deer are farmed to be stalked and shot by visiting sportsmen. As such, deer forests belong to the human, since the deer are no more than commodities. Furthermore, those lands became from the days of privatisation, in the eighteenth century, a political stake. However, Crichton Smith doesn’t wonder if the stags are aware of the fact that they are frolicking about on private grounds. He doesn’t include today’s major concern about the preservation of Scotland’s flora and fauna in the Highlands. Although he refers to Duncan Bàn MacIntyre, he is not concerned with the deer overpopulation causing the destruction of their own environment which they are sharing with the humans or even the deer’s only predator, i.e. man since the wolves were exterminated in the Victorian era – all of which enables us to voice this oxymoronic parody of the Latin maxim: ‘cervus cervo homo’.

  • 6 Those who enjoy oxymora can be tempted to rephrase the Latin maxim over and over again – ‘homo ovi (...)
  • 7 Carol Gow, Mirror and Marble (Edinburgh: Saltire, 1992), p. 25.
  • 8 Iain Crichton Smith, ed. by Colin Nicholson (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1992), p. 105.

5Crichton Smith pictures stags fighting in the rutting period – ‘Their horns have locked in blood. Yes, their horns | have gored bellies.’ (VII – 10- 11) – but this picture produces not an oxymoron but an epanadiplosis with the word ‘horns’. He could have imagined stags facing sheep, since in the nineteenth century they gradually replaced the Cheviots, but the core of the clash in the poem is neither between man and sheep as it was in the days of the Clearances, nor between sheep and deer, but between man and deer6. ‘Iain Crichton Smith’s poetry has frequently been classed as a poetry of opposition, a poetry of “conflict” and “paradoxes and tensions”’.7; ‘Brutality and beauty danced together’ (VI – 11). Yet, this is not a polemic on man and nature – ‘There is not a hint of sentimentality in his attitude.’8 –; this is not even a debate opening to Celtic mythology – the stag being the symbol of domination, or a psychopomp figure whose function would be the ferrying of souls to the place of the dead; the poem is definitely not a religious dispute even though we read ‘Supposing God had a branched head like this | considering himself in a pool.’ (VIII – 1-2): God and Narcissus in one sentence appear like an oxymoronic blasphemy; we cannot find any element about regeneration through the stags losing their antlers to have them bigger every year. The deer are no more than the object of confrontation par excellence for the poet meaning to escape from the confining use of metaphors in poetry:

  • 9 Iain Crichton Smith, Towards the Human, p. 93.

Poetry can never be deceiving, it demands the truth from us, it examines us deeply for what we are, and there is profound sense in which we breathe along the line. Poetry is not made of words alone: the matter goes much deeper than that. The source, the ultimate energy, is in a place where language and nationhood meet […].9

  • 10 Iain Crichton Smith, ed. by C. Nicholson, p. 105. Quoted from an interview of Iain Crichton Smith b (...)

6As in any form of representation, Crichton Smith explores the space between the poet and his selected performing object: ‘What came out of the poem in the end was the distance between us and the animal kingdom.’10 Nevertheless, he refrains from creating an oxymoronic hybrid, a stag-man which could be some variation of the monstrous centaur.

II. The power of oxymora

  • 11 ‘L’oxymore suppose la co-existence de deux contradictoires dans un même objet, que cette co-existen (...)

7Crichton Smith’s poetry of opposition is most potent in his use of oxymora. And to explore this form of rhetoric I shall refer essentially to Gilles Mathis’s studies on oxymora published in Bulletin de la Société de Stylistique anglaise. Mathis states that an oxymoron is a rhetorical figure showing the inexpressible, the impossible, the extreme limit of language. It requires the co-existence of two contrary notions within a single object for which no lexis unit is available in the language used.11

8In ‘Deer on the High Hills’, Crichton Smith produces plain oxymora, such as ‘mountainous seas’ (VIII – 18) or ‘an inhuman music’ (V – 5), the latter opening a debate on how a music can be said to be human, the former offering a cliché drawn from texts by William Shakespeare, e.g. A Midsummer Night’s Dream Act V, sc. 1, l. 56-60:

Theseus reads: ‘A tedious brief scene of young Pyramus
And his love Thisbe; very tragical mirth’
Merry and tragical! Tedious and brief!
That is hot ice and wondrous strange snow.
How shall we find the concord of this discord?’

9Although Crichton Smith never writes such an oxymoron as ‘stag man’ or ‘man stag’, the following lines, ‘you | being ice and water, winter and summer, take | mountainous seas onto your small logic’ (VIII – 16-18), indicate that he could be parodying Shakespeare in the quotation above. If ‘mountainous seas’ stands as a canonical oxymoron because the two lexes are juxtaposed, as Mathis puts it (p. 41), ‘ice and water’ or ‘winter and summer’ (VIII – 17) illustrate what he calls (p. 42) an endogamous expansion of the syntagm through the use of ‘and’. However, any successful oxymoron must encapsulate simultaneous actions creating a unit.

10One may suppose that, after reading ‘Are hills “majestic” and devoted stones | plotting in inner distances our fall? | The mind a sea: … ’ (XIII – 4- 6), Gilles Mathis might have been less positive on stating that an oxymoron is to be found nearly exclusively in an affirmative clause and rarely or even never in a negative or interrogative clause (p. 48). In the quotation above ‘hills majestic’ and ‘the mind a sea’ are debatable since ‘majestic’ is obviously an attribute to ‘hills’ (hills are majestic) and ‘a sea’ an attribute to ‘the mind’ (the mind is a sea), yet the interrogative construction produces an oxymoron twice; which is to be compared to the actual oxymoronic forms in ‘devoted stones’ and ‘inner distances’. Nevertheless, canto XIII is a list of questions concluded with a flat observation: ‘Such symbols freeze upon my desolate lips! ’ The reader will only wonder whether a symbol is more powerfully expressed when it is embedded in an oxymoron; at any rate, is ‘desolate lips’ an oxymoron or a hypallage?

  • 12 See Jean Berton, La hantise de l’exil (Villeneuve d’Ascq: Septentrion, 1997), p. 435: ‘ […] de chia (...)

11In this meditative text woven with rhetorical devices, we can feel entitled to label them as actual oxymora, but do we have to draw a line between oxymoronic facts and oxymoronic effects? The following line, ‘the thorns gentle with their sour flowers’ (XI – 8), which is built on a chiasmus which is an extended oxymoron (thorn… flowers), offers a factual oxymoron in ‘thorns gentle’ and an oxymoronic effect in ‘sour flowers’ since the meaning of ‘sour’ can clash with that of ‘flower’ only if the reader wills it so.12

III. Oxymoronic effects

12The logic in the creation of an oxymoron being a strong contrast in the two elements, as in ‘thorns gentle’, we may wonder how far an oxymoron can be extended in ‘Deer on the High Hills’. In the first stanza of canto II we read: ‘ […] they were | like debutantes on a smooth ballroom floor.’ (II – 2-3) and in the next stanza: ‘They stared at us out of that French | arrogant atmosphere, like Louis the Sixteenth’. The similes are announced by ‘like’, and they operate as reduced striking comparisons between the deer and debutantes, or the deer and Louis XVI. These are contrasted images – the deer and either debutantes or Louis XVI. The poem offers a large choice of similes somehow supporting the notion of contrast and clash.

13In canto X, the clause ‘and the summer wasp | being more caustic than idea, ’ (13-14) suggests an extension of an oxymoron (caustic wasp) – depending on the meaning one sees in ‘wasp’ / WASP – since the attributive adjective in ‘caustic wasp’ is placed, or postponed, in a developing clause, ‘being more caustic… ’ so as it can clash with ‘idea’. The use of a comparative form (‘more… than’) enables the poet to produce an oxymoronic effect, ‘caustic’ qualifying both ‘wasp’ and ‘idea’.

14Tropes can provide possibilities of contrasting images and ideas: the following line, ‘By the appalled peaks the deer roar’, highlights a hypallage on ‘appalled peaks’ since it is a transfer of what man can feel onto nature. Similarly we can spot hypallages on ‘beneath the starry metaphysical sky’ (II – 21), ‘to the obstinate rock’ (VIII – 12), ‘the urgent salmon’ (X – 17), whereas ‘in the feeding cresses’ (II – 33) doubles the hypallage with an inversion: ‘feeding on cresses’.

  • 13 It is striking to see, for a bilingual (Gaelic & English) reader, that the structure of the phrase (...)

15Epanadiploses such as the one already mentioned, ‘Their horns have locked in blood. Yes, their horns’ (VII – 10), or ‘You called sir did you?’ (XIV – 19) are more than a case of repetition: indeed, the latter example is somehow doubled on the same line, ‘ “You called sir did you?” “I who was so lonely”’ (XIV – 19), inviting the reader to fancy a second (debatable) epanadiplosis on ‘I’ and ‘lonely’13, whereas the sentence carries on to the next line, in an enjambment: ‘so lonely | would speak with you’. We seem to be reaching a case of epanadiplosis effect with the following example: ‘a land of rain and stones | of stones and rain, of the huge barbarous bones, ’ (IV – 19-20). At the ends of lines 19 and 20, ‘stones’ is rhyming with ‘bones’ which is yet another invitation to sense both a chiasmus on ‘of rain and stones | of stones and rain’ and an epanadiplosis on line 20 ‘stones […] bones’, and thus to imagine some kind of former life in ‘stones’, a word so often repeated throughout the poem.

16A chiasmus realises both a separation and a connection ‘My friend himself, himself my enemy’ (XIV – 6), operating like an inflated oxymoron on ‘himself, himself’, the coma indicating the opposition. This rhetorical figure is also highlighting the power of repeated words, whether identical or slightly modified: ‘The deer step out in isolated air’ (repeated five times in canto XIV); ‘They were simply there: the deer were simply there’ (VI – 18). This will be further explored in the next section.

17Those rhetorical games of separating and connecting reach a climax in this line: ‘a languaged metaphor, like the mists that scarf’ (VII – 23). The tautological ‘languaged metaphor’ matches the cliché of the ‘mists that scarf’ in order to draw the reader’s attention on to the oxymoron created by the contrasting words set in apposition, ‘metaphor, like’ in the middle of the line – here again the role of the coma will be debated. In this case, the clash is rhetorical and forces us to consider the underlying meta-poetry value of ‘Deer on the High Hills’, for the poem also develops a questioning of the role of rhetoric in poetry writing.

18The last canto is the poet’s call to abandon the use of metaphors: ‘There is no metaphor. The stone is stony’ (XIV – 1). Crichton Smith rejects the use of metaphors, which he’d rather have blown up with similes as in ‘metaphor, like’, but not the use of oxymora on the grounds that the latter are both mirroring and stating reality – a man thinking is continuously facing nature, and nature is regularly renewed after the pattern of the deer losing their horns and growing larger sets the following spring, whereas man himself fails to regenerate with each new spring. Crichton Smith wrote in his essay, Towards the Human, p. 85: ‘I wrote [‘Deer on the High Hills’] because there was something to make clear to myself, to commemorate, to question.’

19Obviously, the main topic in this meditative poem, is that of loneliness – is man’s solitude mirrored by that of the deer as the lines suggest: ‘Especially in winter when tormented | by loneliness […]’ (II – 28-29)? As a matter of fact, existential loneliness is central to the last canto: ‘So being lonely I would speak with any | stone or tree or river’ (XIV – 22-23). The belling stag is meant to be announcing the poet’s ideas on his art of poetry, that is to say the rejection of rhetorical devices, excepting oxymora. Crichton Smith creates a mock-oxymoron in the eighth stanza of canto XIV: ‘So being lonely I would speak with any | stone or tree or river. Bear my journey | you endless water, dance with human joy.’ In this oxymoronic metaphor, the last two words contain an oxymoron if we are to agree that ‘human’ encapsulates the poet’s melancholy (the last word of the preceding stanza) loneliness.

  • 14 Carol Gow, Mirror and Marble, p. 47.
  • 15 ‘Le double est inhérent à la confrontation: chiasmes, parallèles, syllepses, hypallages… et l’indic (...)

20Still isn’t there some irony in pretending to write verse void of rhetorical figures? In the line ‘There is no metaphor. The stone is stony’ can’t we detect some ambiguity, since stones can be found lying not only in rivers but also all over the moor, among which are those fascinating standing stones, as loaded with hidden information as bones can be. What’s more, those two lines, ‘The cloud is cloudy and the word is wordy. | Winter is wintry, lonely is your journey.’ (XIV – 17-18), show three tautologies followed by some form of conclusion, meaning that poetry is enacting progress, especially when it is producing a meditative poem. Such tautologies remind us of what Carol Gow wrote: ‘The creative aspect of perception will always blur the separation between subject and object. The meditation explores the binaries of the animal world and the world of men.’14 The various forms of binaries in ‘Deer on the High Hills’ can only create movement and confrontation.15

IV. Oxymoronic echoes

21Such insistent tautologies are saturating the last canto, ‘The rain is rainy and the sun is sunny’ (XIV – 4), where they combine with the rhyming scheme. The three-line stanzas follow the same pattern, from the first,

Yesterday three deer stood at the roadside.
    It was icy January and there they were
    Like debutantes on a smooth ballroom floor,
to the last,

for stars are starry and the rain is rainy,
    the stone is stony, and the sun is sunny,
    the deer step out in isolated air.

22The rhymes can be found weak (‘rainy | sunny’) or debatable (‘were | poor’) and declared paraphonic, such as ‘Sixteenth / plinth’ where a Highland-English accent can be put forward to account for a similar vocalic sound in ‘-teenth’ and ‘plinth’, or for an intrusive ‘shwa’ sound in the case of ‘arms | worms’ ( [arams] / [woroms]) where the second vocalic sound is more central than the first.

23Such rhymes amplify a phenomenon that can be qualified either as tautological echo in the case of direct repetitions ‘deranged, deranged, a land of rain and stones’ (IV – 19) or as oxymoronic echo in the case of clashing rhymes, as in the last stanza, ‘for stars are starry and the rain is rainy, | the stone is stony, and the sun is sunny’ (XIV – 31-32), where firstly ‘rainy’ is supposed to rhyme with ‘sunny’, and secondly within the same line ‘stony’ is suggesting the possibility of a rhyme with ‘sunny’.

24Those epanalepses on the pattern of ‘Deer on the high peaks, calling, calling’ (IX – 157) – ‘I am, I am. Preserve me, O preserve’ (XI – 16); ‘I pray, I pray, ’ (XI – 19) – give rise to a sense of oxymoron if we think of the stags producing their crying sounds at rutting time, also called belling, since no belling stag will produce the exactly same sound twice. Similarly, this theory can be put forward for church bells that are heard in a distance, although they cannot be mistaken for anything else. What’s more, in the case of stags heard belling, the listener can catch several deer responding to one another, thus again amplifying the sense of oxymoronic echo.

25In rutting time, the whole area is taken over by the deer, for belling stags are both sending messages to hinds and to rival males. They are turning deer forests into arenas for contending and mating. The poet stands by the side of the deer forest as a reckless receiver of all echoes sent by the deer. Whether plain or warped, those echoes are binaries expressed as repetitions translated into as many epanalepses, chiasmuses, hypallages, or oxymora, all operating as modulators for the poet’s unrelenting voice:

  • 16 Carol Gow, Mirror and Marble, p. 26.

What is important […] is not the binaries he creates, but his exploration of them. Setting up a self separate from his background, he explores the oppositions of restriction and freedom, a self defined by the place and time in which he was born, and a self created in the poetry. But almost as soon as these neat, geometric oppositions are constructed, they begin to collapse. Already there are images of intrusion, where the historical world breaks in on his other-world of poetry; and in the long sequence “deer on the High Hills,” the discovery is made that these binaries themselves need to be deconstructed.16

26Crichon Smith is constructing some form of polyphony to encompass animal voices and his own utterance. This idea of symphony including the animal world and the human world rises from the use of homophony in stanzas 5 and 6 of canto VIII:

As deer so stand, precarious, of a style,
Half-here, half-there, a half-way lustre breaking
A wise dawn in a chained ocean far.

As dear, so dear, Vesuvius, rocket, you
Being ice and water, winter and summer, take
The mountainous seas into your small logic.

27The reader cannot fail to spot the homophony of ‘As deer’ and ‘As dear, so dear, ’ connecting the poet’s world of human feelings and the animal world echoing his calls. This second stanza brims with figures of speech – metaphor, epanalepsis, oxymora, and enjambments – which serve to release the core of meaning voiced in the line endings: ‘you | take | logic’, i. e. what is the logic of the Vesuvius? Or rather, what is the logic of oxymora?

28The volcano is a metaphor of the erupting poet’s bellow:

God may not be beautiful, but you
Suffer a local wound. You bleed to death
From all that’s best, your active anima. (VIII – 19-21)

  • 17 Iain Crichton Smith, ed. by C. Nicholson, p. 106. Nicholson had written, p. 103: ‘ [tracking] the m (...)
  • 18 ‘The poem in section 12 meditates upon the continuing inspirational fecundity of deer and celebrate (...)

29The first line may be thought to express an oxymoronic epanadiplosis, ‘God… you’, sustained by the Christian notion that man was created in God’s image. However, the unrhyming endings ‘you | death | anima’ sum up the poet’s outcry: our world is dying. Colin Nicholson’s interpretation deserves to be debated: ‘Whatever else “Deer on the High Hills” meditates, it seems initially probable that, sub-textually at least, the fate and future of Gaeldom will be somewhere involved in the parameters of its English-language concerns.’17 Still, this is not fully satisfactory for Iain Crichton Smith is creating an alien world, a ‘half-way kingdom’ (XII – 7), that could be likened to an ecotone18 – a transitional area beyond metaphor, between two ecological gatherings, not unlike a deer forest, on a ‘mountainous sea’.

30This would be some form of a literary ecotone where poets would bellow with stags, deer would ‘ [wear] the inhuman looks of aristocrats’ (II – 9), and hinds would be ‘like debutantes on a smooth ballroom floor’ (II – 5). This ecotone would be inhabited by oxymoronic men-deer rather than by humanised deer or dehumanised rhymers. Crichton Smith’s plan is expressed in the only quatrain in the meditative poem:

You must build from the rain and stones
Till you can make
A stylish deer on the high hills,
And let its leaps be unpredictable!

  • 19 ‘In a gesture of existential courage, ‘Deer on the High Hills’ culminates in a stoical acceptance [ (...)
  • 20 Iain Crichton Smith, Towards the Human, p. 77.
  • 21 One can note yet another example of Crichton Smith’s favourite form of epanadiplosis: ‘So … logic.’

31Those echoing repetitions of words, phrases, half-lines and full lines (‘The deer step out in isolated air’; reiterated five times in the last canto) are developing a sense of anaphoric incantation. Rather than label it as an obsession, we should consider Crichton Smith’s vision of existentialism,19 his questioning the logic of a man’s life. In this God-free ecotone, we can manufacture a Scottish Sisyphus trying again and over again to build a world out of oxymora, after the precept of his maker who wrote: ‘For many years the poem to me was to be an elegant construction, not sweaty but pure, a musical artefact composed of exact language.’20 Art, observable as in ‘So were these deer, balanced on delicate logic’ (II – 13),21 is the antidote to the belief in pointless living. And there must be, after all, a sense of jubilation in the liberal use of oxymora – didn’t Albert Camus end his novel The Myth of Sisyphus declaring his hero should be considered a happy man?

32This no-man’s-land is void of either symphony or cacophony, but replete with sounds beside those of the wind and of the sea: Iain Crichton Smith puts his own voice expressing not his complaints but his cry on those of the deer expecting them to carry it as far and wide as can be. Such a dehumanised area keeps out all attempt at religious interpretation, for a man’s raison d’être is akin to that of a deer – canto X, by the way, is illustrating Crichton Smith’s existentialist philosophy: ‘Deer on the high peaks, the wandering senses | are all, are all […]’ (X – 190). Being a declared atheist, Crichton Smith is using deer-bells because he cannot use any of those church-bells that carry out to God the prayers of Christians.

33This ecotone, or half-way kingdom, where the non-human (or inhuman) nature of the deer is mirroring the paradoxical nature of man, – in the way Duncan Bàn Macintyre loved the deer, yet killed them without the slightest qualms of conscience (canto VI) – is the Caledonian Arcadia (‘It was a kind of Eden these days’ – VI – 7) where poets love and kill, the ultimate oxymoron.

Notes

1 Iain Crichton Smith, Collected Poems (Manchester: Carcanet, 1992), p. 35-46.

2 The situation must have been traumatic enough for him to transform it into a piece of humour in his Thoughts of Murdo (Nairn: Balnain, 1993). In the very first chapter of the collection of sketches, titled ‘Murdo and the Language’ Crichton Smith describes his ‘linguistic disease’: ‘One half of Murdo vertically visualised, had the colour red: the other half had the colour black.’ Obviously, Murdo, who was the author’s clone, could become an oxymoron-bearer.

3 Iain Crichton Smith, Towards the Human (Edinburgh: Macdonald – Lines Review Editions, 1986), p. 85.

4 It must be noted that, however unusual it may seem, Iain Crichton Smith had one single first name, and a double unhyphenated family name, as he clearly stated to me one day. Still, his works are often catalogued under ‘Smith, Crichton Iain’, instead of ‘Crichton Smith, Iain’.

5 All references to the text will indicate first the canto number followed by the line number (s).

6 Those who enjoy oxymora can be tempted to rephrase the Latin maxim over and over again – ‘homo ovi cervus’, ‘ovis cervo homo’, etc…

7 Carol Gow, Mirror and Marble (Edinburgh: Saltire, 1992), p. 25.

8 Iain Crichton Smith, ed. by Colin Nicholson (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1992), p. 105.

9 Iain Crichton Smith, Towards the Human, p. 93.

10 Iain Crichton Smith, ed. by C. Nicholson, p. 105. Quoted from an interview of Iain Crichton Smith by C. Nicholson.

11 ‘L’oxymore suppose la co-existence de deux contradictoires dans un même objet, que cette co-existence soit objectivement fondée (réelle: un fruit doux amer), le résultat d’une illusion d’optique ou de tout autre illusion sensorielle, ou le fruit de l’imagination. L’objet indique le référent à propos duquel on prédique deux qualités incompatibles par opposition au signifié véhiculé par le syntagme oxymorique et pour lequel il n’existe pas d’unité simple lexicalisée dans la langue.’ Gilles Mathis, ‘Oxymore et expansion’ (Oxymore II), in Bulletin de la Société de Stylistique anglaise, 12, 1990-1991, pp. 33-68, p. 33.

12 See Jean Berton, La hantise de l’exil (Villeneuve d’Ascq: Septentrion, 1997), p. 435: ‘ […] de chiasmes en parallèles, de répétitions en allitérations, il atteint le sommet de l’opposition qu’est l’oxymore qui anéantit toute rationalité. Nous en trouvons à profusion au vers 224: “the thorns gentle with their sour flowers” où le premier est un fait oxymorique, d’après la définition de G. Mathis, et le second un effet oxymorique [see G. Mathis: ‘De l’oxymore en question’, coll. Astrea, 5, 1993, pp. 242-46]. Le paroxysme de l’oxymore est exposé dans le dernier chant où le poète veut détruire la métaphore, qui est à la base de la poésie aristotélicienne.’

13 It is striking to see, for a bilingual (Gaelic & English) reader, that the structure of the phrase ‘I who was so lonely’ is the exact reverse of its Gaelic version in a familiar structure, that would start with ‘loneliness’ (aonarachd) and end with ‘me’ (annam): literally, ‘the loneliness that was in me’… Hence a strong feeling of both chiasmus and epanadiplosis.

14 Carol Gow, Mirror and Marble, p. 47.

15 ‘Le double est inhérent à la confrontation: chiasmes, parallèles, syllepses, hypallages… et l’indice de cette volonté de rejet du double apparaît dans le désir de démétaphorisation (et dans ce processus de démétaphorisation, l’oxymore trouve logiquement sa place).’ Jean Berton, La hantise de l’exil, p. 436.

16 Carol Gow, Mirror and Marble, p. 26.

17 Iain Crichton Smith, ed. by C. Nicholson, p. 106. Nicholson had written, p. 103: ‘ [tracking] the movement of a mind in the processes of creation, self-reflexively examining its own procedures of figuration, ways of looking at deer become ways of looking at language.’

18 ‘The poem in section 12 meditates upon the continuing inspirational fecundity of deer and celebrates the ways in which, as Highland phenomena and as iconic intensification, they (= deer) seem to transcend the division between world and word, […]’ Iain Crichton Smith, ed. by C. Nicholson, p. 116.

19 ‘In a gesture of existential courage, ‘Deer on the High Hills’ culminates in a stoical acceptance […] of the contingency and separateness implicit in such a condition.’ Iain Crichton Smith, ed. by C. Nicholson, p. 118.

20 Iain Crichton Smith, Towards the Human, p. 77.

21 One can note yet another example of Crichton Smith’s favourite form of epanadiplosis: ‘So … logic.’

Auteur

Is Professor at Université Jean Jaurès, Toulouse, and currently President of the French Society for Scottish Studies. Following his doctorate on Iain Crichton Smith’s works, his research essentially belongs to the field of modern Scottish literature (he co-edited with Ian Brown – president of ASLS – The Roots and Fruits of Scottish Culture in 2014) in the main three languages in Scotland – he has published articles on how to translate plurilingual texts into monolingual French, and is now working on a publication on the languages of/in Scotland

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