Marion Angus

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Marion Emily Angus (1865–1946) was a Scottish poet who wrote in the Scots vernacular or Braid Scots, defined variously as a dialect of English or a language closely related to it. Her prose writings were mainly in standard English. She is seen as a forerunner of a Scottish renaissance in inter-war poetry, as her verse marked a departure from the Lallans tradition of Robert Burns in a direction similar to that of Hugh MacDiarmid, Violet Jacob and others.[1]


Born on 27 March 1865 in Sunderland, England, Marion Angus was the third of the six children of Mary Jessie, née Watson, and Henry Angus (1833–1902), a Presbyterian minister from North-East Scotland. Her grandfather on her mother's side was William Watson, sheriff-substitute of Aberdeen from 1829 to 1866, who in 1841 founded there the first industrial school for street children. Her father graduated from Marischal College in the same city and was ordained in Sunderland in 1859. He became minister of Erskine United Free Church, Arbroath, in 1876, and retired from the ministry in 1900.[1] The family left Sunderland for Arbroath in February 1876, when Marion was almost eleven.[2] She was educated at Arbroath High School,[3] but did not carry on to a higher education as her brothers did.[4] However, she may have been to France, as she spoke the language fluently and made several references to France in her prose writings.[5] She also visited Switzerland and left an account of it.[6]

Marion wrote fictionalized diaries anonymously for a newspaper, the Arbroath Guide. Entitled The Diary of Arthur Ogilvie (1897–1898) and Christabel's Diary (1899), they were also published in book form, but no copies of the former have survived. These have been taken to shed indirect light on Angus's life in early adulthood, which included abundant family and church work, and exercise in the form of walking and cycling.[7]

After her father's death in 1902, Marion and her sister Emily ran a private school at their mother's house in Cults, outside Aberdeen, but this was given up after the outbreak of the First World War, during which she worked in an army canteen. She and her sister returned to Aberdeen in 1921. However, Emily became mentally ill in April 1930 and was admitted to the Glasgow Royal Asylum, Gartnavel. Marion moved to various places around Glasgow to be near the institution where her sister was. She continued to publish poetry and gave occasional lectures, but her finances deteriorated and she became subject to depression.[8] Fellow Scots poet Nan Shepherd became a close friend in this period.

The only body of correspondence to have survived is a group of letters to Marie Campbell Ireland, a friend she made in about 1930. A selection of these has been published.[9] They and other letters betray a vein of disrespect and impatience with conventional society: "I don't know," she wrote to Ireland in about 1930, "that I care particularly for what is usually called 'cultivated people'. I found a more delicate and refined sympathy in my charwoman in Aberdeen than I did in any of my educated acquaintance."[10] The unconventional side of her is recalled in an article by a friend that appeared after her death: "She was nothing if not original.... Even when her wit was mordant, she had a capacious and most generous heart...."[11]

Marion Angus returned to Arbroath in 1945 to be looked after by a former family servant, Williamina Sturrock Matthews. She died there on 18 August 1946.[1] Her ashes were scattered on the sands of Elliot Links.[12]


The first important published work by Marion Angus was a biography of her grandfather: Sheriff Watson of Aberdeen: the Story of his Life and his Work for the Young (1913). She did not begin to write poetry until after 1918. Her first volume, written in Scots, was The Lilt, which came out about the same time as MacDiarmid's first experiments in the Dunfermline Press. The first stanza of the title poem establishes Angus's "voice" as a poet clearly.

Jean Gordon is weaving a' her lane
Twinin the threid wi a thocht o her ain,
Hearin the tune o the bairns at play
That they're singin among them ilka day;
And saftly, saftly ower the hill
Comes the sma, sma rain.

Five other volumes of verse followed: The Tinker's Road and other Verses (1924), Sun and Candlelight (1927), The Singin' Lass (1929), The Turn of Day (1931), and Lost Country and other Verses (1937). Her work was influenced by the Scottish ballad tradition and by early Scots poets such as Robert Henryson and William Dunbar, rather than by Burns. She was associated in the pre-war Scottish Renaissance initially with revivalists like Violet Jacob, Alexander Gray and Lewis Spence,[13] and then with MacDiarmid and his cultural efforts in the 1920s and 1930s, through the inclusion of her work in Scottish Chapbook and Northern Numbers. She also did radio work at that time.[1]

MacDiarmid voiced qualified approval of Angus's poetry in polemics he wrote for the Scottish Literary Journal in 1925 and 1926. Angus herself spoke of her ambitions and limitations as a poet in an address in the 1920s to the Scottish Association for the Speaking of Verse: "I would fain give voice to Scotland’s great adventure of the soul."[14] However, Helen Cruickshank notes in a memoir that Angus did not think highly of MacDiarmid as a poet or approve of his experiments in Synthetic Scots. Nonetheless, they moved in the same direction, going back beyond Burns to earlier, mainly Eastern Scots ballad and folk song traditions. As Cruikshank put it, "She was steeped in the knowledge and lore of the Ballads, until they seemed part of her life. Lost love, unquiet spirits, barley-breid and elder-wine: they are the very stuff of the Ballads."[15] The scholar Katherine Gordon saw steady development in her work through the 1920s and 1930s: "The understated lyricism of The Lilt and Other Verses becomes, by the late 1920s, distinctly stronger and more emotionally potent in Sun and Candlelight and The Singin' Lass."[16] Her interest in the supernatural in literature emerged early: "One poem which, when I was a child, made my flesh creep and filled me with a tearful pity" was 'The Brownie of Blednoch' by William Nicholson (1782–1849).[17]

As Colin Milton has written, "Marion Angus is a poet of the social and psychological margins: her poems hint and suggest rather than state, often conveying repressed or unreturned feelings and liminal states." Her exploration of the experience of women is in contrast to "the mainly male-dominated poetry of the 'Renaissance' movement."[1] Typical of the telling simplicity of her earlier work is this stanza from "Mary's Sang", which appeared in The Tinker's Road:

My beloved sall ha'e this he'rt tae break,
Reid, reid wine and the barley cake;
A he'rt tae break, an' a mou' tae kiss,
Tho' he be nae mine, as I am his.

Posthumous interest[edit]

Angus's Selected Poems, edited by Maurice Lindsay with a memoir by Helen Cruickshank, appeared in 1950. Two further selections appeared in 2006. The editor of one of them, Aimée Chalmers, described in Braid Scots her discovery of Marion Angus: "A wee bookie poems bi Marion Angus (1865–1946) fell frae a library shelf, as if bi magic glamourie, at my feet. Her Scots tung heezed up ma hert. Her weirdfu, ghaistly verse, an her sparkie wit on the natur o time dirled ma heid. 'A thoosand years o clood and flame/An a' thing's the same and aye the same.' Whaun I read what some tattie scone had said aboot her: 'no life could be less conspicuous', I was scunnert. I did some delvin for masell, then wrote doon the richt wey o daen (the start o a selection o her work). That wasnae eneuch: I kent hoo she thocht aboot things frae whit she wrote and wantit mair o her spirit tae come though. Sae I traivelled her 'Tinker's Road' wi her, for some five years. Gey chancie, spookie things happened (whiles gied me the cauld creeps), but in the end I 'won ower the tap'."[18] Commenting on the sparseness of the information about Angus's life, Chalmers warns against extrapolating it from her poetry: "The pity is that rather than recognising her skill at transforming the particular into the universal, critics have sometimes allowed conjecture about her private life to stereotype and define the poet, thereby influencing their evaluation of her work."[19]

Verse by Marion Angus has appeared in numerous anthologies, including Living Scottish Poets (Benn, [1931]), Oor Mither Tongue: An Anthology of Scots Vernacular Verse (Paisley: Alexander Gardner, 1937), Poets' Quair: An Anthology for Scottish Schools (Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd, 1950), and more recently The Faber Book of Twentieth-Century Scottish Poetry (London, 1992), The Poetry of Scotland, Gaelic, Scots and English (Edinburgh, 1995), and Modern Scottish Women Poets (Edinburgh, 2003). Her most frequently anthologized poem is about Mary, Queen of Scots, "Alas, Poor Queen", written partly in standard English.[20]


  • Round about Geneva (Aberdeen: T. Bunkle & Co., 1899). Travel
  • Christabel's Diary (Aberdeen: T. Bunkle & Co., 1899). Fictional diary
  • 'Green beads, the story of a lost love'. Pearson's Magazine (London), May 1906. Short story
  • Sheriff Watson of Aberdeen: the Story of his Life and his Work for the Young (Aberdeen: Daily Journal, 1913). Biography
  • Robert Henry Corstorphine (Aberdeen: T. Bunkle & Co., 1942). As contributor
  • The Lilt and Other Verses (Aberdeen: Wylie and Sons, 1922)
  • The Tinker's Road and Other Verses (Glasgow/London: Gowans and Gray, 1924)
  • Sun and Candlelight (Edinburgh: Porpoise Press, 1927). Verse
  • The Singin' Lass (Edinburgh: Porpoise Press, 1929). Verse
  • The Turn of the Day (Edinburgh: Porpoise Press, 1931). Verse
  • Lost Country (Glasgow: Gowans and Gray, 1937). Verse
  • Selected Poems of Marion Angus, ed. by Helen B. Cruickshank and Maurice Lindsay (Edinburgh: Serif Books, 1950). Includes a short biography.
  • Voices from their Ain Countrie: the poems of Marion Angus and Violet Jacob, ed. Katherine Gordon (Glasgow: Association for Scottish Literary Studies, 2006). ISBN 0-948877-76-6. Includes a longer bibliography.
  • The Singin Lass. Selected Works of Marion Angus, edited and compiled by Aimée Chalmers (Edinburgh: Polygon, 2006), ISBN 1-904598-64-1. Selections of poetry and prose, illustrated, with a bibliography.[21]

External resources[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e ODNB entry: Retrieved 8 December 2011. Subscription required.
  2. ^ Introduction to The Singin Lass. Selected Works..., p. 13.
  3. ^ The Wee Web: Retrieved 9 December 2011.
  4. ^ Introduction to The Singin Lass. Selected Works..., p. 16.
  5. ^ Introduction to The Singin Lass. Selected Works..., p. 19.
  6. ^ Round about Geneva, 1899.
  7. ^ Introduction to The Singin Lass. Selected Works..., pp. 18–21 and 44; doctoral dissertation by Aimée Y. Chalmers, p. 2. Retrieved 9 December 2011.
  8. ^ Introduction to The Singin Lass. Selected Works..., pp. 32–34.
  9. ^ Introduction to The Singin Lass. Selected Works..., pp. 113–123.
  10. ^ Papers of Mairi Campbell Ireland, National Library of Scotland, MS 19328 folio 71. Quoted in Voices from their Ain Countrie..., p. 4.
  11. ^ P. W. L.: Miss Marion Angus: An Appreciation. Arbroath Guide, 31 August 1946, p. 6. Quoted in Voices from their Ain Countrie..., p. 5.
  12. ^ Scottish Poetry Library site. Retrieved 10 April 2012.
  13. ^ Scottish renaissance (2000). In The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English. Retrieved from 17 December 2011.
  14. ^ Association of Scottish Literary Studies: Retrieved 8 December 2011.
  15. ^ Scottish Poetry Library site.
  16. ^ Voices from their Ain Countrie..., p. 9.
  17. ^ Marion Angus: Scottish Poetry Old and New. In: The Scottish Association for the Speaking of Verse... (Edinburgh: Constable, 1928), pp. 18–29. Quoted in Voices from their Ain Countrie..., p. 6. The poem can be read here: Retrieved 16 April 2012.
  18. ^ 26 Treasures Retrieved 9 December 2011. Archived 26 April 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  19. ^ Quoted on the Scottish Poetry Library site.
  20. ^ Tudor History site: Retrieved 8 December 2011.
  21. ^ The bibliographical data in the section have been taken from the British Library Integrated Catalogue, bookseller listings, and the list in The Singin Lass. Selected Works of Marion Angus.