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The Life and Poems of William Dunbar

Paterson, James

Published by William P. Nimmo, Edinburgh, 1860
Condition: Good Hardcover

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12mo. X, 342pp. Original cloth with title label laid on spine. William Dunbar was a Scottish makar active in the late fifteenth century and the early sixteenth century. He was closely associated with the court of King James IV of Scotland and produced a large body of work in Scots distinguished by its great variation in themes and literary styles. Many of his poems are addressed to the king or queen, or refer to fellow-courtiers, ranging from humble fools to powerful officials, such as the Treasurer. "The Thrissill and the rose" celebrates the wedding of James IV to Margaret Tudor in 1503, and other poems are concerned with festive events of this reign, such as the arrival of the French envoy Bernard Stewart in 1508, and the Queen's visit to Aberdeen in 1511. But many of Dunbar's poems cast a more satiric eye at the activities of James IV's court, and convey an uneasy atmosphere of self-seeking, envy and distrust. Dunbar's favorite term for his own writings was "ballatis", a word that then usually connoted short, often lyrical poems. Dunbar indeed stands out from other late medieval poets for the brevity and compression of his verse. He also called himself a "makar", a term that lays stress on the poet as a skilled and versatile craftsman. Dunbar is famed for his virtuosity, and was ready to write on almost any subject, from a painful headache to a highly technical treatise on penance. He experimented with many popular genres - elegy, panegyric, love epistle, beast fable, satiric testament - but shows particular fondness for the medieval tradition of dream poetry. Also includes in this work is "The Flyting of Dunbar and Kennedy," the earliest surviving example of the Scottish version of the flyting genre in poetry. The genre takes the form of a contest, or "war of words", between two poets, each trying to outclass the other in vituperation and verbal pyrotechnics. It is not certain how the work was composed, but it is likely to have been publicly performed, probably in the style of a poetic joust by the two combatants, William Dunbar and Walter Kennedy, before the Court of James IV of Scotland. There are clues in the poem that suggest some of the features that the show must have contained. Each of the combatants had a commissar, both of whom are named in the work and sometimes directly addressed by the performers. These are (respectively) Sir John the Ross for Dunbar and Quentin Shaw for Kennedy, both of whom were actual persons. Shaw (certainly) and Ross (probably) were also poets, and it seems possible that they played some material part in the performance. Ross, Shaw, and Kennedy are all three named as a group in the closing stanzas of Dunbar's Lament for the Makaris. Some staining on spine. Title label rubbed. Front joint frayed. Title page age-toned. Binding in overall fair, interior in good to good+ condition. Bookseller Inventory # 33732

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Bibliographic Details

Title: The Life and Poems of William Dunbar

Publisher: William P. Nimmo, Edinburgh

Publication Date: 1860

Binding: Hardcover

Book Condition:Good

Edition: First edition.

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