ABSTRACT

The dawning of the year 1772 coincides, according to Fergusson’s biographers and critics, with a new beginning in the poet’s creative life. Despite the fact that he had by this point published lyrics for well-received operas entitled Artaxerxes and The Royal Shepherd as well as a total of eight poems appearing within the pages of the prominent Weekly Magazine, commentators insist that with the publication of ‘The Daft Days’2 on 2 January 1772, the poet’s ‘real’ career finally began. Notwithstanding criticism’s linguistic partiality regarding Fergusson’s output, the publication of ‘The Daft Days’ does indeed constitute a new attitude in the Magazine’s poetry section, engendering a transformation of its cultural space and an expansion of its literary marketplace. It is not only the first vernacular Scots poem to be published by Fergusson, but also the first Scots piece to find its way into Ruddiman’s publication. Putting its achievement into perspective, however, of the 25 poems Fergusson prints in the Magazine throughout the year, eight are in vernacular Scots, while his reputation and position as the magazine’s ‘house poet’ continues to burgeon. Furthermore, while critics and biographers traditionally view ‘The Daft Days’ as a ‘new note’3 both in Fergusson’s literary career and in the Scottish literary tradition as a whole, the poem continues many of the concerns and preoccupations already outlined in Fergusson’s English language productions of 1771. The poem begins in characteristic Fergussonian fashion, with a conceptualization of localized neoclassicism and Scottish pastoral:

Echoing his own already well-established poetic concern for the changing of the seasons, Fergusson begins ‘The Daft Days’, his description of Edinburgh

inhabitants’ celebration of Yule, with an evocative portrayal of wintry weather. December is personified as sad and glowering while, imprisoned by winter’s chilly clouds and in the claustrophobia of its allotted ‘minimum of space’, the unfocused and bleary sun fails to light the land. Although critics hail the ‘new dawn’ of Fergusson’s career as a Scots vernacular poet with the publication of ‘The Daft Days’, his skilful merging of vernacular terms with neoclassical and heavily signalled Latin expressions reprises the concerns of at least one English language poem from the previous year. ‘On the Cold Month of April’, a piece concerned with exposing the realities of wintry weather, describes the season’s oppression of the sun in similar manner: iciness is, in April, ‘too potent for the solar ray’ (l. 33). While critics prefer the undeniable verve of the Scots vernacular version, both poems describe winter as bracing and yet claustrophobic; as a time when all is contained and restricted while at the same time icily exhilarated.