Inclinit to diuersiteis: Wyntoun's Song on the Death of Alexander III and the 'origins' of Scots Vernacular Poetry

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This article reconsiders the eight lines of verse often claimed as the earliest surviving poem in Scots. It examines the uses to which these lines, and their assigned status as ‘origin’, have been put in recent literary history, suggesting that criticism has tended to avoid reading the text’s presence, in order to speculate about what is absent from it. The article argues that although the textual condition of medieval literature as inscribed with what Paul Zumthor termed ‘mouvance’ is, in one sense, well understood by scholars, interpretative practices still fall short of the challenge to read with full comprehension of mouvance. Moreover, mouvance does not operate in manuscript culture only, but can be observed just as clearly in print culture, as the passage of this medieval text into print demonstrates. This article aims to articulate the mouvance of the work through history as well as across textual instantiations through a detailed reading that attends to both manuscript and print variants in order to trouble the assumption that these lines can be used as an origin text in any straightforward sense. The article concludes by suggesting an alternative way of understanding their use as foundational to vernacular Scots poetry.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21-38
Number of pages18
JournalReview of English Studies
Issue number263
Early online date20 Jun 2012
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • Wyntoun, Alexander III, Scottish, Scots, Origin, Poetry


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