Burns night has been and gone, but poetry is for every night, and day. It’s a source of solace, comfort and cheer in difficult times like this current pandemic and lockdown So here, to help you through, are twenty of Scotland’s greatest poets, who aren’t Robert Burns.

William Dunbar (circa 1459-1530)

“Back to Dunbar!” was a favourite phrase of Hugh MacDiarmid, and the man he was talking about was a Middle Scots poet attached to the court of James IV, who wrote works that were rhetorical and lyrical marvels. Dunbar was one of a group of medieval Scots known as the “makars” and for him the writing of poetry was "making". He created poems for his patron, such as The Thrissil and the Rois, a celebration of James IV's marriage to Margaret Tudor. But Dunbar was about more than creating snapshots of court. He created poems that have resonance now. Lament for the Makaris, with its frequent refrain, timor mortis conturbat me (fear of death troubles me), still has an extraordinary potency – even as it lists the names of makars now forgotten

Quotable lines: “I that in heill wes and gladnes,/ Am trublit now with gret seiknes,/ And feblit with infermite;/Timor mortis conturbat me." (Lament For The Makaris)

Robert Fergusson (1750-1774)

The fast-living genius who died to young, but left his mark. Robert Burns called Robert Fergusson his ‘elder brother in misfortune, by far my elder brother in the muse” when he commissioned a headstone in Canongate Churchyard, thirteen years after the poet was buried there in an unmarked grave, having died a pauper, having fallen heavily down a flight of stairs, at just 24 years of age.

We were reminded of his poem, The Daft Days, in Lidl’s recent advertising campaign which claimed to have unearthed a forgotten Scots phrase. Though, of course, anyone who knows Robert Fergusson would have known exactly what was being referred to, that strange, transporting time between Christmas and New Year.

Despite his short life, Fergusson made a significant impact and played a key role in the Scots vernacular revival, writing in both Scottish English and Scots. Many of his poems were printed from 1771 onwards in Walter Ruddiman's Weekly Magazine. Notable poems include Ode to the Gowdspink, Caller Oysters, the Daft Days, The Ghaists and Auld Reikie, a 300-line Scots work, praising Edinburgh, through description of the lives of ordinary people.

Quotable lines: “Auld Reikie wale o ilka town”, which translates as “Edinburgh: best of every town.” (Auld Reikie)

Joanna Baillie (1762-1851)

Baillie might not be a household name, but she was one of the most ambitious female writers of her time, best known for her theatrical sequence, Plays On The Passions, and also an extraordinary poet. She was born into a wealthy family in Lanarkshire, who claimed as one of its ancestors Sir William Wallace. Her father was a minister who would become Professor of Divinity at Glasgow and her mother the sister of the anatomists, William and John Hunter. But she would later move to London, where she would meet the novelist Fanny Burney, and be encouraged to write her first poem, Winter Day. Among her most relatable poems are A Mother To Her Waking Infant, which meditates on the helplessness of both the young and old, and To Cupid, a reflection on why we love those we do.

Quotable lines: “From thy poor tongue no accents come,/ Which can but rub thy toothless gum:/ Small understanding boasts thy face,/ Thy shapeless limbs nor step nor grace:/A few short words thy feats may tell,/ And yet I love thee well.” (A Mother To Her Waking Infant)

Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832)

We now know him better as the author of fiction, particularly The Waverley Novels, but actually Scott first found success as a poet, and was, for some time the best-reviewed and best-paid poet of his period. His first major publication was his three-volume collection of ballads which he had gathered and edited, The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (1802–3), and this was followed by his long romantic poems The Lay of the Last Minstrel, The Lady of the Lake and Marmion, effectively a novel in verse.

Quotable lines: "Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive!/ Look back, and smile on perils past./ The will to do, the soul to dare.” (Marmion: A Tale of Flodden Field)

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)

Though far more well known for his classic novels, Stevenson also wrote poetry, including a popular collection titled A Child’s Garden of Verses. The inspiration for this was Kate Greenaway’s best-selling, Birthday Book For Children – his response to which was, “These are rather nice rhymes and I don’t think they would be difficult to do.” In search of "some coin" he gave it a go. Perhaps most popular is his From A Railway Carriage, with its thrilling rhyming and thundering pacing.

Quotable lines: “All by myself I have to go/ With none to tell me what to do — /All alone beside the streams/ And up the mountain-sides of dreams." (The Land Of Nod)

Violet Jacob (1863-1946)

Described by Hugh MacDiarmid as “by far the most considerable of contemporary vernacular poets”, Jacob was a key voice in the revival that took place at the turn of the 20th century, centred on the North East of Scotland, and including other vernacular poets like Marion Angus. Her most famous verse, The Wild Geese, a poem of longing an desolation of exile, takes the form of a conversation between the poet and the North Wind. Jacob was haunted by the loss of her son, killed in 1916, and that grief haunts many of her poems, particularly her startling Halloween.

Quotable lines: ‘Oh tell me what was on yer road, ye roarin’ norlan’ Wind,/ As ye cam’ blawin’ frae the land that’s niver frae my mind?” (The Wild Geese)

Hugh MacDiarmid (1892-1978)

A monumental figure in the Scottish literary revival and nationalism itself, it says a lot about the controversial poet and polemicist that he was kicked out of the National Party for his communism, then expelled from the CP twice for his heresies, including nationalism. In his Who’s Who entry he described his hobby as Anglophobia. Whether you delight in his opinions or not, there’s no doubting the power of MacDiarmid’s poetry. Among his most simply beautiful, and popular poems is The Watergaw, in which he sights a fragment of a rainbow, “wi’ its chitterin’ licht”.

Or there’s the Bubblyjock, a poem about a turkey, “hauf like a bird and hauf like a bogle”. And if you want a lang read you can’t do better than the epic, sprawling monologue, A Drunk Man Looks At The Thistle.

Quotable lines: “I’ll hae nae hauf-way hoose, but aye be whaur Extremes meet.” (A Drunk Man Looks At The Thistle)

Nan Shepherd (1893-1981)

Nan Shepherd’s writing has done, in recent years, an astonishing rise from relative obscurity, to cult status – and much of that meteoric rise can be attributed toher championing by the nature writer Robert Macfarlane. Hers has seemed, for many, the voice to turn to in these times of ecological crisis, her Living Mountain, not just a memoir but also now, for many, a handbook for how to connect with and experience the land. But, Shepherd wrote poetry as well as novels and memoirs, conjuring up the living world.

Quotable lines. “Living water/ Like some pure essence of being/ Invisible in itself/ Seen only by its movement.” (From The Hill Burns)

Norman MacCaig (1910-1996)

MacCaig is probably best known for his poems devoted to the “unemphatic marvels” of the natural world – toads, dogs, herons ducks, sharks, horses and birds. His poems, often humorous and accessible, but also elegiac, mostly take as their locations his home town of Edinburgh, and Assynt, where he had his holiday home. MacCaig could capture the stars: “Trees are cages for them: water holds its breath/ To balance them without smudging on its delicate meniscus.” He could summon a small loch into being with the lines, “Dandling lilies and talking sleepily/ And standing huge mountains on their watery heads.”Brian Morton once described him as, “perhaps the finest rhyming poet of the last fifty years.” Perhaps his most noteworthy work was A Man in Assynt – which said so much about human relationship to the land.

Quotable lines: “Who possesses this landscape? –/ The man who bought it or/ I who am possessed by it?” (A Man In Assynt)

Sorley Maclean (1911-1996)

Widely considered to be the greatest Gaelic poet of the twentieth century, born on the island of Rasaay and brought up immersed in the language and song, Maclean sparked a Gaelic renaissance in Scottish literature. His greatest works are widely considered to be the Dàin do Eimhir and An Cuillithionn. But it is his haunting poem of landscape left after Highland Clearances, Haillaig, that is probably most well-loved. Seamus Heaney, described how, on listening to Maclean read it in Gaelic, he felt, “This was the song of a man who had come through, a poem with all the lucidity and arbitrariness of a vision.”

Quotable lines: Tha tìm, am fiadh, an coille Hallaig/ Tha bùird is tàirnean air an uinneig/ trom faca mi an Àird Iar/ ’s tha mo ghaol aig Allt Hallaig/ ’na craoibh bheithe, ’s bha i riamh.” (“Time, the deer, is in the wood of Hallaig/ There’s a board nailed across the window/ I looked through to see the west/ And my love is a birch forever/ By Hallaig Stream, at her tryst.”)

Burns night has been and gone, but poetry is for every night, and day. It’s a source of solace, comfort and cheer in difficult times like the current pandemic and lockdown. So here, to help you through, is the first ten of our list of twenty of Scotland’s greatest poets – the rest, the poet of the earlier years, will be published tomorrow.

WS Graham (1918-1986)
John Burnside described WS Graham as, “one of the finest of British poets working in the last century, ... an artist who raises questions that are as urgent now as they were in his own time.” Born in Greenock, father an engineer, mother a shopkeeper, he spent most of his adult in West Penwith, Cornwall, amongst the artists of the St Ives school.  He appears to set out his approach to writing and life in his elegy for the painter, Peter Lanyan, The Thermal Stair – and it's brutal. “The poet or painter steers his life to maim / Himself somehow for the job/ His job is Love.”
Quotable lines: “I leave this at your ear for when you wake,/ A creature in its abstract cage asleep./ Your dreams blindfold you by the light they make." (I Leave This At Your Ear)

Edwin Morgan (1920-2010)
Scotland’s first Makar created poetry of extraordinary honesty and playfulness. Who could not enjoy, for instance, the way his Loch Ness Monster, sinks to the depths with a “Gombl mbl bl –/ blm plm,/ blm plm,/ blm plm,/ blp.” Most remarkable, though, is the way he wrote about love. Though Morgan didn’t come out as gay until he was 70, his sexuality was evident in his earlier poems. In The New Divan, his great  mystic war poem, he relates fragmented memories from his second world war desert campaign – in which he, a conscientious objector had a non-combatant role in the Royal Army Medical Corps. “Not in King’s Regulations, to be in love,” he writes, acknowledging that love like his is forbidden. 
Quotable lines: “There were never strawberries/ like the ones we had/ that sultry afternoon/ sitting on the step/ of the open french window/ facing each other/ your knees held in mine.” (Strawberries)

Alastair Reid (1926-2014)
Peripatetic Alastair Reid, the son of a Whithorn church minister, who roamed the globe, never too long in any one place, created poems of extraordinary calm and poise. They are, as Eric Ormsby once put it in the Times Literary Supplement, “at once modest and monumental”, like “homes hammered out of words”.  Famously, in the 1950s, he went on holiday to Mallorca and happened to meet Robert Graves  – and started a remarkable friendship which ended when he ran off with Margot Callas, Graves’ muse. 
Among his most glorious poems is, Scotland, in which the poet, delighted by the sunshine, goes out and declares his joy to a woman – who is having none of it.
Quotable lines: “What a day it is!’ cried I, like a sunstruck madman.” Her reply spoken, with ancient misery, is, ‘We’ll pay for it, we’ll pay for it, we’ll pay for it!” (Scotland)

Liz Lochhead (born 1947)
The much-loved poet and playwright, brought her trademark wit, feminism and humanity to the role of Scotland’s Makar, between 2011 and 2016. Carol Ann  Duffy described her writing as a “warm broth of quirky rhythms, streetwise speech patterns, showbiz pizzazz, tender lyricism and Scots”.  Lochhead grew up in a new council house in the mining village of Newarthill, and wrote her first poem, The Visit, while at Glasgow School of Art in 1965. Notable works include Favourite Place, an evocation of trips made north, Hell For Poets and View Of Scotland/Love Poem.
Quotable lines: “Down on her hands and knees/ at ten at night on Hogmanay,/ my mother still giving it elbowgrease / jiffywaxing the vinolay. (This is too / ordinary to be nostalgia.) On the kitchen table / a newly opened tin of sockeye salmon.” (View Of Scotland/Love Poem)

Imtiaz Dharker (born 1954)
Born in Pakistan and brought up in Scotland, Dharker’s poems are rich and evocative, touching on geographical and cultural displacement, conflict and gender politics. Speech Balloon charts the spread of a phrase from one culture to another.  Blessing describes a slum neighbourhood in Mumbai where a mains water pipe bursts, highlighting the preciousness of water in a hot climate. “The skin cracks like a pod," she writes. "There never is enough water.”
Quotable lines: "You must have noticed, it’s really quite clear,/ this condition has spread, it’s happening there,/ it’s happening here. It’s full-blown, grown/ beyond every border, to the furthest corner/ of every country where English is spoken/or English is known.” (Speech Balloon)

Robin Robertson (born 1955)
If what you’re looking for is a really long poem that will take you right through the night and into the next day, then Robin Robertson’s recent epic, The Long Take, is the book for you. Set in the years immediately following the second world war and following a traumatised D-Day veteran from Nova Scotia, it has been described by John Banville “a masterly work of art, exciting, colourful, fast-paced.”. But Robertson does short beautifully too. Born in Scone, Perthshire, Robertson was brought up in Aberdeen where his father, a Church of Scotland minister, was the university chaplain. He is a great reteller and remaker of the old myths, whether from classical or Scottish mythology,  in poems like the wonderful selkie tale, At Roane Head.
Quotable lines: “Someone saw them once, outside, hirpling/ down to the shore, chittering like rats,/ and said they were fine swimmers,/ but I would have guessed at that.” (At Roane Head)

Carol Ann Duffy (born 1955)
As Jeanette Winterson once put it, the range of Carol Ann Duffy’s imagination is vast. “She moves easily from gorilla-scale to the interiority of the sonnet.” 
Duffy moved to Stafford, from Glasgow where she was born, when she was just five, but she is still included in many a list of Scottish poets.  The Scottish Poetry Library claims the former UK poet laureate, so why shouldn’t we? “Poetry, above all,” wrote Duffy, “is a series of intense moments - its power is not in narrative. I’m not dealing with facts, I’m dealing with emotion.” That heightened feeling is there throughout her poems – whether in her razor-sharp exploration of female archetypes, The World’s Wife or in her TS Eliot prize-winning collection of love poems, The Rapture, in which her poem Syntax declares, “Love’s language starts, stops, starts; the right words flowing or clotting in the heart.”
Quotable lines: “I’m not the first or the last/ to stand on a hillock,/ watching the man she married/ prove to the world/ he’s a total, utter, absolute, Grade A pillock.” (Mrs Icarus)

Jackie Kay (born 1961)
Scotland’s current Makar, a writer of poems that reach out to us all, romantic, tender, generous and funny, has been a voice to guide and comfort us through this pandemic year.   Often her poems tell parts of her own life story. The Adoption Papers, her first collection, told of her own adoption, child of a nurse and a Nigerian student studying in Aberdeen, by a white Scottish, communist couple.  Fiere is a lyric counterpart to Red Dust Road, her prose memoir, which tells of her search to find her birth father. Kay’s is a much-needed voice, particularly in these times of Black Lives Matter, holding up a mirror to Scotland’s current and past identities.
Quotable lines: “I was born in the city of crag and stone./ I am not a daughter to one father./ I am not a sister to one brother./ I am light and dark./ I am father and mother.” (Between The Dee And The Don)

Kathleen Jamie (born 1962)
In 2004, when Jamie won the Forward prize for The Tree House, chair of the judges, Lavinia Greenlaw, described it as a collection which enlarged “the scope and capacity of poetry being written today”. Her works are about landscape and nature, but also so much more –  the connections between all things, the charm of the ordinary detail. In them we find, bluebells nodding to all questions, bats, “testing their idea  for a new form  which unfolded and cohered before our eyes” a hawk, gliding low, “her own dark shape in her talons like a kill”. 
Quotable lines: “And though I’m poisoned/ choking on the small change/ of human hope/ daily beaten into me/ look: I am still alive—/ in fact, in bud.” (The Wishing Tree)

Don Paterson (born 1963)
When Don Paterson’s Landing Light came out in 2003, to huge acclaim and prizes, there was no doubt that he was a significant poet.  “These poems,” wrote Helen Dunmore, “shine a light into crevices of feeling that amaze the poet as much as they move the reader.” 
Born in Dundee in 1963, he left school to pursue a career in music, and published his first book, Nil Nil – whose titular poem followed the tragicomic story of a fictional Scottish football side – in 1993.  His poetry feel of the world we live in, accessible, covering family, friendships, everyday wonder and the marvel of just being alive.
Quotable lines:  “Jamie made his landing in the world/ so hard he ploughed straight back into the earth./ They caught him by the thread of his one breath/ and pulled him up.” (The Thread)