Highland emigration and the transformation of nostalgia in romantic poetry

Juliet Shields*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


This essay examines Scottish Highlanders as both objects of and participants in British Romanticism by bringing into conversation Gaelic song and English-language poetry about Highland emigration. Together, Gaelic song and English-language poetry reveal Highland emigration's role in the late eighteenth-and early nineteenth-century transformation of nostalgia from pathology to sentiment. By tracing representations of emigration through Gaelic songs by John MacCodrum, Calum Bàn MacMhannain and John MacDonald, and English-language poetry by Anne Grant and Felicia Hemans, the essay shows how nostalgia emerged from the specific context of the Highland Clearances to become a more generalized Romantic condition. The essay then turns to some of Wordsworth's poems inspired by his 1803 and 1831 visits to Scotland to argue that although the Clearances seem to have made little impact on high Romanticism, the nostalgia that they represented not only permeated English-language poetic representations of Highlands and Highlanders but may also have been absorbed by Gaelic-speaking poets. In a kind of literary-historical feedback loop, Gaelic poets' depictions of emigration were influenced by English-language representations of Gaelic emigration songs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)765-784
Number of pages20
JournalEuropean Romantic Review
Issue number6
Early online date22 Oct 2012
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2012
Externally publishedYes


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