Eric Linklater’s Rowing Poet

Does anyone read Eric Linklater nowadays? Linklater (1899-1974) wrote novels, short-stories, poems, biographies, travelbooks, and children’s books, and was very popular, especially during the 1930s and 1940s. He had some rowing in his novel The Men of Ness (see No. 24 in the entry on 29 July 2009), which was translated into Swedish by my favorite author Frans G. Bengtsson, who wrote about the Viking Röde Orm (The Long Ships). Bengtsson also translated Linklater’s Poet’s Pub (1929), Poeten på Pelikanen (1933).

I happened to flip through this novel the other day (actually, I flipped through both the English and the Swedish versions as they were standing next to each other on the book shelf). The Poet’s Pub is about Saturday Keith who, in the beginning of the novel, is reading an unfavourable review in The Times Literary Supplement about his latest collection of poems. The reviewer is mocking Keith, comparing his bad poetry to his poor performances as a stroke in three losing Oxford crews in the Boat Race, “Mr. Keith is, as he always was, indomitable. But here he is bucketing badly and a long way from Mortlake – or Parnassus.” We are given an example or two of his meager poetry, and regarding the poem “The Blue Scarf” the reviewer writes, how Keith’s “long service with the Oxford University Boat Club finds an echo in lines which apparently reproduce the obedient rhythm of a crew with ears agape for the coach’s next remark. ‘Then through the wood the wind came with a shout,/ And like blue wings her long blue scarf flew out,/’ writes Mr. Keith, and we may pardonably think of such a couplet as the response to an injunction to ‘Give her ten’ – though Mr. Keith exceeds his instructions and give us twenty.”

A career as a poet seems not to be in sight for Saturday Keith, so when his friend Quentin Cotton offers to make him the manager for his mother’s newly-purchased pub, ‘The Pelican’, Keith jumps at the offer. And how could he fail, after all he is an Old Blue…


  1. Does anyone read Eric Linklater nowadays? I asked the same question and that is how I found you. Well, I do. Juan in America is a brilliant satire on the Prohibition era. I'm currently reading A Year of Space, a memoir covering Linklater's post-Korean War trip to the Far East and the Antipodes. That its views are now very dated is part of the attraction but the whole thing is carried along by his vivid and meticulous writing.

  2. Dear Vincent, I am happy to hear that there is someone out there reading Eric Linklater’s works. When I wrote an essay about his short-story “The Three Poets”, which was published in his “Sealskin Trousers and other stories” (1947), I read his three autobiographies and some of his other books, and I enjoyed them a lot. For my essay, I also read Michael Parnell’s “Eric Linklater: A Critical Biography” (1984), which you nowadays can find terribly cheap on the web. The other day, I read that Eric Linklater’s son, Andro Linklater, published a new book last year, “An Artist in Treason: The Extraordinary Double Life of General James Wilkinson”. And his other son, Magnus, is still writing columns for The Times in London.

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