William J. Tait
William J. (Billy) Tait was the son of Robert William Tait, headmaster at various times in Yell and Sandwick, and Jemima Williamson of Mid Yell, where Billy was born on the 15th of November 1918, the first of three children. Billy was the outstanding pupil of his year in Shetland and he left the Anderson Educational Institute in Lerwick a year early with two bursaries to attend Edinburgh University, where he studied English - and briefly joined the Communist Party.
Tait became a teacher in Lerwick after his studies, where, disillusioned by Stalinism, he helped to revive the Shetland Labour Party, becoming secretary.
In 1947 he was one of those who founded the journal The New Shetlander, edited by Peter Jamieson, but soon left Shetland for personal reasons and worked in education in England and later in Dundee, while he continued to be a regular contributor to and supporter of The New Shetlander.
Tait retired to his mother’s house at Raefirth, but sadly died in 1992 in hospital in Lerwick.While living on the Scottish mainland, William J. Tait became a well-known and widely published writer of poetry in Shetlandic Scots and English, one of the group famous in the 1950s and 60s for their regular gatherings in the "Little Kremlin", at Milne’s Bar in Edinburgh. His portrait and his poetry hang there today, along with those of his contemporaries. Often writing in the Shetland dialect, he allied himself firmly with the Scottish Renaissance of Hugh MacDiarmid and the new generation of Scots poets who had grown up in his influence. Tait’s life and work helped to link Modern Shetlandic Scots with the broader Scots language movement, and his translations demonstrated the capacity of the tongue as a vehicle for the finest of poetic thought. He was a subtle reader and critic, whose own poetry is equally fine-spun and sophisticated. In 1980 he published his collected poems in the fine volume A Day Between Weathers (Paul Harris), but there remains an archive of uncollected work which warrants a new edition.
“ … His Collected Poems contains an astonishing variety of things, including the finest love-poems in the Shetland dialect, his ‘Hogmanay Sermon’ to Shetland poets, exhorting them to cast aside tinted glasses, and metaphysical poems in English and Scots, many of them about the Second World War …” Brian Smith, ‘Shetland poetry since the war’, The New Shetlander 171
“ … Among recent Shetland poets, William J. Tait has been the most ambitious, in choice of theme, technical skill and use of language. His translations of Villon, Ronsard and other foreign poets are amazing achievements and show how the dialect can be extended in surprising contexts … " Laurence I. Graham, ‘Shetland Literature and the idea of community’ in Shetland’s Northern Links: Language and History, ed. Waugh & Smith, (Edinburgh 1996)