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The first voice to arise the Scots language, the Lowlands vernacular, was John Barbour, a contemporary of Geoffrey Chaucer who chronicled the heroics of Robert the Bruce and Sir James Douglas during the Wars of Independence. Barbour's The Bruce (1375) began a bardic tradition of historical romance woven into verse. Although the Makaris, bards of the royal court of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, departed from medieval octosyllabic couplets and troubadour traditions, they retained such features as strong alliteration and swift narration. The word makar, meaning both "maker" and "poet," calls attention to the role of poet as a skilled craftsman, able to create controlled, formal pieces using intricate and varied effects in vernacular language. The Scots literary tradition waned, however, as Lowlands culture acclimated toward England, experiencing its last revitalization in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries with poets like Allan Ramsay, Robert Fergusson, and Robert Burns. After Burns, Scottish poets and novelists would increasingly find greater expression in the English language. A distinctively Scottish literature would not resurface again until the literary Renaissance of the twentieth century, spearheaded by the modernist Hugh Macdiarmid.

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