Hugh MacDiarmid

Ivor Griffiths, Poet, Novelist & Short Story Writer

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Christopher Murray Grieve
Pseudonym: Hugh MacDiarmid
Born: August 18, 1892
Langholm, Scotland
Died: September 9, 1978
Edinburgh, Scotland
Occupation: Poet
Literary movement: Scottish Renaissance
A bust of MacDiarmid in South Gyle, Edinburgh
A bust of MacDiarmid in South Gyle, Edinburgh

Hugh MacDiarmid (Scottish Gaelic: Ùisdean MacDhiarmaid) was the pen name of Christopher Murray Grieve (Crìsdean Mac a' Ghreidhir) (August 11, 1892, Langholm[1] - September 9, 1978, Edinburgh[2]), a significant Scottish poet of the 20th century. He was instrumental in creating a truly Scottish version of modernism and was a leading light in the Scottish Renaissance of the 20th century. Unusual for a first generation modernist, he was a communist. Unusual for a communist, he was a committed Scottish nationalist. He wrote both in English and in literary Scots (often referred to as Lallans).


  • 1 Early Life and Writings
  • 2 Politics
  • 3 Later Writings
  • 4 Places of interest
  • 5 Bibliography
  • 6 Further reading

Early Life and Writings

After leaving school in 1910, MacDiarmid worked as a journalist for five years. He then served in the Royal Army Medical Corps during the First World War. After the war, he married and returned to journalism. His first book, Annals of the Five Senses (1923) was a mixture of prose and poetry in English, but he then turned to Scots for a series of books, culminating in what is probably his best known work, the book-length A Drunk Man Looks At The Thistle. This poem is widely regarded as one of the most important long poems in 20th century Scottish literature. After that, he published several books containing poems in both English and Scots.


In 1928, MacDiarmid helped found the National Party of Scotland. He was also a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain. During the 1930s, he was expelled from the former for being a communist and from the latter for being a nationalist. In 1956, when many people were leaving in the aftermath of the bloody Soviet suppression of the freedom movement in Hungary, MacDiarmid rejoined the Communist Party. In 1950, George Orwell compiled a list of suspected communist sympathisers for British intelligence. He included MacDiarmid in this list.

As Grieve, he stood in the 1950 election in the Glasgow Kelvingrove constituency, as the Scottish National Party candidate, coming last with 639 votes. MacDiarmid famously listed 'Anglophobia' amongst his hobbies in his Who's Who entry.

Later Writings

As his interest in science and linguistics increased, MacDiarmid found himself turning more and more to English as a means of expression so that most of his later poetry is written in that language. His ambition was to live up to Rilke's dictum that 'the poet must know everything' and to write a poetry that contained all knowledge. As a result, some of the later work is a kind of found poetry reusing text from a range of sources. This led to accusations of plagiarism, to which the poet's response was 'The greater the plagiarism the greater the work of art.' The great achievement of this late poetry is to attempt on an epic scale to capture the idea of a world without God in which all the facts the poetry deals with are scientifically verifiable.

MacDiarmid wrote a number of non-fiction prose works, including Scottish Eccentrics and his autobiography Lucky Poet. He also did a number of translations from Scottish Gaelic, including Duncan Ban MacIntyre's Praise of Ben Doran, which were well received by native speakers including Sorley MacLean.

Places of interest

MacDiarmid grew up in the Scottish Borders town of Langholm, where his closest living relatives still reside. The town is home to a monument in his honour[1] made of cast iron which takes the form of a large open book depicting images from his writings. MacDiarmid lived in Montrose for a time where he worked for the local newspaper The Montrose Review.

MacDiarmid Memorial near Langholm
MacDiarmid Memorial near Langholm

Hugh MacDiarmid is commemorated in Makars' Court, outside The Writers' Museum, Lawnmarket, Edinburgh.

Selections for Makars' Court are made by The Writers' Museum; The Saltire Society; The Scottish Poetry Library.


  • Annals of the Five Senses (1923)
  • Sangschaw (1925)
  • Penny Wheep (1926)
  • A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle (1926)
  • The Lucky Bag (1927)
  • To Circumjack Cencrastus (1930)
  • First Hymn to Lenin and Other Poems (1931)
  • Second Hymn to Lenin (1932)
  • Scots Unbound and Other Poems (1933)
  • Scottish Scene (1934) (collaboration with Lewis Grassic Gibbon)
  • Stony Limits and Other Poems (1935)
  • The Birlinn of Clanranald (1936)
  • Second Hymn to Lenin and Other Poems (1937)
  • Scottish Eccentrics (1938)
  • The Islands of Scotland (1939)
  • The Golden Treasury of Scottish Poetry (1940)
  • Lucky Poet (1943)
  • Speaking for Scotland (1946)
  • Poems of the East-West Synthesis (1946)
  • A Kist of Whistles (1947)
  • In Memoriam James Joyce (1955)
  • Three Hymns to Lenin (1957)
  • The Battle Continues (1958)
  • The Kind of Poetry I Want (1961)
  • Collected Poems (1962)
  • Poems to Paintings by William Johnstone 1933 (1963)
  • The Company I've Kept (1966)
  • A Lap of Honour (1967)
  • Early Lyrics (1968)
  • A Clyack-Sheaf (1969)
  • More Collected Poems (1970)
  • Selected Poems (1971)
  • The Hugh MacDiarmid Anthology (1972)
  • Dìreadh (1974)

Further reading

  • Duncan Glen (1964) Hugh Macdiarmid (Christopher Murray Grieve) and the Scottish Renaissance , Chambers, Edinburgh et. al.
  • Michael Grieve and Alexander Scott (1972) The Hugh Macdiarmid Anthology: Poems in Scots and English, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London
  • Gordon Wright (1977) MacDiarmid: An Illustrated Biography, Gordon Wright Publishing
  • Alan Bold (1983) MacDiarmid: The Terrible Crystal, Routledge & Kegan Paul
  • Alan Bold (1984) Letters, Hamish Hamilton
  • Alan Bold (1988) MacDiarmid A Critical Biography, John Murray
  • John Baglow (1987) Hugh MacDiarmid: The Poetry of Self (criticism), McGill-Queen’s Press
  • Scott Lyall (2006) Hugh MacDiarmid's Poetry and Politics of Place: Imagining a Scottish Republic, Edinburgh University Press
  • Beth Junor (2007) Scarcely Ever Out of My Thoughts: The Letters of Valda Trevlyn Grieve to Christopher Murray Grieve (Hugh MacDiarmid) Word Power

Hugh MacDiarmid is commemorated in Makars' Court, outside The Writers' Museum, Lawnmarket, Edinburgh.

Selections for Makars' Court are made by The Writers' Museum; The Saltire Society; The Scottish Poetry Library.

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