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MacDiarmid, Hugh, 1892-1978 (Scottish poet)



  • Existence: 11 August 1892 - 9 September 1978


Hugh MacDiarmid, the pseudonym of Christopher Murray Grieve, was born on 11 August 1892 in Langholm, Dumfriesshire. He was educated at Langholm Academy, then at Broughton Junior Student Centre in Edinburgh prior to studying at Edinburgh University. After wartime service with the Royal Army Medical Corps in 1915-20, in Salonika, Italy, and France, he became a journalist in Montrose, Angus. There he worked for the Montrose Review and edited three issues of the first post-war Scottish verse anthology Northern Numbers (1921-23). In 1922 he founded the journal Scottish Chapbook, advocating the revival of Scottish literature. In 1929, he worked on Vox in London, and in 1930 was living in Liverpool, working as a public relations officer. Another spell in London followed. In 1933 Grieve moved to Whalsay in the Shetland Islands, staying there until 1941. In these wartime years, he worked as a manual labourer on Clydeside, 1941-43, and then on British merchant ships engaged in estuarial duties, 1943-45. After the Second World War, he lived in Glasgow, Strathaven in Lanarkshire, and then from 1951 in Biggar on the upper Clyde.

As a poet, MacDiarmid was the pre-eminent Scottish literary figure of the 20th century, and was the leader of the Scottish literary renaissance, the movement that sought to revitalize Scottish writing by fusing the heritage of the medieval makers and an international, modernist outlook. In the 1920s, MacDiarmid rejected English in favour of Lallans, a hybrid or ‘synthetic’ Scots, in which he wrote his masterpieces Sangschaw (1925), Penny Wheep (1926), A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle (1926), and To Circumjack Cencrastus (1930). Soon recognized as the major Scots-language poet since Burns, MacDiarmid inspired other poets such as Sydney Goodsir Smith and William Soutar to take up Scots as a literary medium.

In the 1930s, however, MacDiarmid returned to English in Stony Limits (1934) and Second Hymn to Lenin (1935), rejecting the lyricism of his early volumes in a favour of an austere, philosophical diction. In his post-war poetry, he increasingly shunned the personal and subjective in favour of open-ended epics such as In Memoriam James Joyce (1955) and The Kind of Poetry I Want (1961) which celebrated political and scientific materialism. MacDiarmid continue to inspire younger Scottish poets and in the 1950s and 1960s was at the heart of the group, including Sydney Goodsir Smith, Norman MacCaig and George Mackay Brown, which met in Edinburgh's legendary literary pub, Milne's Bar.

MacDiarmid combined literary and political activism. He was a founding member of the National Party of Scotland (one of the predecessors of the current Scottish National Party) in 1928 but left in 1933 due to his Marxist-Leninist views. He joined the Communist Party the following year only to be expelled in 1938 for his nationalist sympathies. He would subsequently stand as a parliamentary candidate for both the SNP (1945), and British Communist Party (1964) after re-joining the party in 1957. As a follower of the Scottish revolutionary socialist John Maclean, he saw no contradiction between international socialism and the nationalist vision of a Scottish workers' republic, but this ensured a fraught relationship with organized political parties.

He had a daughter, Christine, and a son, Walter, by his first wife Peggy Skinner. He had a son, James Michael Trevlyn, known as Michael, by his second wife Valda Trevlyn (1906-1989). MacDiarmid continued to write well into the 1970s but died of cancer in Edinburgh on 9 September 1978.

Source: About Hugh MacDiarmid (2019) [Accessed 20 September 2021]

Found in 9 Collections and/or Records:

Collection of correspondence from and relating to Hugh MacDiarmid and the publication of Stony Limits

 Collection — Box CLX-A-1594
Identifier: Coll-2005
Content Description This collection consists of correspondence between Hugh MacDiarmid, his publisher Victor Gollancz, and other interested parties concerning the publication of his poetry volume Stony Limits (1934). The correspondence largely concerns Gollancz’s fears that certain poems might expose the publisher to prosecution under libel, blasphemy, and obscenity legislation. Although he rigorously defended his verse, MacDiarmid was eventually persuaded to substitute the...
Dates: 1934-1986

Copies of letters between C. M. Grieve and Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji

Identifier: Coll-1298
Scope and Contents Three copies of manuscript letters from Christopher Murray Grieve (Hugh MacDiarmid) to Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji are dated 25 May 1926 from Montrose, 5 January 1932 from London, and 19 August 1955 from Lanarkshire. The letter from 25 May 1926 had been sent to Sorabji through the New Age. Grieve writes that 'I should have written you long ere this, but for the Strike, which involved me in all kinds of difficulties and while it lasted completely...
Dates: 1926-1955-

Draft copy of MacDiarmid's poem 'A hymn to Lenin'

Identifier: Coll-1100
Scope and Contents

This is an ink manuscript letter on 4 pages. Pages numbered 10, 11, 12, and 13.

The first page of the poem is headed: "First Hymn to Lenin (To Prince D. S. Mirsky)".

Dates: 1931

Galley proofs of 'Voice of Scotland', edited by Hugh MacDiarmid, 1959

 Item — Box CLX-A-353
Identifier: Coll-1848/17-0182
Scope and Contents Galley proofs of the December 1959 issue (vol. IX, no 3) of the periodical 'The Voice of Scotland: a quarterly magazine of Scottish arts and affairs', edited by Hugh MacDdiarmid. An example of these very scarce galley proofs, 25 pages on art paper, printed on one side only. This number was never published. The contents comprise a 5pp. editorial by MacDiarmid, in which he announces the death of Edwin Muir; MacDiarmid's long poem 'The Chinese Genius Wakes Up'; nine short poems by Margaret...
Dates: 1959

Letter from Hugh MacDiarmid to Dr. Mary Ringsleben, 30 August 1958

Identifier: Coll-1384
Scope and Contents The letter was written by Hugh MacDiarmid on 30 August 1958 from 'Brownsbank', Candymill, Biggar, Lanarkshire. It is addressed to Dr. Ringsleben - Mary Ringsleben having been awarded her Ph.D. two years earlier in 1956 (Aberdeen). MacDiarmid apologises for having 'retained your thesis so long'. He refers to having seen Dr. David Murison (deputy editor of the Scottish National Dictionary) in Edinburgh and that he had 'just missed you'. He describes the Ringsleben thesis as 'an...
Dates: fl. 1956-1968

Letter from Hugh MacDiarmid to Morley Jamieson, 4 December 1977

 Item — Box CLX-A-387
Identifier: Coll-1848/22-0047
Scope and Contents Autograph letter signed sent by Hugh MacDiarmid to Morley Jamieson, Candymill, 4 December 1977. In the letter, Grieve praises Jamieson on the publication of Brunton's Miscellany: "Your first issue is excellent - most elegantly produced and full of good things. I hope it has gone well. We were glad to know the launching party was so well-attended". He and his wife Valda are "very sorry indeed" not to have been able to attend: "the...
Dates: 4 December 1977

Maurice Lindsay Papers

Identifier: Coll-56
Scope and Contents The Maurice Lindsay Papers contain poetry notebooks; drafts, manuscripts and typescripts; radio scripts; incoming correspondence and some carbon replies; articles by Lindsay; C.M. Grieve manuscripts; and, outgoing correspondence. Within the Maurice Lindsay Papers are up to three boxes containing private and personal letters (dated 1943-46) between Lindsay and his future wife and which are not available for general study until after the deaths of the writer and recipient without their express...
Dates: 1943-1977

Mimeographed typescript of the 1962 International Writers Conference in Edinburgh, 20-24 August 1962

 Item — Box CLX-A-1591
Identifier: Coll-1848/20-0086
Scope and Contents Complete mimeographed typescript of the entire proceedings of the 1962 International Writers Conference, held on 20-24 August 1962 at the McEwan Hall, Edinburgh, during that year's Edinburgh Festival.The conference's list of delegates included such luminaries as Norman Mailer, Colin McInnes, Henry Miller, Alexander Trocchi, Mary McCarthy and a host of other over 70 writter in all. The career of William Burroughs was effectively launched by his contributions to the event, on the...
Dates: 20-24 August 1962

Papers of Andrew Graham Grieve

 Fonds — Multiple Containers
Identifier: Coll-1725
Scope and Contents

The archive is composed of correspondence, family papers, printed matter and newspaper cuttings, literary works, and diary.

Dates: 1883-1965