Skip to main content

Letters (1973-1982) from Hamish Henderson to Michael Sharp

 Fonds — Box: CLX-A-1264
Identifier: Coll-1492

Scope and Contents

  1. 1 x letter - from Henderson, on School of Scottish Studies headed paper, to Sharp - 15 July 1973 - Content on: having 'fractured my elbow a month ago'; plans to go 'up to Aberdeenshire today to do some recording'; and, possible meeting with Sharp 'on Saturday or Sunday' and 'the Staff Club for a drink'.
  2. 1 x letter - from Henderson, on School of Scottish Studies headed paper, to Sharp - 26 July 1973 - Content on: 'Zemzem', which Henderson will 'take to Brittany and read between bouts of strathspeys and pibrochs'; 'the MM article' and 'Chapbook, which contains an abstract of Jack Mitchell's article' which is his 'last remaining copy' and which he'd 'love to have it back some time'; and, a request to please 'disregard the Maurice Fleming article' which has made Henderson 'feel embarrassed every time' he thinks about it.
  3. 1 x letter - from Henderson, on School of Scottish Studies headed paper, to Sharp - 18 October 1973 - Content on: setting up a meeting.
  4. 1 x letter - from Henderson, on School of Scottish Studies headed paper, to Sharp - 25 February 1974 - Content on: a request for a transcription by Sharp of Glasclune etc, which is 'spoken poetry' and how henderson wants to see 'what I spoke'; and, how the first part of his Gramsci translation has just come out.
  5. 1 x letter - from Henderson, on School of Scottish Studies headed paper, to Sharp - 28 May 1977 - Content on: having last written to Sharp just 'before going down with pneumonia'; how 'on a visit to London' he was struck down with something and 'spent nearly two months in St Mary's Hospital in Paddington', and that he had been 'pretty ill, in fact', but 'pulled through finally and had an enjoyable convalescence in France'; wishing to hear 'what happened about your thesis - and also to see it, if that's possible'; how 'an LP of my poems and songs will be issued by Claddagh records'; how the Edinburgh University Student Publications Board (EUSPB) will be republishing the 'Elegies' and 'with a new introduction by Sorley Maclean'; and whether or not he had seen his translation of Gramsci's work.
  6. 1 x letter - from Henderson, at Melville Terrace, Edinburgh, to Sharp - 12 June 1979 with air mail envelope postmarked 13 June 1979 and addressed to Box 4., RD1, Whitney Point, NY, USA - Content on: having last heard from Sharp 'in Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado, after appreciating the silence after the saloons of Laramie'; whether or not he sent 'a copy of the Claddagh record of my poems and songs' which had come onto the market not long after a reprint by EUSPB of his 'Elegies'; having been 'back in North Africa and Italy' filming on location for a BBC programme; having 'visited Alamein, a very strange experience indeed'; how work at the School 'still provides me with opportunites to visit other beauties nearer at hand - barra, for example'; and, how he 'never actually saw the thesis in which you discuss my poems'.
  7. 1 x letter - from Henderson, on School of Scottish Studies headed paper to Sharp - 30 September 1980 with air mail envelope postmarked ? October 1980 and addressed to Breese Terrace, Madison, Wisconsin, USA - Content on: 'the London mag' which 'will be printing your essay in Jan or Feb'; the BBC showing of the film 'The Dead, the Innocent' which had been 'shot in Africa and Italy; and, how he imagines 'that the BBC will try to flog it to the States anyway'.
  8. 1 x letter - from Henderson, on School of Scottish Studies headed paper, to Sharp - 19 May 1982, with air mail envelope postmarked 19 May 1982 and addressed to Breese Terrace, Madison, Wisconsin, USA - Content on: whether anything ever happened about Sharp's article on the 'Elegies', and if he saw the television programme 'called The Dead, the Innocent'.
  9. 1 x letter - from Henderson, on School of Scottish Studies headed paper, to Sharp - 10 August 1982, with envelope postmarked 13 August 1982 and addressed to Breese Terrace, Madison, Wisconsin, USA - Content on: the 'War Pipes in Africa' article and 'What on earth has happened' to it?; the wish 'to see the original text of the thesis some time'; and, if he ever saw the television programme by Keith Alexander called 'The Dead, the Innocent' about the 'Elegies' ? The envelope is pencil annotated with some lines: While out on the Savannah the wild dogs howl / They sat by the banks of the Great Murray River / One wades waist deep into the water / Another walks past with a pot on her head / In the distance smoke rises from the village / Later they walked in the graveyard / When the men returned from the bush / Mimosa and thorn tree, baobab and earth / They make of their hands and eyes.

Also in the collection is a card from Michael Sharp, in Puerto Rico, undated, to Steve Byrne of the Hamish Henderson Archive Trust. The card accompanied the letters decribed above. 'There are more including a tape recording' he writes.


  • Creation: 1973-1982


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is closed due to Data Protection restrictions. No access permissable.

Biographical / Historical

Hamish Henderson, the folklorist, poet, soldier, socialist, songwriter, CND peace campaigner and anti-apartheid activist, was born in Blairgowrie on 11 November 1919. He was raised by his Gaelic-speaking mother and his Episcopalian maternal grandmother, spending his early childhood in Blairgowrie and Glenshee. Orphaned at the age of thirteen, Henderson obtained scholarships first to Dulwich College and then to Downing College, Cambridge, where he read modern languages. Having a gift for languages he was commissioned at the rank of second lieutenant as an intelligence officer during the Second World War.

He served with the Eighth Army - in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Sicily, and Italy. This provided him with the opportunity to note and to remember moments that would later become poems and series of poems, such as Elegies for the Dead in Cyrenaica, and the song The 51st (Highland) Division's Farewell to Sicily. After the war, he took various teaching engagements, including one at a German high school teachers' summer school in Bad Godesberg, and another working with German prisoners of war in Comrie, Perthshire. Between 1948 and 1949 he was also a district secretary for the Workers' Educational Association. At the same time he was producing a great deal of literary and political criticism, poetry, and songs. In his work, Henderson swung between English and Scots, like Burns before him, writing only rarely in Gaelic. In 1951 Henderson was appointed a lecturer and research fellow at Edinburgh University's School of Scottish Studies. His work there as a folk-song collector formed the foundation of the Scottish folk revival.

Henderson's influence travelled far wider than Scotland. He fed songs, disquisition, and polemic into the international folk scene. He took up political argument through his poems and songs, on issues to do with land ownership and access, anti-Polaris missile, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and the anti-apartheid struggle. Among Henderson's other work are: Ballads of World War II (1947), The Ballad of the Men of Knoydart, Freedom Come-All-Ye (1960), and Prison Letters of Antonio Gramsci (1974, 1988, 1996).

Hamish Henderson died in Edinburgh in a nursing home, after a stroke, on 8 March 2002.

Michael Sharp was educated at universities in Britain and the United States. His Ph.D is from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Professor Sharp has taught in Scotland, Greece, Portugal, Nigeria, and at the universities of Binghamton, Harvard, and Wisconsin. He has been a Teaching Fellow in the International School of Theory in the Humanities at the University of Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Trained as a Romanticist and in the Literature and Ideas of the nineteenth century, Michael Sharp teaches in the University of Puerto Rico's Department of English where he is active in both the English M.A. and Caribbean PhD programs. His research focuses on the poetry of Anglophone Africa and the Caribbean diaspora. Michael Sharp's poetry has been published on both sides of the Atlantic. Sharp, Michael: "War pipes in Africa: the elegies of Hamish Henderson: London Magazine, April/May, 1983

Sharp's publications include War pipes in Africa: the elegies of Hamish Henderson which appeared in the 'London magazine', April/May, 1983.


1 folder

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession no: E2013.62.

Material acquired via the Hamish Henderson Archive Trust.

Related Materials

Also within Special Collections, Edinburgh University Library, are the Papers of Hamish Henderson (1919-2002), Coll-1438.

Processing Information

Catalogued by Graeme D. Eddie 28 October 2013

Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the University of Edinburgh Library Heritage Collections Repository

Centre for Research Collections
University of Edinburgh Main Library
George Square
Edinburgh EH8 9LJ Scotland
+44(0)131 650 8379