Hugh MacDiarmid is the pen name of Christopher Murray Grieve (11 August 1892, Langholm – 9 September 1978, Edinburgh), a significant Scottish poet of the 20th century. He was instrumental in creating a Scottish version of modernism and was a leading light in the Scottish Renaissance of the 20th century.
"I amna fou' sae muckle as tired - deid dune.
It's gey and hard wark coupin' gless for gless
Wi' Cruivie and Gilsanquhar and the like,
And I'm no' juist as bauld as aince I wes."
"One of the most distinctive voices to make itself heard in the poetry of this century is that of Hugh MacDiarmid, the leader of the Scottish Renaissance. At times, his voice is raucous, then tender yet triumphant, or angry and independent, and at its best moments unforgettably moving. The toughness, or to use Ezra Pound's terminology, the 'hard voice', of his poetry rings out unmistakably."
Although he is now recognised as the principle force of the Scottish Literary Renaissance, financial success eluded him for most of his life and his last 27 years were spent living with his second wife Valda at Brownsbank, a cottage (with little in the way of comfort) near Biggar. MacDiarmid died in 1978 and the cottage is now run as a museum and writers' centre.
MacDiarmid spent much of the 1930s cut off from mainland cultural developments on the Shetland island of Whalsay, but he continued to write ground-breaking and stylistically innovative poetry, as well as extensive journalism in which he explained his vision for a Scottish renaissance that was both cultural and political. Central to this vision was his belief that the Scottish psyche could not be adequately expressed in the English language alone, and that to develop and write in a synthetic Scots was the only way to achieve a coherent national voice.
In 1923 his first book <i>Annals of the Five Senses</i> was published. Three years later in 1926 he published his epic poem <i>A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle</i>, arguably his finest work. Other early works include the poem <i>To Circumjack Cencrastus</i> (1930) and <i>First Hymn to Lenin</i> (1931), a poem which is said to have deeply influenced a number of English poets including WH Auden and Cecil Day Lewis.
In November 1920, Grieve launched the first of his many publishing and editorial efforts, the anthology series Northern Numbers in which he published new poetry by contemporary Scottish poets. He was soon involved in other such efforts including <i>The Scottish Chapbook</i> (1922-1923), the <i>Scottish Nation</i> (1923), and the <i>Northern Review</i> (1924). With all of these publications Grieve hammered home his ideas for a regenerated Scottish literature; in particular, he began to advocate a renewed effort at writing in the Scots vernacular.
He became a founder-member of the Scottish National Party in 1928, and joined the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1934. He was expelled from both during the 1930s, although he rejoined the Communist Party in 1956.
After the war he settled in Montrose with his first wife Peggy Skinner and worked as an editor and reporter for the Montrose Review. While there he also edited literary magazines and anthologies of Scottish writing including <i>The Scottish Chapbook</i> which also featured his own poetry. It was in the Chapbook that the name Hugh MacDiarmid first appeared.
He studied at Langholm Academy, worked as a student teacher for time after 1908, but entered the field of journalism in 1910. A member of the Independent Labour Party since the age of sixteen, he was also a committed socialist. A stint in the Royal Army Medical Corps during World War I interrupted his career.
C. M. Grieve, best known under his pseudonym Hugh MacDiarmid, is credited with effecting a Scottish literary revolution which restored an indigenous Scots literature and has been acknowledged as the greatest poet that his country has produced since Robert Burns.