Hugh MacDiarmid

Hugh MacDiarmid was just one of the many pseudonyms of Christopher Murray Grieve, from Langholm in Dumfries and Galloway. A journalist with a strong political sense, he helped found the National Party of Scotland (later the SNP). He left School in 1910, and after serving in the Medical Corps in WWI, he returned to journalism and began to edit and publish a series of literary magazines. Northern Numbers was a poetry collection, while in Scottish Chapbook he first used the name ‘Hugh MacDiarmid’.

MacDiarmid was an exponent of the new Scottish modernism, and, with authors such as Lewis Grassic Gibbon, of the new Scottish literary renaissance. MacDiarmid wrote a series of articles with Gibbon on this new renaissance, a rejection of the 19th century sentimentalisation of Scottish literature.

His first published book was Annals of the Five Senses; his long poem A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle is his most famous work.

Other pseudonyms used by MacDiarmid included Isobel Guthrie, A.K. Laidlaw, Arthur Leslie, Gillechriosd Mac a’Greidhir and James Maclaren. He wrote in Gaelic (and did several Gaelic to English translations), Lallans and English, particularly in later life. He was one of the greatest promoters and creators of Lallans, here referring to the synthetic combination of different forms of the Scots tongue. His attempt to establish a unified and standardised written form of Scots, in order to prevent a shift toward Standard English writing, met with approval as well as criticism. Poet Edwin Muir was particularly opposed to his use of Lallans, believing that “Scotland can only create a national literature by writing in English”.

MacDiarmid’s political views tended to be radical and still continue to stir controversy. He died in September 1978 in Biggar in the Scottish Borders.

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