Biography

Hugh MacDiarmid (1892 - 1978) : born Christopher Murray Grieve in 1892 in Dumfriesshire. He grew up in a fiercely independent community, and this atmosphere may have encouraged his future radicalism. After his studies at Langholm Academy, he was a teacher, and his literary talent was supported by George Ogilvie, who remained a friend and advisor for many years. When his father died in 1911, he turned to journalism and some years later, after army service, found himself editor-reporter for the Montrose Review, and his activities in the community got him the offices of Town Councillor and Justice of the Peace.

It was from there that he published Northern Numbers, collections of contemporary Scottish poetry, as well as a series of periodicals. In The Scottish Chapbook, Grieve demonstrated his belief in a Scottish Literary Renaissance, according to the motto of “Not Traditions – Precedents”.

Publishing some of his own work in the Chapbook, he introduced the pen name MacDiarmid. His most admired work is A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle (1926), where exquisite lyrics are integrated into the erratic progression and glorious illogicality of the drunk man’s thought.

While publishing his poetry under MacDiarmid and other pen names, Grieve was contributing to the Scottish Educational Journal, redefining the literary scene in Scotland, attacking all the revered members along the way.

Grieve was a believer in communism, and his 1931 First Hymn to Lenin influenced the likes of Auden, Spender and Day Lewis. He admired the Irish literati such as Joyce and Yeats, whose writing is echoed in some of his works like Mature Art, Water Music or The Little White Rose. Grieve lived on the Shetland island of Whalsay with his second wife, Valda Trevlyn, for nine years, and in spite of poverty and remoteness, he produced Scottish Scene, At the Sign of The Thistle, and Stony Limits. MacDiarmid’s poems in Scots cover a wide range of styles, from the deceptively simple and humorous, to the hauntingly beautiful and austere. Of course, his political views as a member of the Communist and Nationalist parties were expressed frequently in protest and propaganda along with linguistic experimentation. Though MacDiarmid may not be an easy poet, he can also write simply and directly, just as the man who was a feared adversary, was also the most generous of friends. In 1955, the Grieves moved to Biggar, where the poet lived until his death in 1978. Although many disagreed with his political stances, MacDiarmid is recognised as the major Scottish literary figure of the 20th century, whose work ranks with that of Dunbar and Burns, and a writer and thinker of international standing.