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Hugh MacDiarmid

(1892—1978) Scottish poet and nationalist


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1892–1978)

Scottish poet and writer.

The son of a postman, Hugh MacDiarmid was born in Langholm and attended Langholm Academy before going on to Edinburgh University. He served in the army during World War I and then became a journalist in Montrose, Angus. There he founded and edited Northern Numbers (1921–23), an anthology of Scottish verse, and in 1922 he founded the monthly Scottish Chapbook, which promoted the Scottish poetic renaissance of which MacDiarmid himself was a leading figure. His lyrics in Sangschaw (1925) and Penny Wheep (1926) proved that the Scots language was capable of being rescued from the dialectical quaintness to which it had succumbed since Burns's heyday. His extended philosophical poem A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle (1926) attracted considerable attention.

MacDiarmid was a moving spirit behind the formation of the Scottish Nationalist Party (1927). He was also an active Marxist, publishing his First Hymn to Lenin in 1931. In the 1930s he became increasingly dissatisfied with the limitations of the Scots tongue as a medium for the expression of twentieth-century scientific and philosophical concepts; he used archaic Scots in Scots Unbound (1932), but subsequently employed his own idiosyncratic brand of English in such poems as those in Stony Limits (1934) and Second Hymn to Lenin (1935). In 1934 he collaborated with the author Lewis Grassic Gibbon on Scottish Scene and his later publications include several works on Scotland, as well as the anthology The Golden Treasury of Scottish Poetry (1940). His autobiography, Lucky Poet, was published in 1943. Collected Poems 1920–61 (1962) was brought out in a revised edition in 1967 and More Collected Poems followed in 1970.

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