Hugh MacDiarmid

Margery Palmer McCulloch

in British and Irish Literature

ISBN: 9780199846719
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:
Hugh MacDiarmid

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Hugh MacDiarmid is the pen name of Christopher Murray Grieve (b. 1892–d.1978), the poet who initiated a revival in Scotland’s literary culture in the 20th-century interwar period. He was born in Langholm in the Scottish Borders, where his father was a postman and his mother a caretaker at the local library. He later claimed that his voracious appetite for books was developed in this library, where he would fill a large washing basket full of books and carry it upstairs to the family flat. He became a journalist upon leaving school and during World War I served with the Royal Army Medical Corps in Salonika. His breakthrough came when he transformed himself into the poet Hugh MacDiarmid in the early 1920s, using a revitalized Scots language for modern literary purposes in short lyrics and then in his long modernist poem A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle (1926). He gathered a group of innovative writers around him, although not all were committed to writing in Scots. He himself was a forceful prose writer, and his polemical periodical writing, while furthering his new cultural ideas, also created discord, especially in relation to political matters. After the breakdown of his marriage, he spent most of the 1930s in the remote Shetlands, where he wrote a considerable amount of outstanding poetry. His long poem In Memoriam, James Joyce: From a Vision of World Language, incorporating poetry of the late 1930s that had not achieved publication, was published in Glasgow by William Maclellan in 1955. MacDiarmid has always been a controversial figure in Scotland partly because of his contradictory politics and partly because of the nature of his poetry—in both “synthetic Scots” and the later “synthetic English.” He has also attracted strong critical support, much of it from the United States, where his first volume of collected poems was published in 1962, followed by his voluminous collected letters (1984) and several perceptive critical studies. In Scotland the 1960s to late 1980s constituted a rich period for critical works, with earlier assessments balanced by new criticism as a result of the publication of his complete poems in 1978. While the period from the 1990s saw the reprinting of his prose work in Carcanet Press’s MacDiarmid 2000 project, his reputation as a poet retreated during the same period. This appears to be changing, with his poetry increasingly perceived as a valuable contribution to international modernist writing.

Article.  14527 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (British and Irish)

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