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Hugh Macdiarmid, pseudonym of Christopher Murray Grieve Biography

(1892–1978), pseudonym of Christopher Murray Grieve, Northern Numbers, Annals of the Five Senses, Sangschaw, Penny Wheep

Scottish poet, critic, and Scottish nationalist, born at Langholm, Dumfriesshire, educated at Broughton Student Centre and the University of Edinburgh. In 1912 he began his career as a journalist in Scotland and South Wales. He became involved in 1920 in the movement to revive indigenous Scottish culture and edited three editions of Northern Numbers (1920, 1921, 1922), an anthology of Scottish poetry (see Scottish Renaissance). His first collection of verse, Annals of the Five Senses, appeared in 1923. Intent on evolving a form of written Scots adequate to the concerns of the twentieth century, he reinforced the dialect of his native region with vocabulary and usages from literary and etymological sources. Conscious of the degenerative influence of sub-Burnsian sentimentality, he promoted Dunbar as exemplifying a vigorous poetry in Scots. Sangschaw (1925) and Penny Wheep (1926) contain many poems demonstrating the appropriateness of MacDiarmid's linguistic idiom to his energetic and imaginative abilities as a poet; the thematic range of the collections extends from erotic lyricism to theological speculation. A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle (1926), a work of epic dimensions and great stylistic scope, fuses his vision of Scottish nationhood with his broader philosophical and cultural preoccupations. In 1928 he was among the founders of the National Party of Scotland, which he was asked to leave in 1933. He subsequently joined the Communist Party, from which he was expelled in 1938 for ‘national deviation’. His persistently controversial political attitudes involved him in numerous unsuccessful parliamentary candidatures. Ideological concerns became dominant in his poetry with To Circumjack Cencrastus (1930) and the emphatically polemical First Hymn to Lenin (1931). English emerged as the principal language of his later work in Stony Limits (1934), which contained ‘On a Raised Beach’, the fullest exposition of his metaphysical beliefs. His later collections include In Memoriam James Joyce (1954) and The Kind of Poetry I Want (1961), which indicate his increasing intellectual and technical eclecticism. By the 1950s he was internationally recognized as a major poet and made visits to Russia and China. Collected Poems appeared in two volumes in 1978, with a revised edition in 1982. Among his numerous prose works are the essays of At the Sign of the Thistle (1934) and The Uncanny Scot (1968) and the autobiography Lucky Poet (1943). MacDiarmid: The Terrible Crystal (1983) is a biography by Alan Bold, who also edited The Letters of Hugh MacDiarmid (1984).

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Earl Lovelace Biography to Madmen and Specialists