I first read Hugh MacDiarmid’s poems before knowing anything at all about MacDiarmid the man. There are many poets for whom this state of innocence has much to recommend it, but perhaps for few more than the pugnacious anglophobe Hugh MacDiarmid (aka Christopher Murray Grieve, 1892-1978), who brings to mind Auden’s lines about Time that ‘worships language and forgives/Everyone by whom it lives’. I am aware that for many MacDiarmid’s political views – he managed to espouse both fascism and communism – are not in the least forgivable, and I sympathise, but I feel that when it comes to poetry one has to make some effort to play the ball and not the man, and it does seem to me that among all the rant of his work there are, like it or not, some memorable fine lyrics.
At My Father’s Grave
The sunlicht still on me, you row’d in clood,
We look upon ilk other noo like hills,
Athort a valley. I’m nae mair your son.
It is my mind, nae son o’ yours, that looks,
And the great darkness o’ your death comes up
And equals it across the way.
A livin’ man upon a dead man thinks
And ony sma’er thocht’s impossible.