Found: Hugh MacDiarmid’s forgotten war poems

Scottish poet, writer and political activist Hugh MacDiarmid in 1972. Picture: Hamish Campbell
Scottish poet, writer and political activist Hugh MacDiarmid in 1972. Picture: Hamish Campbell
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Forgotten works by one of Scotland’s most celebrated poets, Hugh MacDiarmid, have been discovered in his birthplace in Dumfriesshire – a century after they were written.

Penned under his real name – Christopher Murray Grieve – the 15 poems were found among the archives of the library in his home town of Langholm. The first of these appeared exactly a century ago today in his local newspaper when he was just 22 years old. Like the rest, it had not seen the light of day since then.

Entitled A Recruit’s Farewell to Eskdale, it was written while Grieve was stationed at Hillsborough Barracks in Sheffield. In it the poet, who was to become one of the most influential Scottish writers in the 20th century, reflects on his youth in the “Muckle Toon”, as Langholm is known.

The collection was unearthed by Ron Addison, a retired teacher and historian who runs the library – the same building in which Grieve grew up at the end of the 19th century.

Addison’s search through the back copies of the Eskdale and Liddesdale Advertiser began after he became convinced that someone determined to make his mark as a poet must have been eager to comment on the war in which he was to see active service in France and Greece.

He spent months searching for evidence of work by MacDiarmid, who was to prove a hugely divisive figure due to his radical political views, which saw him expelled from the forerunner to the SNP.

He said: “You can imagine my delight when I turned a page and there amongst the adverts for liver pills was a wee poem by ‘C.M.G’. I was stunned. In the 
following days I unearthed another 14 missing poems.

“He’s a young man away from home. He’s looking backwards, he’s sentimental. They are unlike anything that he produces later on. It’s chalk and cheese and there’s no distinct style.”

Professor Patrick Crotty, a MacDiarmid expert who is compiling the anthology, said: “The poems are undoubtedly by Grieve. Not only do they bear his signature and appear in the local paper, they also anticipate his mature work in interesting ways.”