Only slowly has Hugh MacDiarmid come to be recognized as a major twentieth century poet. He spent most of his life laboring in one way or another for Scotland and won his earliest acclaim there. He was a founder, in 1927, of the Scottish Center of PEN, the international writers’ organization, and of the National Party of Scotland the following year, although his always radical political views led him into the Communist Party in the 1930’s.
Despite his extreme social and political views, his friends were legion. He once observed that few other people could boast of friendships with William Butler Yeats, T. S. Eliot, and Dylan Thomas, and the circle of his admirers extended worldwide. After many years of promoting, usually undiplomatically, Scotland and Scottish culture, he was awarded a Civil List pension in 1950, and although his criticism of Scottish education continued unabated, Edinburgh University awarded him an honorary doctor of laws degree in 1957.
Not until the 1960’s, however, did MacDiarmid’s poetry begin to appear in British and modern poetry anthologies. Despite a general awakening to his greatness since that time, reliable commentary of his work remains largely in the hands of Scottish critics. As an innovator in modern literature, MacDiarmid deserves to be ranked with Eliot, James Joyce, and Samuel Beckett.