Hugh MacDiarmid MacDiarmid, Hugh (Pseudonym of Christopher Murray Grieve) (Vol. 4) - Essay

Christopher Murray Grieve

MacDiarmid, Hugh (Pseudonym of Christopher Murray Grieve) (Vol. 4)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

MacDiarmid, Hugh (Pseudonym of Christopher Murray Grieve) 1892–

MacDiarmid, sometimes called the modern Burns, is a Scottish lyric poet and essayist, best known for A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle, his long poem written in Lallans, the "synthetic" Lowland Scots literary language. M. L. Rosenthal has said that he is one of the least known poets "who can conceivably be called 'great'." (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.)

MacDiarmid's Collected Poems represent a massive achievement. Massive in both senses: although a good many pieces have been dropped by the author, the volume still runs to almost 500 pages; and among them is poetry of the first importance.

But it is also an extraordinarily patchy achievement. Like Shelley, who was the last important English radical poet, or like Ezra Pound with whom, despite their politics, MacDiarmid has a good deal in common, he has written far too much. Even the first slight lyrics run on and on. He finds it hard to let a subject be, or to distinguish between what he once called 'The Kind of Poetry I Want' and the kind of poetry he can write.

There are four stages in MacDiarmid's artistic evolution. In the first, he was a sharp but fairly conventional lyricist with hankerings after God. Then, in the mid-twenties, he started writing in Scots. The language he used put him in touch, at least theoretically, with the audience he was after. Though he was not yet in the C.P., he was a fierce Scottish Nationalist and far on the left. The vernacular poems were written for his ideal readers (whom he probably, like most influential poets, created): proletarian, intelligent, hard, witty, a bit battered and wholly un-English….

[His] best work more than makes up for the boredom, clumsiness and didacticism of the bad. He has managed a curious creative amalgam of old and new, uniting great feeling for his country, its traditions and language, with the strengths of the ideal modern industrial man: virile, unaffected, passionate and, like the poet himself, taking both poverty and learning for granted.

A. Alvarez, "Hugh MacDiarmid" (originally published in The Observer, 1962), and included in his Beyond All This Fiddle: Essays 1955–1967 (copyright © 1968 by A. Alvarez; reprinted by permission of Random House, Inc.), Random House, 1968, pp. 82-4.

[It] is clearly from medieval Scottish poetry that MacDiarmid inherits his ability to move from lyric to flyting, as well as his grasp of physical reality. In this, he is more lucky than William Carlos Williams, in whose letters we can trace a baffled resentment at that theory of modern poetics which would deny validity to the ordinary details of twentieth century life. There is a careful recording of a pub scene in The Waste Land, but The Drunk Man, like the Night-town sequence in Ulysses, is written by someone for whom it is a natural backdrop. Does this adherence to a national tradition exclude MacDiarmid from the main concerns of contemporary poetry? From Anglo-American, perhaps, but his answer surely would be that he rejoins contemporary literature at a wider point on the arc, with the semi-public racially conscious poetry of writers, like Lorca and Pablo Neruda.

If the early poetry derives from a willed rediscovery of what the schoolbooks used condescendingly to call the Scottish Chaucerians (I may seem to be riding the point but some recent reviews indicate that English critics are still not prepared to pay MacDiarmid the simple courtesy of recognizing the tradition he is working in) the best of his middle poetry often springs from his fascination with the maimed Celtic tradition. I am thinking of poems like "Island Funeral", "Direadh" and above all, "Lament for the Great Music"….

[The] central question of MacDiarmid's career [is that] any attempt to concentrate on an aspect of his work tends to be dissipated by "the seamless garment" of his vision, especially in the later poems. Thus A Drunk Man sweeps up all the lyrics and doric-ised reading of a particular period, but the first section of In Memoriam James Joyce leans back to incorporate stanzas from "In a Caledonian Forest" (Stony Limits) and "In the Shetland Islands" (The Islands of Scotland), 1934 and 1937 respectively.

This is the kind of thing which annoys critics bloodhounding for development, though it may well be the clue they are looking for. The primary reason for the change, acknowledged by the poet himself, seems to have been a mystical intuition of the universe as a unity of energies. This was always latent in MacDiarmid, whose early books combine poems of marvellously coarse farmyard detail, like "In Mysie's Bed", with glimpses of interstellar space….

But when he attempts an explicit statement, as in "Moment of Eternity", which actually opens the Collected Poems, the language is too conventional to convince us that he has experienced Ygdrasil rather than a Shelleyan dream…. Nor does he come closer in The Drunk Man where the visions of eternity are so locally tethered that he can use "the mighty thistle in wha's boonds I rove" to mock the ending of the Divina Commedia, the one real failure of taste in MacDiarmid's masterpiece.

It was at some point afterwards, probably during his lonely sojourn in the Shetlands, that his sense of the endless pattern of the universe became overpowering….

Seamless garment or water of life, there is a force in MacDiarmid's later work which often dissipates the contrast and detail upon which, line by line, poetry must depend. And here perhaps one should enter the dangerous but necessary ground of poetic psychology; for the Universe of Light, the poetic equivalent of the Burning Bush seen by Moses in the Old Testament, is only one of the two primary poetic experiences. There is also the Muse, who, even through the medium of someone else's translation doctored into doric, dominates the variety of A Drunk Man….

Certainly he has been for many years the most interesting of what John Berryman once described to me as "the outriders" in contemporary poetry, the only one who has sought to reconcile defiant adoption of a local or special tradition with the international claims of modern poetry. When I first discovered Stony Limits in the darker shelves of a Dublin library I was dazzled by its variety and energy, and although I think Austin Clarke has transferred more of the skills of Gaelic poetry into English, and that MacDiarmid's later poetry might be more successful if he had learnt, like David Jones, to break the line for emphasis, his Collected Poems makes most contemporary work seem thin-blooded. His aggressive masculine pose may seem inimical to sincerity, but it is close to … Wyndham Lewis's famous prescription for modern poetry: one knows that it is a man singing, and not a bird.

Tom Scott, "'Lament for the Great Music'," in Agenda, Autumn/Winter, 1967–68, pp. 19-34.

Hugh MacDiarmid's work has always been rooted in locality; it is as local as the poetry of Wordsworth or Basil Bunting, both in language and in its sense of place, and, because of this, the intelligence that informs it is international in the best sense. While fighting the stupidity of parochialism throughout his life, he has always realized that true internationalism grows out of, and is indissolubly part of nationalism. It is consequently essential that his work is seen in a native, and European setting and not as an appendage to English poetry whose tradition is at least partially alien to that Scotland….

A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle is one of the very few works of modern literature that never tire. There is a huge pressure of tragic emotion behind the words of "private experience at its greatest intensity becoming universal", to use a phrase of T. S. Eliot, set against a background of the night, the elements, and the dereliction of Scotland in the twentieth century….

It is often said that it is impossible for a poet to write well in a language that is alien to him, and MacDiarmid occasionally writes Southern English with an insensitivity that I think springs from its innate foreignness to the tradition to which he is indigenous. It is doubtful whether any poet could be equally at home in both English and Scots. English for a Scot is the language of prose as Latin was in the Middle Ages. Scots, or Gaelic is the language of poetry and the prosiness of MacDiarmid's later poems stems directly from his decision to write them in English.

But, although the rhythm of his English poems is always closer to that of prose than verse, there are times (The Lament for the Great Music is a good example) when the ideas are "assimilated by the sensibility" and embodied poetically so that the result is magnificent. This occurs in various contemplative poems where the 'philosophy' stems directly from experiences in desolate or lonely places. MacDiarmid's finest later poems often have this sense of place integrating the fragmentation of his curiosity. This is true of the many memorable poems in A Lap of Honour, particularly of Diamond Body, with its detailed description of sea flora and fauna that has a quality akin to passages of Agassiz which deal with the "intelligence working in nature"…. At such times a balance is achieved between all the conflicting elements of his poetry and he goes some way to creating a rhythm to express this…. [The] sense of "the interdependencies of life", of serenity, and rest, amid a welter of disparate experience, he never excludes, is probably the most moving quality of MacDiarmid's later work. And although often his language only lamely expresses the true seriousness of his vision, I believe that he has written a body of durable poetry both in Scots, and to a lesser extent in English, that "formed by cataclysm and central fires" and of "broken lights", realizes, at least in flashes,

              the harmony of that
              Which is,
              The pure phenomenon
              Abiding in the eternal radiance.

William Cookson, "Some Notes on Hugh MacDiarmid," in Agenda, Autumn-Winter, 1967–68, pp. 35-41.

MacDiarmid was the first Scots poet whose original verse expressed a post-romantic sensibility; and he was the first to be acutely aware of the contemporary world….

A Drunk Man Looks at the Thisle, the first major poem in Scots for at least a century, ranged widely over time and space, exploring the fundamental mysteries of love and death and human destiny. In form, the work was a dramatic monologue, a meditation on Scotland, the world and the universe as these appeared to an intoxicated reveller who had tumbled into a roadside ditch while plodding his weary way homeward from the pub. While his drunken imagination reeled and plunged across the cosmos, the hero delighted equally in the gorgeous and the grotesque, the obscene and the absurd, the mystical and the material, finding beauty in the terrible and terror in the trumpery. Abrupt transitions and sudden changes of mood were dictated by the association of ideas in the drunk man's mind, and the poem proceeded by means of a series of shocks of surprise, as the sublime suggested the ridiculous and the ridiculous the sublime.

Bound together by the complex character of the protagonist, who was by turns a satirical critic of Scottish life, a wondering spectator of his own situation, a lover of beauty whose senses were alive to the finger-tips, and a speculator on the mysteries of time and fate, A Drunk Man was at once a portrait of the author, a vision of the world, and an exploration of the nature of reality. "A sardonic lover in the routh [plenty] of contraries," MacDiarmid created new and striking harmonies from elements of comedy, satire, farce, documentary, lyricism and tragedy, the range and richness of his personality going far towards resolving the contradictions of experience….

Hugh MacDiarmid, who has restored Scots as a language of the highest poetical art, is the greatest of all Scots makars, and one of the great poets of the world.

Alexander Scott, "Hugh MacDiarmid and the Scottish Tradition," in Agenda, Autumn-Winter, 1967–68, pp. 42-51.

Some of MacDiarmid's theories strike me as plain daft, although I find others very convincing and all of them stimulating and, in themselves, a fascinating monument to the most fertile mind Scotland has produced in centuries. I am not here suggesting that MacDiarmid is a great creative thinker and, indeed, I have an idea he was thinking as much of himself as Yeats when he put the following quote at the head of a poem addressed to Yeats: 'The philosophical content of his poetry [Yeats's] is neither consistent nor systematic. The poet was not a creative thinker, and his genius drew from many sources and influences, lacking a supreme originality. Here, in fact, is an intellectualism, which stands apart from the classic English tradition.'

One of the strengths of MacDiarmid as a poet has been his ability to build up these intellectual theories in the eclectic manner ascribed to Yeats in the above sentence and, even more important, when he has outgrown them—as a poet—to disregard them as he builds up new or changed theories. He has often enough attacked others for not accepting ideas which he himself disregards in his poetic practice. These theories then, far from being a restrictive influence on his poetry, have been supporting structures for him and which he especially needed as a poet writing in isolation and in the ruins of the Scottish literary tradition. Without much doubt the most fruitful of MacDiarmid's personal theory building has been that which he built in the twenties and which has been important outside his own poetry in that it has produced the Scottish Literary Revival. But for all that, his theories for a renaissance of Scottish poetry were also one of the main cultural supports for his own poetry….

[The] stance taken by MacDiarmid has been beneficial to Scottish poetry and also I think has served his poetry well in that, as with other of his creeds, he used it but was not slow to ignore it when it suited his purpose. As Yeats said 'passionate man must believe he obeys his reason'.

Duncan Glen, "Hugh MacDiarmid: Supporting Roles," in Agenda, Autumn-Winter, 1967–68, pp. 53-8.

All poets are political, consciously or unconsciously—if we except the purely vegetable: for the poet whose work does not reflect the most vital and yearning involvement with the social forces of his time must be dismissed as not merely inhuman, but anti-human. Quite frequently, too, the poet is the pioneer and pathfinder in momentous political development, blazing and illuminating the trail, the mere politicians hirpling behind, powerful suction that follows in the wake of the advancing Zeitgeist. MacDiarmid is such a poet.

He has had a hand in the founding of every Scottish Nationalist movement in existence—as well as one or two no longer extant….

As long as MacDiarmid is connected with it, Scottish Nationalism is a strong disadvantage to anybody who aspires to acceptance by what is loosely but usefully known as The Establishment. A literary man after a title, or a place in the list of a fashionable publisher, or a University lecturer hoping for a Regius professorship may be a Socialist or even a Communist without too much harm to his prospects; as a Scottish Nationalist he would have no chance whatever….

Monetary reform, Nationalism, Social Revolution. Three political ideas, not disparate, but not equivalent either, in all of whose names great and terrible mistakes have been made, but whose objective validity, for us at least, matters less than their value as fertilising influences on the poetry of Hugh MacDiarmid; poetry, that in an inevitable process of cross-fertilisation, disseminates itself into the minds of the people, who may not yet realise that it is one of the few political forces they have anything to hope from. Until they do, let us do our best to honour this great political poet: enjoy his irony and his economics; his passion and his polemics; his tracts and his tendernesses: all gathered together in a mental grip awesome in its tensile strength; and all released at last in poetry the magic of which is inescapable forever.

Hugo Moore, "Hugh MacDiarmid in Politics," in Agenda, Autumn-Winter, 1967–68, pp. 59-64.

Although not quite right neoplatonism most readily indicates the sort of experiences and ideas central to MacDiarmid's work…. This is not to say they are all ideas traceable to Plato or Plotinus, or elements of an independent system adopting their terminology, or occasional intuitions now to be set in order with professional rigour….

What makes neoplatonism in logic a system of such subtlety and complexity, the derivation of the Many from the One, is in the experience of the imagination so simple that in art the difficulty is rather to avoid monotony. Simple as they are, the actions of the imagination are not all of equal force or the same direction. To distinguish their vectors is one of the functions of criticism. The margin of error is large: it ought all the same to be permitted to talk about these things.

An attitude of neoplatonism characteristically English is that of aspiration to the One. It is compatible with other attitudes evincing humility but directed upwards: appeal to mistress, obeisance to monarch, praise of God. These attitudes of supplication and subservience coalesce: Spenser's celebration of Heavenly Beauty has the same poetic vector as his flattery of Gloriana. The causes are no doubt social, the experience of ecstasy having been fitted into a system of feudalism where stress was laid on the difficulty and rarity of rising. If we remain inside the European vocabulary of neoplatonism successful union with the One must then be associated with acts conventionally disapproved: adultery, lèse-majesté, blasphemy. The aspiration may consequently, as in Shelley, be complicated by sentiments of revolt, a spurning of the actual condition, or somersault into the reversal of roles where the last becomes first and Punch hangs the hangman.

To escape this implication of the traditionally English but not originally Hellenistic concept the self-deification of MacDiarmid's poetry is perhaps better mentioned in terms of the identification of Atman with Brahman. In comparison with that of the feudalistic English, MacDiarmid's may be regarded as a neoplatonism turned inside out. Instead of a lovesick serf raising himself from the soil to salute the unattainable you have a genial, uncertain and ill-organized centre, occupied by MacDiarmid himself, from where the extremes of reality are contemplated in directions outward and downward. Both his and the English are monentary if not accidental states, owing little or nothing to spiritual exercise and coloured by emotion. The pitfall of the English is pretension, of the Scots, arrogance. As to the process of unification it seems that three stages are distinguishable: a rather disagreeable narcissism where the mind boosts itself without working, a preliminary irritable thrashing about among notebooks and recollections and, after a moment of incommunicable revelation, entry into the stage where the poet speaks with a monopoly of movement and a sound like talking to God.

MacDiarmid leaps the gap between One and Many at the price of rejecting the whole of the middle area of existence where the human comedy is played. His abhorrence of the middle was no doubt reinforced by circumstances: a country denuded of much of the apparatus of national life, its civilization reduced to a mockery of its former self or replaced by organs of the hideous khaki empire. The lonely at-one-ment with all worth while set up as standard in his lines to Doughty implies the rejection of all the solemn plausibilities of the world listed in Lucky Poet. MacDiarmid's contempt of the world, the recognition that it is impossible to rise to position or power without a great sacrifice of human values at every upward turn, the isolation which begins by avoiding contact and ends by destroying it, contains an intense objection to all movements upward. They are seen not only as proofs of ambition or as suicidal separations from reality but as evidence of a view of the world seen from the bottom or edge. Surely nothing less than a theory of metaphysics buttressed by nationalism and communism could have provoked his attack on the dytiscus beetle, harmless bug.

Established at the centre and ignoring the middle MacDiarmid's poetry reaches out to the remote extremities of the real. It is fascinated by the diversity of detail at the fringe. To the egalitarian intellect one thing is as good as another so long as it differs from everything else. (In MacDiarmid a certain favouritism is apparent for things not exactly animate but which under terrestrial conditions attach themselves to human life: landscapes, colours, jewels, viruses.) Hence his collections of particulars: the lists of stones in The Kind of Poetry I Want and On a Raised Beach, of tree-colours in In the fall, of manual gestures in The Glass of Pure Water, of languages and the Norn words for movement of the sea in In Memoriam James Joyce. Brilliantly as they are written, these catalogues are not, like those of Joyce or Rabelais, games of a mind exulting in its virtuosity and liberation from constraint. They are counterparts to the hymns to intellectual beauty. Reversing the adoration from below of an abstract and monotonous One, MacDiarmid's poetry celebrates the utmost multiplicity of the Many….

MacDiarmid draws on the sciences for knowledge of the detail running in parallel with them without overstepping the boundaries of discourse. Beyond speech lie the symbolical systems of logic, mathematics, chemistry etc. In its description of ultimate detail, MacDiarmid's poetry goes to the limit set by the rational imagination but not further. Unlike some poetry of today, it does not use language in unusual ways in the hope of evoking by magic or chance a part of the reality that lurks in the gaps between words. It retains the expository character which dominated European poetry of the renaissance up to the romantics. Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen.

But though the unsayable cannot be said, its unsayability is sayable—at least up to a point and then one could say the unsayability of that. Having come to the end of what it can rationally and verbally expound MacDiarmid's poetry states the impossibility of going further….

To the extent that neoplatonism derives from the experience of a moment its exposition in poetry tends to be either reminiscence or agitation. It depicts the imperfections of the world in relation to a remembered or potential whole. It therefore easily turns to advocacy of change in the sense defended in the Second Hymn to Lenin. Poetry of this kind, operating in the area between representation and action, has for essential function not the mere manifestation of meaning but its utterance with conviction piercing enough to persuade others, with the original energy art can canalise but not simulate.

Kenneth Cox, "Hugh MacDiarmid's Neoplatonism," in Agenda, Autumn-Winter, 1967–68, pp. 65-71.

It is difficult to explain to Englishmen what Hugh MacDiarmid has meant to Scotsmen of my generation. His politics have often been absurd. It is difficult to be patient with a man who could spend his life fighting for Scotland's freedom from England and then turn round and applaud Russia's crushing the Hungarian revolt. In his public appearances—and in some of his prose essays—he often contrives to present an image of a bar-room orator, cantankerous, argumentative and totally unreasonable. But his poetry, and particularly the poems written in the 1920s and 1930s, are another matter. I do not want here to enter into the old argument as to whether the language, Lallans, which he invented for his purpose has any future. The plain fact is that he used it with magical skill to express his meaning. And what he had to say in A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle rang like a bell in my mind.

He taught us that what was now generally thought of as Scottish culture was sentimental and debased; that, through our own neglect, we had lost or forgotten an earlier, truer Scottish culture; that until we rediscovered it our lives would be empty and unsatisfying….

Most important of all, he showed, like Yeats and others had done in Ireland, that a literary renaissance could point the way to a renaissance of national feeling.

John Douglas Pringle, "Anglo-Scot," in Encounter, November, 1970, p. 32.

[Like MacDiarmid] Pound and Zukofsky have sought a poetry of facts … but neither, I think, has ever quite separated facts from metaphysics. MacDiarmid has his mysticism; and no doubt science itself is founded on undefined faith: but MacDiarmid sees things washed clean of irrelevancies as Darwin did. Suckling poets should be fed on Darwin till they are filled with the elegance of things seen or heard or touched. Words cannot come near it, though they name things. Their elegance is part precision, more music….

For MacDiarmid all knowledge is organized by art and centres round it. He has written much about art, mainly about poetry itself, seen oftenest in the light of complex music. Sometimes his writing seems to be largely an attempt to persuade people muddled by economics and politics, enthralled by feats of technology, that their safety lies at last in poetry and music, poetry as music, words that name facts dancing together.

Thus there is no gulf between the great series of MacDiarmid's didactic and polemical poems—The Kind of Poetry I Want for example—and the lyrics, ballads and meditations in Lowland Scots which are nearer to types less literate ears can recognize and some of them well on the way already to being as much loved as the best of Burns. In these, the sound is the sense, whatever a man with a dictionary may make of it, as it is in the best of the songs we inherited from Tudor poets as much musicians as poets. It is not for the likes of me to hamper them with comments. They are for ears. Read them aloud. They are not all modulations on folktunes; but if you can follow a pibroch or disentangle a fugue none will fail to reach you.

To say that MacDiarmid reinvented a nation when he wrote A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle is not a very flagrant exaggeration; by now it is almost a commonplace. Since, he has enriched that nation, not only in poems which boarden the original theme, such as The Island Funeral or Lament for the Great Music, but with others perhaps less accessible but no less valuable based on interests astonishingly wide which have led him to chase knowledge in many sciences and many languages. He has been fertile and generous. The five hundred pages of what is called his Collected Poems fall far short of his output. Two new volumes, More Collected Poems and A Clyack-Sheaf, still leave much work we will not willingly lose sight of unobtainable, to be the matter for future volumes till someone issues the Complete Poems we need.

Basil Bunting, "Thanks to the Guinea Worm," in Agenda, Autumn-Winter, 1970, pp. 117-21.

Much has been said by sympathetic critics of the way in which the Scots tradition of 'flyting' (literary invective) is powerfully apparent in Mr MacDiarmid's work—a comment which the poet has himself endorsed. Sceptically, one might reply that this traditional coverage makes bad temper a matter of rhetoric and abrasive mirth. Certainly, the note of scurrility is frequently sounded by MacDiarmid, often against those who might have been thought to be numbered with him….

Lucky Poet, is … an intellectual autobiography and challenges comparison with such works as Heine's Confessions, or Herbert Read's Annals of Innocence & Experience. Without the elegance and wit of the first or the reflection and mental order of the second, Lucky Poet is—what it has been called—a veritable rag-bag of a book: a vast compilation of ill-sorted quotations strung together on a thread of invective. Not that there are not interesting things in it. His chapter on The Kind of Poetry I Want—a chapter made up of verse and prose—advances Mr MacDiarmid's notion of a poetics of fact, introducing us to his theory and practice as a poet of science and technology….

On the television Celebration Programme for Mr MacDiarmid's 80th birthday, Edwin Morgan described him as the most uneven of great poets he could think of. The same lack of self-correction—of artistic and intellectual distancing—flaws this energetic, annoying and carping autobiography. Mr MacDiarmid tells us he regards Lucky Poet as his second most important book—his first, and natural, choice being his volume of verse A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle. All of which goes to show that Mr MacDiarmid is much in the dark about himself and his works—just what one would expect of such a volcano!

Derek Stanford, "Lucky MacDiarmid," in Books and Bookmen, October, 1972, p. viii.

MacDiarmid belongs, with Pound, Joyce, Eliot, to the great beginning of the modern movement. But the lines of that movement were mapped out some time ago, its tendencies and achievements fixed, excluding MacDiarmid. (As William Carlos Williams has often been excluded or undervalued, and I think for the same reasons; Williams has much in common with MacDiarmid.) For one thing, this situation bears out MacDiarmid's own observations about the general ignorance of Scottish culture and its virtual nonexistence in the world. More than that, it shows that in important ways MacDiarmid differed from his fellow modernists, and that his differences aligned him with the future, with struggles which he made central to his life and work but which had not yet appeared to be central to modernism. He now speaks with clarifying force on precisely the issues about which men like Pound, Yeats, Eliot, and Lawrence were most confused and untrustworthy. MacDiarmid is the one major poet in our language (or near it) who has been constantly, authentically, and actively allied with the political Left. It is the struggle to achieve this position, the depth of his grasp of its implications, and finally the richness he brought to it that are described in Lucky Poet and embodied in [The Hugh MacDiarmid Anthology]….

He is for the working class and was born into it, but he is also in his own words a "high-brow," an intellectual, a writer of "difficult poetry," and he deplores "the philistinism of most of my fellow Communists." He is a national poet, self-appointed; but he has never limited himself to national subjects, and is apt to do so least when he is writing about Scotland; and he is incapable of propaganda. If we consider how often Communists lack culture, intellectuals lack any notion of the just place of labor in human society, internationalists lack an understanding of place and native quality, nationalists lack openmindedness, materialists deny the spirit and spiritualists deny matter, we may realize that MacDiarmid has written and acted with great awareness, thoroughness, and rightness in bringing these fragmentary views together into the "seamless garment" of his vision.

Richard Pevear, in The Hudson Review (copyright © 1973 by The Hudson Review, Inc.; reprinted by permission), Vol. XXVI, No. 1, Spring, 1973, pp. 192-94.