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International Socialism, Spring 1960


Hugh MacDiarmid

Second Hymn to Lenin


From International Socialism (1st series), No. 1, Spring 1960, pp. 13–15.
Transcribed by Christian Høgsbjerg, with thanks to Paul Blackledge.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Every door in any town should be wide open to that great lyric poet Hugh MacDiarmid, a light burning in every window, food and drink on each table, and a bed aired, with sheets. If only one could think of all the statues that will one day be put up to him all over Scotland, work out roughly how much these statues will cost and give him the money now. Posterity can look after itself: that is its function. Honour the brief lives now.Dylan Thomas

We take this opportunity of wishing Hugh MacDiarmid and his wife a speedy recovery from the effects of their recent motor accident.Editors

Ah, Lenin, you were richt. But I’m a poet
(And you c’ud mak allowances for that!)
Aimin’ at mair than you aimed at
Tho’ yours comes first, I know it.

An unexamined life is no’ worth ha’in’.
Yet Burke was richt; owre muckle concern
Wi’ Life’s foundations is a sure
Sign o’ decay; tho’ Joyce in turn

Is richt, and the principal question
Aboot a work o’ art is frae hoo deep
A life it springs – and syne hoo faur
Up frae’t it has the poo’er to leap.
And hoo muckle it lifts up wi’it
Into the sunlicht like a saumon there,
Universal Spring! For Morand’s right –
It s’ud be like licht in the air –

Are my poems spoken in the factories and fields,
                        In the streets o’ the toon?
Gin they’re no’, then I’m failin’ to dae
                        What I ocht to ha’ dune.

Gin I canna win through to the man in the street
                        The wife by the hearth,
A’ the cleverness on earth’ll no’ mak’ up
                        For the damnable dearth.

Haud on haud on; what poet’s dune that?
                        Is Shakespeare read,
Or Dante or Milton or Goethe or Burns?
You heard what I said.

– A means o’ world locomotion,
The maist perfected and aerial o’ a’.
Lenin’s name’s gane owre the haill earth,
But the names o’ the ithers? – Ha!

What hidie-hole o’ the vineyard d’they scart
Wi’ minds like the look on a hen’s face,
Morand, Joyce, Burke, and the rest
That e’er wrote; me noo in like case?

Great poets hardly onybody kens o’?
Geniuses like a man talkin’ t’m sel’?
Nonsense! They’re nocht o’ the sort
Their character’s easy to tell.

They’re nocht but romantic rebels
Strikin’ dilettante poses;
Trotsky – Christ, no’ wi’ a croon o’ thorns
But a wreath o’paper roses.

A’ that’s great is free and expansive.
What ha’ they expanded tae?
They’ve affected nocht but a fringe
O’ mankind in ony way.

Barbarian saviour o’ civilization
Hoo weel ye kent (we’re owre dull witted)
Naething is dune save as we ha’e
Means to en’s transparently fitted.

Poetry like politics maun cut
The cackle and pursue real ends,
Unerringly as Lenin, and to that
Its nature better tends.

Wi’ Lenin’s vision equal poet’s gift
And what unparalleled force was there!
Nocht in a’ literature wi’ that
Begins to compare.

Nae simple rhymes for silly folk
But the haill art, as Lenin gied
Nae Marx-without-tears to workn’ men
But the fu’ course insteed.

Organic constructional work,
Practicality, and work by degrees;
First things first; and poetry in turn
’ll be built by these.

You saw it faur off when you thocht
O’ mass-education yet.
Hoo lang till they rise to Pushkin?
And that’s but a fit!

Oh, it’s nonsense, nonsense, nonsense.
Nonsense at this time o’ day
That breid-and-butter problems
S’ud be in ony man’s way.

They s’ud be like the tails we tint
On leavin’ the monkey stage;
A’ maist folk fash aboot’s alike
Primaeval to oor age.

We’re grown-ups that haena yet
Put bairnly things aside

A’ that’s material and moral
And oor new state descried.

Sport, love, and parentage,
Trade, politics, and law
S’ud be nae mair to us than braith
We hardly ken we draw.

Freein’ oor poo’ers for greater things,
And fegs there’s plenty o’ them,
Tho’ who’s still trammelt in alow
Canna be tenty o’ them

In the meantime Montehus’ sangs –
But as you were ready to tine
The Russian Revolution to the German
Gin that ser’d better syne,

Or foresaw that Russia maun lead
The workers’ cause, and then
Pass the lead elsewhere,
and aiblins Fa’ faur backward again,

Sae here, twixt poetry and politics,
There’s nae doot in the en’.
Poetry includes that and s’ud be
The greatest poo’er amang men.

– It’s the greatest, in posse at least,
That men ha’e discovered yet
Tho’ nae doot they’re unconscious still
O’ ithers faur greater than it.

You confined yoursel’ to your work
– A step at a time;
But, as the loon is in the man,
That’ll be ta’en up i’ the rhyme,

Ta’en up like a pool in the sands
Aince the tide rows in,
When life opens its hert and sings
Withoot scruple or sin.

Your knowledge in your ain sphere
Was exact and complete
But your sphere’s elementary and sune by
As a poet man see’t.

For a poet maun see in a’thing,
Ev’n what looks trumpery or horrid,
A subject equal to ony
– A star for the forehead!

A poet has nae choice left
Betwixt Beaverbrook, say, and God.
Jimmy Thomas or you,
A cat, carnation, or clod.

He daurna turn awa’ frae ocht
For a single act o’ neglect
And straucht he may fa’ frae grace
And be void o’ effect.

Oor profoundest word yet,
But how far yont even that
The sense o’ onything’s set!

The inward necessity yont
Ony laws o’ cause
The intellect conceives
That a’thing has!

Freend, foe; past, present, future;
Success, failure; joy, fear;
Life, Death; and a’thing else,
For us, are equal here.

Male, female; quick or deid,
Let us fike nae mair;
The deep line o’cleavage
Disna lie there.

Black in the pit the miner is,
The shepherd reid on the hill,
And I’m wi’ them baith until
The end of mankind, I wis.

Whatever their jobs a’ men are ane
In life, and syne in daith
(Tho’ it’s sma’ patience I can ha’e
Wi’ life’s ideas o’ that by the way)
And he’s nae poet but kens it, faith,
And ony job but the hardest’s ta’en.

The sailor gangs owre the curve o’ the sea,
The hoosewife’s thrang in the wash-tub,
And whatna rhyme can I find but hub
And what else can poetry be?

The core o’ a’ activity,
Changin’t in accordance wi’
Its inward necessity
And mede o’ integrity.

Unremittin’, relentless,
Organized to the last degree.
Ah, Lenin, politics is bairns’ play
To what this maun be!

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