Poetry Corner: Why I Choose Red by Hugh MacDiarmid

Why I Choose Red by Hugh MacDiarmid

Dr Christopher Murray Grieve, who wrote under the pen-name of Hugh Macdiarmid, was the greatest Scottish poet of the twentieth century. Best-known for what he called “Lallans”, a literary form of the Lowland Scots language that he developed, he also made use of English.

At different stages of his life he was a supporter of Scottish nationalism and communism. Famously, he stood for the Communist Party against Tory Prime Minister, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, in the Kinross & West Perthshire constituency in the 1964 general election, as part of an unsuccessful bid to get television time for the Party. His A Sprig of White Heather in the Future’s Lapel, written for former Communist MP Willie Gallacher on the occasion of the latter’s 80th birthday, is particularly famous among Britain’s Communists.

Here we feature Why I Choose Red, one of McDiarmid’s strongly political poems.


Hugh MacDiarmid, 1892 – 1978

I fight in red for the same reasons
That Garibaldi chose the red shirt
– Because a few men in a field wearing red
Look like many men – if there are ten you will think
There are a hundred; if a hundred
You will believe them a thousand.
and the colour of red dances in the enemy’s rifle sights
and his aim will be bad – But, best reason of all,
a man in a red shirt can neither hide nor retreat.

Hugh McDiarmid

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