Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Why I Choose Red -- Hugh MacDiarmid

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.


  1. Ah ha!! I discovered two new things today: That Hugh MacDiarmid is the pen name for Christopher Murray Grieve; and the artist Vladimir Tatlin, of whom I had never heard before. I need to do a little research into this gentleman.

    Two questions for you: is the first painting by Rothko? I've never seen it. Also, do you have or have you read "Mikhail Larionov and the Russian Avant-Garde" by Anthony Parton (1993, Princeton University Press)? It's fascinating ...

    General Observation (political, but not really) ... I notice that Republican women tend to wear more red than their Democratic peers. That's just something I always wondered about ... generally.

  2. I'm glad this caught your attention and you seem to like it. I wasn't aware of Hugh MacDiarmid until last year. He was an exceptional and important poet, as well as a crucial figure in the 20th century "Scottish Renaissance." He's definitely worth a significant amount of attention, which is rewarded with a lot of pleasure. The upper painting is by Mark Rothko and is called Maroon on Red. It dates from 1959 and was one of Rothko's four paintings comprising the Seagram Murals, which he painted to hang in NY's Four Seasons restaurant, before reneging on the arrangement. It's a kind of weird story. The Seagram paintings were dispersed and this one hangs in the Tate in London. I am very familiar with Larionov, but not the book you mention, which would interest me. Larionov was kind of a hero of mine when I was in college. You will find reading about Tatlin and looking at his work ultra-amazing. Interestingly, one of my most popular blog posts, with nearly 8,000 views, is Tatlin-related:


    I wanted to post the Rothkos with the MacDiarmid poem, rather than something more clearly "political" (like a Tatlin or a Malevich for instance, where red-colored work exists) because Rothko's reds are so memorable and intense and because his politics (which were progressive, if a little oblique) takes a back seat to mood.

    I guess Republican women are trying to brand-identify, maybe? Red is a nice color, obviously. Apparently, they're always telling men to wear red ties on tv because they stand out. I'll try to notice more. Like a lot of men, my knowledge and observation of women's fashion tends to be limited. Curtis

  3. Nice pairing. MacDiarmid's "The Fire of the Spirit" would be a good title for some of the Seagram's murals. Oh, beloved paintings!

  4. Thanks. Now I'll have to read that poem. I really liked this one. MacDiarmid is a confounding figure. His mixture of kinship/clannishness and contrariness is kind of what makes the world go around. He must have been an incredible person to know. Curtis