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Scots Language Centre Centre for the Scots Leid

Hungry Waters by Hugh MacDiarmid


'Hungry Waters', by Hugh MacDiarmid, is one of the poems from 'The Kist' -  an anthology of Scots (and Gaelic) poetry and prose that was digitised by Education Scotland and gifted to the Scots Language Centre so that teachers and learners can continue to benefit from this valuable resource.


For a little boy at Linlithgow. 

Hungry Waters by Hugh MacDiarmid


The auld men o the sea
Wi their daberlack hair
Hae dackered the coasts
O the country fell sair.

They gobble owre cas‘les,
Chow mountains to san’;
Or lang they’ll eat up
The hail o the lan’!

Lickin their white lips
An yowlin for mair,
The auld men o the sea
Wi their daberlack hair.


Learning Resources




Read the poem and listen to the audio file.

Discuss the poem, and the following questions, with a partner.


  1. What is the poem about?
  2. Who or what are the old men of the sea and what are they doing?
  3. Which of the following words do you think best describe the poem?
    clever, funny, horrific, strange, evil, ugly, powerful, silly, nonsensical, fantastic, mysterious, original, energetic, nightmarish, puzzling, disturbing, grotesque, realistic.



  1. List the words that rhyme at the end of lines and explain the pattern used. Which lines rhyme and which don't?
  2. Why do you think the poet repeats the first two lines again at the very end? Can you think of a reason for this kind of repetition in a poem about the sea?
  3. Look more closely at the images in the poem. Explain how you picture the auld men and what words give you this picture.




Write a piece of descriptive prose or a poem about a storm or coastal erosion, suggested by 'Hungry Waters'.




Think more about the ‘auld men’. Write about a nightmare or fantasy involving the sea and strange creatures.