Poet, essayist and translator.

Born: 22 March, 1926; Died: September 21, 2014

Alastair Reid, who has died aged 88, was, like Robert Louis Stevenson, born with feet that never stopped itching. His many passports were like densely packed stamp albums and testimony to his inveterate wanderlust. France, Spain, Greece, Switzerland, Central and South America all figured often on his itinerary. At various times he lived in Majorca, on a barge on the Thames and in a beach-side shack in the Dominican Republic on the exact spot where Christopher Columbus first alighted in America and where he cultivated ginger.

Home, however, was New York, where he lived with Leslie Clark, a television producer and writer, who became his second wife. Together they shared a one-room apartment in Greenwich Village from whose windows Reid had a bird's-eye view of the human comedy.

He could not have chosen a place, geographically and psychologically, much further from his roots. Born in 1926 in Galloway, he grew up "bound by the rhythms of the soil, always outdoors, helping at neighbouring farms, haunting small harbours, looking after animals, or romping in the oat and barley fields that lay between our house and the sea".

His father was minister at the Isle of Whithorn where, as the congregation sang about anchors holding in the storm of life, waves could be heard breaking against the church's wall. His mother, meanwhile, was a doctor. People wandered in and out of the family house constantly, some looking for spiritual guidance, others for instant panaceas. Leaving Galloway for Fife ("the flintier east") was a wrench which Reid never wholly got over.

For the poet and essayist, Scotland was one of several parishes. For him it was a place where presbyterianism seeped into the soul like a persistent drizzle on a damp day. In Digging Up Scotland, one of his most notable essays, Reid wrote of the "girn and grumble" that lingers on in the Scots and of "the black cloud of Calvin" that hangs over the Scottish spirit.

His most famous poem, Scotland, sums up his sentiments in its last line, "We'll pay for it, we'll pay for it, we'll pay for it!" The speaker is a woman from a fish shop who is everything the poet is not. No-one could have been less guilt-ridden than Reid, no one more dismissive of religion. Laid back almost to a horizontal degree, he lived life on his own terms. He wrote when he felt the urge or when there was a need to put bread on the table. He travelled light and never in haste. He preferred to think of himself as a foreigner rather than a tourist, the principal difference between them being that tourists have to go home.

Reid's "point of departure" was St Andrews University. After a year in the Navy in the Second World War, he had seen the Mediterranean, the Red Sea, the Indian Ocean, and decided that he had to get away. He stumbled on Spain, where he learned the language and, in 1953, met Robert Graves. Soon Reid was welcomed into a household that was as chaotic as it was bohemian. Graves, the author of the bestselling memoir Good-bye to All That and a series of successful and popular historical novels, showed his young protege how to survive as a poet.

"He said often that he bred show dogs in order to be able to afford a cat," wrote Reid. "The dogs were prose; the cat was poetry."

Reid's dog was the New Yorker magazine. He was associated with it for more than 50 years, contributing some 100 articles and poems. Its brilliant, legendary editor was William Shawn who gave his writers licence to roam and words aplenty in which to express themselves. Reid liked to recall how Shawn would hold up the press as they argued over the relative merits of colons and semi colons.

His beat was first Spain then Latin and Central America. It was the era in which magical realism was evolving, the essence of which is the collision of the marvellous and the real. Blessed with the gift of striking up instant and enduring friendships,

Reid got to know its most gifted practitioners and others whom lazy critics lumped in with. He translated Jorge Luis Borges and Pablo Neruda and knew well Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Carlos Fuentes and Mario Vargas Llosa. On his mantelpiece in Greenwich Village there was an ornament of a parrot, like Long John Silver's Captain Flint, which Marquez had given him.

In 1964, he met Neruda for the first time, at Isla Negra in Chile, above a beach where the Pacific thundered incessantly. His house was crammed with objects which Reid likened to "a kind of vocabulary". Because he wore no shoes, Neruda nicknamed him Patapela: Barefoot.

In April 1971, Borges visited Reid in Scotland. He was then living on the outskirts of St Andrews. His first marriage had broken up and he was raising his son Jasper. His return to the native heath prompted him to take stock and contrast life in the East Neuk with that of the hispanic world. He was struck by the orderliness of the home of golf.

"Something was always chiming," he recalled. "Punctually at five-thirty in the evening, the streets emptied; shop locks clicked shut almost simultaneously up and down the street. It felt like a place that had taken care to deprive itself of surprises." Absence, it seems, had not made his heart grow fonder.

By then, however, Reid was an established poet, a writer of elegant prose and an admired if "occasional" translator. His first collection of poems, To Lighten My House, published in 1953, drew comparisons with WH Auden and Dylan Thomas.

Though he was never prolific, other collections appeared at regular intervals. In 1959 came Oddments Inklings Omens Moments and in 1963 Passwords. In 1978, he published Weathering. In its preface, he wrote: "Collections of poems, with their parenthetical dates, have something of the aura of tombstones; but for a poet, the main point in publishing them is to set the poems free, like grown children, in order to turn, unencumbered, to the blank page of the present." More recently, his poetry and prose were collected in two volumes, titled Inside Out and Outside In, by Polygon.

Over the last few decades Reid liked to spend at least part of the year in Scotland, on a friend's farm near Garlieston. He made regular appearances at book festivals and followed the fortunes of Heart of Midlothian with the avidity of an addict.

No matter where he was, he always tried to tune in to the Saturday evening football results. On assignment for the New Yorker, he covered a few World Cups but when it was held in the United States elected to following proceedings from a pub in Edinburgh.

He was the recipient of several honorary degrees, at which ceremonies he appeared in suit and tie, neither of which he normally wore, preferring more casual attire. Muriel Spark, with whom he became good friends in the 1960s, once said he was the worst dressed man in New York, which was perhaps unfair but not without foundation. As a writer, however, his style was peerless.

He is survived by his sons, Jasper and Michael, his grandson Ian and granddaughter Ella, and his wife Leslie.