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The Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld., Australia)
Saturday 2 December 1933


CHARLES MURRAY.
The Scots Poet of To-day.
 
In the week that lies around St. Andrew's Day it is the congenial national custom of Scotsmen in all parts of the Empire and beyond it to recall the greatness of Caledonia and to eat the haggis-not without appropriate libations to the appetite-provoking skirl of the bag- pipes. Such a picturesque andlaudable custom needs no defence, for, with the other three national celebrations, it demonstrates how happily the four variegated strands that link us to the land of our fathers are woven together in our Australian national sentiment. There is, perhaps, one misconception that lingers round St. Andrew's Day, not only among kindred societies, but among Scots themselves, that Scottish literature came to its climax and close with the poems of Robert Burns and with the ballads and romances of Sir Walter Scott. No one who knows anything of the long story of Scottish letters from the "King's Quhair" and the "Makkars," Henryson, Dunbar, and Douglas down to the three Robins-Robert Ferguson, Robert Burns, and Robert Louis Stevenson can doubt that in Scott and Burns Scottish literature reached its golden age. But Scottish letters did not come to an end with the death of Sir Walter a century ago. A silver age followed the golden, the age of Hogg and Galt and Allan Cunningham, a period when the vernacular became confined to an ever narrowing province, and, the schoolmaster being abroad in the land, the speech of the people became, in the towns at least, a broadened and dilapidated English. "Though," John Buchan reminds us, "the dwellers north of the Tweed will be eternally distinguishable from their neighbours by certain idiosyncrasies of speech, these idiosyncrasies will be of voice and accent and not of language." And even there the Ayrshire dialect varies from the Aberdonian.

Perhaps the last of the Scottish poets to use the pure Scots is Charles Murray, who was bom in the "Howe of Alford," in Aberdeenshire, nearly 70 years ago. In his boyhood this beautiful valley of rural Scotland was sequestered enough to retain the substance of the racial Doric uncontaminated.

Charles Murray went out as a youth to South Africa and became a noted engineer on the Rand, and finally Chief Engineer and Secretary for Public Works in the Transvaal. But all this time of exile seems only to have accentuated his fond memories of home, and with this emotion the fire of Scots poetry burned within him. Some poems he printed in Aberdeen in 1900, but the full "Hame with" appeared in 1912, followed by "A Sough o' War " In 1917 and "In the Country Places" in 1920. "Hame with" was welcomed so heartily in Scotland that it has run through many editions. Aberdeen University gave him by way of laurel its Doctorate of Laws, and the King the C.M.G. in 1922.

Charles Murray spends the evening of his days in his native Alford. It is rather paradoxical that the Chief Scottish poet of to- day should have written his verses in South Africa. One wonders if he had come to Gympie or Charters Towers, instead of going to Johannesburg, whether this alien would have sung as passionately of home. ….

'Hero on the Rand we freely grant
We're blest wl' sunny weather;
Frae cauld and snaw we're weel awa,
But man, we miss the heather.'

Andrew Lang, hailing Charles Murray as true poet, who, like the last Pict, held the secret of "brewing the ale from the heather," commented on this circumstance. "To the patriotic Scot there is somewhat affecting in the echoes of very rich Scots which reach us across the African continent and seas that row beween.”.

The Scots of Mr. Murray is so pure that it may puzzle some patriots whose sentiments are stronger than their linguistic acquirements. In a far-off land Mr. Murray retains the sentiment of a forgotten time and is haunted by the scent of peat and bog-myrtle, the sound of old words that are now strange, the poverty that was not the mate of discontent." No one exhibits more strongly than Charles Murray the Scottish "animus revertendi," not even Will H. Ogilvie when he wrote in Australia his "Bowmount Water."

'I've faced the fremt, its strain an' toll, in market an' in mine.
Seen Fortune ebb an' flow between the "chains";
Sat late o'er starlit banquets where tho danger spiced the wine;
But bitter are the lees the alien drains;
For all tho time the heather blooms on distant Benachie,
An' wrapt In peace tho sheltered valley Iies,
I want to wade through bracken
In a glen across the sea
I want to see the peat reek rise.'

Some of the best of Charles Murray's poems are those describing with wonderful touches of realism “the characters" of his native place-the pachman, the lettergae, or precentor, the miller, skilly kirsty, and the antiquary, but the dialect is as difficult as Chaucer's to the general reader. As a translator of Horace into braid Scots Charles Murray has been wonderfully concise and successful in his examples.
Here is how he translates into homespun the famous ode, "Pérsicos odi"

'Foreign fashions, lad, allure you,
Homespun happlt I would be;
Bring nae mair, for I assure you
Ferlles only scunner me.
Fancy tartans, clanless, gaudy.
Mention them nae mair, I say;
Best It suits your service, laddie.
An' my drlnkln,' hodden-grey.'

With equal skill he has put into Scots Horace's farewell to gallantry. The imitation ends thus …..

'O' life an' love I'm by wl' a',
Tho' I've had cause o' balth to brag;
Hang dirk an' chanter on tho wa',
Nae mair I'll reive or squeeze the bag.'

In his war-poem, "To the Hind most Man," Charles Murray expresses the deepest note that vibrates in the hearts of his countrymen on St. Andrew's night …..

'North or South, as our Fate may find us,
East or West, as our luck may lan',
Send but the cry and abreast ye bind us
Scotland yet ! - to the hindmost man.'

And he re-echoes it in ….

'Scotland our mlther-- this from your sons abroad
Leavln' tracks on virgin veld that never kenned a road,
Trekkln' on wl' weary feet, an' faces turned frae hame,
But lovln' aye the auld wife across the seas the same.'

Scots letters of late have had a remarkable renaissance. In verse the vernacular inevitably binds the poet in form to the past, but the Scottish poets of to-day are filling the old bottles with new wine. And it was Charles Murray who led the way.

Return to John's Poetry Page

 


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