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Behind the scenes at the Scottish Poetry Library

The Thursday Post: Honouring Scotland's WW1 Poets

Today, the Scottish Poetry Library, in partnership with City of Edinburgh Council, Edinburgh Napier University, University of Aberdeen and Dignity Funerals, launches an online poll (click here to take part) to find a quote to be inscribed on a monument remembering Scotland’s war poets. Over the next fortnight, we’ll be asking Scots to read and select from six quotes by poets who wrote about their experience of the First World War. The quotes are taken from poems written, as you’d expect, by soldiers, but there is also one by a woman, by a father who lost his son and by a Gael.

The monument is a Celtic Cross, which incorporates a pen design, will be erected in Edinburgh's Makars' Court, where lines by Scotland’s greatest writers are inscribed on paving slabs. While many know the work of war poets such as Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, Scotland's war poets are less well known and it is hoped that the poll will help raise awareness amongst Scots of their literary heritage. The quotes were chosen by Lizzie MacGregor, editor of Beneath Troubled Skies – Poems of Scotland at War, 1914-1918 (Polygon).

The poets whose words we’re asking the public to vote on are:

David Mackie (1891-1956)
Murchadh Moireach / Murdo Murray (1890-1964)
Neil Munro (1864-1930)
J.B. Salmond (1891-1956)
J.E. Stewart (1889-1918)
Mary Symon (1863-1938)

Let’s take a closer look at each poet and their poem.

David Mackie

Will you forget?
Like those in other wars,
The soldier and the scars –
Will you forget?

From ‘Will You Forget?’
Read the poem here.

Ayrshire man Mackie was a journalist before and after the First World War and became the editor of The Southern Reporter newspaper in the Borders.

Murchadh Moireach / Murdo Murray

Dùin suas an dachaigh 's fàg an neòinean àillt
A' seinn am beus san deothaig mhilis chiùin;
'S mar chuimhneachan tog crois air laoich a bha.
('Close up the dwelling, and leave the lovely daisy / To sing their virtue in the sweet breath of wind; / And raise a cross as a memorial over warriors gone)

From 'Na Mairbh san Raoin (Geàrr-Luinneag)'/ ‘The Dead in the Field’
(Translation by Ian MacDonald)
Read the poem here.

Moireach was born in Back, Lewis, in 1890. Upon the outbreak of war, he volunteered and joined the 4th Battalion of the Seaforth Highlanders. Most of his war was spent at the front, in the trenches, but he escaped harm until 1918 when he was badly wounded, in the arm.

Neil Munro

Sweet be their sleep now wherever they’re lying
Far though they be from the hills of their home.

From ‘Lament For the Lads’.
Read the poem here.

Highlander Munro left his native Argyll to find work in Glasgow, but the Highlands stayed in his heart, and featured in most of his literary work, most famously in his Para Handy stories. He also visited the front line several times in the capacity of war correspondent in 1914 and 1917 and the war touched him personally when his son Hugh was killed in the Battle of Loos.

J.B. Salmond

Still we hear the music across the poppied corn
Across a world of sorrow the ghostly pipers blow.

from ‘Twenty Years Ago’.
Read the poem here.

Salmond was a journalist, poet and novelist who served in the First World War, edited The Scots Magazine for over twenty years, wrote acclaimed histories and contributed much to the cultural life of Scotland. In June 1917 Salmond was admitted to Craiglockhart War Hospital, and was treated for neurasthenia there until November. During that time he edited the hospital magazine, The Hydra, with Wilfred Owen as his sub-editor.

J.E. Stewart

Make our story shine
In the fierce light it craves.

from ‘Revisiting the Somme’.
Read the poem here.

Stewart was a teacher in Coatbridge, and an officer in the Border Regiment during the First World War, with one book of poetry published in 1917. Despite an unprivileged childhood, he won a place at the University of Glasgow, from where he graduated with an MA in 1910. He took over command of the 4th Battalion South Staffordshire Regiment in April 1918, and was killed on 26 April at Kemmel Hill in the 4th Battle of Ypres.

Mary Symon

Lads in your plaidies lyin' still
In lands we'll never see
This lanely cairn on a hameland hill
Is a' that oor love can dee.

From ‘The Soldiers' Cairn’.
Read the poem here.

Several of the best-known poems telling of the awful impact of the First World War upon the people of Scotland came from the pen of a woman from Dufftown - Mary Symon, whose poem ‘The Soldiers’ Cairn’ brought her to popular notice, and remain much anthologised.
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The online poll will run for a fortnight until Friday 17 August, with the result announced via the Scottish Poetry Library's website shortly afterwards.

The monument will be unveiled at a special ceremony in mid-November. The Celtic cross will be the first standing monument in Makar's Court, where tributes are usually inscribed on paving slabs. The cross will be sited to the left of entrance to the Writers Museum, a corner spot currently unoccupied.

The memorial has been gifted by Dignity UK Funerals.

To vote, click here.

Category: war poems