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Charles Murray (1864-1941) - Poet

He was born on 28th September 1864 in Alford, Aberdeenshire, Scotland. After an apprenticeship with an
Aberdeen engineering firm, he emigrated to South Africa in 1888 and worked as an engineer with a gold-mining company. During the Boer War he served as a lieutenant with the Railway Pioneer Regiment and then entered the service of the Government of the Union of South Africa, becoming its Secretary of Public Works in 1912. He was made an Honorary LLD. of the University of Aberdeen in 1920 and was created a CMG in 1922, two years before his retirement and final return to Scotland. He died in Banchory, Kincardineshire, on 12th April 1941. During his years in South Africa Murray started writing poetry in the dialect of the north-east of Scotland, tinged with nostaglia for his native land. A limited edition of early poems, A Handful of Heather, was published in 1893 but subsequently withdrawn, and his reputation rests on his collection, Hamewith, which was first published in Aberdeen in 1900. It was revised with an introduction by Andrew Lang in 1909, and subsequent editions in 1917, 1927 and 1944 contained additional poems from his collections A Sough o' War (1917) and In the Country Places (1920). Although Murray's early poetry was characterized by his celebration of the rural past of his childhood, he was no tear-jerking sentimentalist. In his often anthologized poem, 'The Whistle', he shows a lively feeling for the language and cadences of the Aberdeenshire farming countryside, and he was to say in later life that it was simply inevitable that he chose to write in his native dialect. His later poems demonstrate a more controlled and compressed use of language, especially his war poem Dockens Afore his Peers, a masterly evocation of the garrulous and insensitive farmer who uses his own standing in the community to gain exemption from war service for his youngest son. After Murray's retirement his popularity and standing in north-east Scotland were such that when his poem 'There's Aye a Something' appeared in the Aberdeen Press and Journal in spring 1933 the first edition sold out by 9.00 a.m. and two extra editions had to be printed. Murray's vigorous use of language springs directly from his roots in the Scottish countryside and, beyond that, the oral tradition which has been kept alive in the great ballads and folk-songs of the north-east. His Complete Poems were published in 1979 with an introduction by Nan Shepherd.

Works: A Handful of Heather (1893); Hamewith (1900), A Sough o' War (1917); In the Country Places (1920); Hamewith and Other Poems: Collected Edition (1927); The Last Poems (1969).

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