A Sough O War

Murray was in his fiftieth year when the Great War broke out. The poems he wrote early in the conflict were conventionally patriotic, employing the archaic imagery of chivalric war.

Wha Bares a Blade
for Scotland?

Wha bares a blade for Scotland? She's needin' ye sairly noo,

What will ye dae for Scotland for a' She has dane for you?

Think o' the auld-time slogans, the thread runnin' throu' your plaid,

The cairns o' the Covenanters whaur the martyrs' banes are laid;

Ay, the faith o' your godly fathers, is it naething to you the day?

Wha bares a blade for Scotland? noo is the time to say.

But he was capable of profounder insights. He knew that ordinary country people often felt that the complexities of international politics and events in far-off countries had nothing to do with them. In 'Dockens Afore His Peers', a prosperous farmer appears before an exemption tribunal (which decided who was liable for conscription) and by alternately cajoling and threatening succeeds in getting his considerable workforce exempted from active service:

'Dockens Afore His Peers' Play

Dockens Afore His Peers
(Exemption tribunal)

Nae sign o' thow yet. Ay, that's me, John Watt o' Dockenhill:

We've had the war throu' han' afore, at markets ower a gill.

O ay, I'll sit, birze ben a bit. Hae, Briggie, pass the snuff;

Ye winna hinner lang wi' me, an' speer a lot o' buff,

For I've to see the saiddler yet, an' Watchie, honest stock,

To gar him sen' his 'prentice up to sort the muckle knock,

Syne cry upo' the banker's wife an' leave some settin' eggs,

An' tell the ferrier o' the quake that's vrang aboot the legs.

It's yafa wedder, Mains, for Mairch, wi' snaw an' frost an' win',

The ploos are roustin' i' the fur, an' a' the wark's ahin'.

Ye've grun yersel's an' ken the tyauve it is to wirk a ferm,

An' a' the fash we've had wi' fouk gyaun aff afore the term;

We've nane to spare for sojerin', that's nae oor wark ava',

We've rents to pey, an' beasts to feed, an' corn to sell an' saw;

Oonless we get the seed in seen, faur will we be for meal?

An' faur will London get the beef they leuk for aye at Yeel?

But in large-scale modern wars, the entire population is affected one way or another - including those at home. Murray recognised the suffering of those left behind when men were called up, especially the women - mothers, wives and girlfriends, as in the moving 'When Will the War be By?'

When Will the War be By?

"This year, neist year, sometime, never,"

A lanely lass, bringing hame the kye,

Pu's at a floo'er wi' a weary sigh,

An' laich, laich, she is coontin' ever

"This year, neist year, sometime, never,

When will the war be by?"

"Weel, wounded, missin', deid,"

Is there nae news o' oor lads ava?

Are they hale an' fere that are hine awa'?

A lass raxed oot for the list, to read -

"Weel, wounded, missin', deid";

An' the war was by for twa.

Like many of his contemporaries, Murray came to see the war as futile - a change of mind recorded in the sardonic 'Gin I was God'. In it, the wholesale slaughter and destruction is no longer blamed on the 'Hun' but simply on 'man':

'Gin I was God' Play

Gin I was God

Gin I was God, sittin' up there abeen,

Weariet nae doot noo a' my darg was deen,

Deaved wi' the harps an' hymns oonendin' ringin',

Tired o' the flockin' angels hairse wi' singin',

To some clood-edge I'd daunder furth an', feth,

Look ower an' watch hoo things were gyaun aneth.

Syne, gin I saw hoo men I'd made mysel'

Had startit in to pooshan, sheet an' fell,

To reive an' rape, an' fairly mak' a hell

O' my braw birlin' Earth, - a hale week's wark -

I'd cast my coat again, rowe up my sark,

An', or they'd time to lench a second ark,

Tak' back my word an' sen' anither spate,

Droon oot the hale hypothec, dicht the sklate,

Own my mistak', an', aince I'd cleared the brod,

Start a'thing ower again, gin I was God.