Edwin Muir’s lines from his poem, The Ring, begin The Origins of the Mure Family:
Long since we were a family,
a people, the legends say;
an old kind-hearted king
was our foster father, and our life a fable.
Edwin Muir was a Scottish poet, novelist and translator, born on a farm in Deerness in the Orkney Islands. He is remembered for his deeply felt and vivid poetry written in plain language with few stylistic preoccupations. (15 May 1887 – 3 January 1959)
Muir’s family lost their farm and moved to Glasgow when he was fourteen. He soon lost his parents and two brothers – their deaths and the dislocation from the Orkneys had a lasting influence on his life.
“I was born before the Industrial Revolution, and am now about two hundred years old. But I have skipped a hundred and fifty of them. I was really born in 1737, and till I was fourteen no time-accidents happened to me. Then in 1751 I set out from Orkney for Glasgow. When I arrived I found that it was not 1751, but 1901, and that a hundred and fifty years had been burned up in my two-day’s journey. But I myself was still in 1751, and remained there for a long time. All my life since I have been trying to overhaul that invisible leeway. No wonder I am obsessed with Time.” (Extract from Diary 1937–39.)
A selection of Muir’s poetry is included here in honor of the literary and creative talents of our family members from the past such as Sir William Mure of Rowallan, or Thomas Moore from Ireland.
Robert the Bruce
(To Douglas in dying)
‘My life is done, yet all remains,
The breath has gone, the image not,
The furious shapes once forged in heat
Live on though now no longer hot.
‘Steadily the shining swords
In order rise, in order fall,
In order on the beaten field
The faithful trumpets call.
‘The women weeping for the dead
Are not sad now but dutiful,
The dead men stiffening in their place
Proclaim the ancient rule.
‘Great Wallace’s body hewn in four,
So altered, stays as it must be.
O Douglas do not leave me now,
For past your head I see
‘My dagger sheathed in Comyn’s heart
And nothing there to praise or blame,
Nothing but order which must be
Itself and still the same.
‘But that Christ hung upon the Cross,
Comyn would rot until time’s end
And bury my sin in boundless dust,
For there is no amend
‘In order; yet in order run
All things by unreturning ways.
If Christ live not, nothing is there
For sorrow or for praise.’
So the king spoke to Douglas once
A little while before his death,
Having outfaced three English kings
And kept a people’s faith.
Yes, yours, my love, is the right human face.
I in my mind had waited for this long,
Seeing the false and searching for the true,
Then found you as a traveler finds a place
Of welcome suddenly amid the wrong
Valleys and rocks and twisting roads. But you,
What shall I call you? A fountain in the waste,
A well of water in a country dry,
Or anything that’s honest and good, an eye
That makes the whole world bright. Your open heart,
Simple with giving, gives the primal deed,
The first good world, the blossom, the blowing seed,
The hearth, the steadfast land, the wandering sea,
Not beautiful or rare in every part,
But like yourself, as they were meant to be.
So from the ground we felt that virtue branch
Through all our veins till we were whole, our wrists
As fresh and pure as water from a well,
Our hands made new to handle holy things,
The source of all our seeing rinsed and cleansed
Till earth and light and water entering there
Give back to us the clear unfallen world.
We would have thrown our clothes away for lightness,
But that even they, though sour and travel stained,
Seemed, like our flesh, made of immortal substance,
And the soiled flax and wool lay light upon us
Like friendly wonders, flower and flock entwined
As in a morning field. Was it a vision?
Or did we see that day the unseeable
One glory of the everlasting world
Perpetually at work, though never seen
Since Eden locked the gate that’s everywhere
And nowhere? Was the change in us alone,
And the enormous earth still left forlorn,
An exile or a prisoner? Yet the world
We saw that day made this unreal, for all
Was in its place. The painted animals
Assembled there in gentle congregations,
Or sought apart their leafy oratories,
Or walked in peace, the wild and tame together,
As if, also for them, the day had come.
The Shepherds’ hovels shone clean at the heart
As on the starting-day. The refuse heaps
Were grained with that fine dust that made the world;
For he had said, ‘To the pure all things are pure’.
And when we went into the town, he with us,
The lurkers under doorways, murderers,
With rags tied round their feet for silence, came
Out of themselves to us and were with us,
And those who hide within the labyrinth
Of their own loneliness and greatness came,
And those tangled in their own devices,
The silent and the garrulous liars, all
Stepped out of their dungeons and were free.
Reality or vision, this we have seen.
If it had lasted but another moment
It might have held forever! But the world
Rolled back into its place, and we are here,
And all that radiant kingdom lies forlorn,
As if it had never stirred; no human voice
Is heard among its meadows, but it speaks
To itself alone, alone it flowers and shines
And blossoms for itself while time runs on.
But he will come again, it’s said, though not
Unwanted and unsummoned; for all things,
Beasts of the field, and woods, and rocks, and seas,
And all mankind from end to end of the earth
Will call him with one voice. In our own time,
Some say, or at a time when time is ripe.
Then he will come, Christ the uncrucified,
Christ the discrucified, his death undone,
His agony unmade, his cross dismantled-
Glad to be so- and the tormented wood
Will cure its hurt and grow into a tree
In a green springing corner of young Eden,
And Judas damned take his long journey backward
From darkness into light and be a child
Beside his mother’s knee, and the betrayal
Be quite undone and never more be done.