This week I attended the funeral of my father in law, James Muir. Not many in the wider world will have heard of James, but I owe him a great debt. In the early years of our acquaintance I was a raw youth; I knew quite a lot about science but very little of anything else. James on the other hand was wise in ways I couldn’t then comprehend. We would spend occasional hours together and, over a few ales, I would talk of science and scientists, of atoms and astronomy and he would speak of poets and poems, of songs and stories. I am sure I got much more from these discussions than he did, but such was his generosity of spirit he didn’t seem to mind. James always searched out the best in people and they in turn strove to be better than they were and we are diminished by his passing.
As well as a lecturer at Glasgow University and Jordanhill College, James was member and sometime Secretary and Vice President of the Scottish Association of Writers. He received the Association’s Annual poetry prize from none other than Norman McCaig 1. Later he was awarded the Associations’ First Novel Prize adjudicated by Margaret Thompson Davies2, and the Constable Trophy. I have selected one poem from his collection Legacy, let it speak for itself.
I throw a stone into the air
And give it energy, I’m told,
Which on its upward curving flight
Converts into another form,
Holds at apex in potential pause,
Until by earth’s attraction wooed
It plummets down in forceful fall
Dives through the sheen of placid pool
Sends rippling waves across its face
In symmetry of spreading circles,
Till one by one they fade and die.
And all the energy is lost, it seems;
But it is there, as heat – the force
That drives the engine of the world.
This energy abides in all I see,
In flowers at my feet, in birds above,
And bending trees, in all that rests or moves;
In the quietest day, in the wildest storm.
Nor is it ever lost or lessened,
Or added to, but keeps its store unchanged,
Chameleon-like in all its different forms:
And it abides in you and me,
For we are it and it is us.
Is there an immortality in this,
Vague consolation for those of us
Who have no God, and no hope of heaven:
That we will be converted at the last,
That when the pleasures and the strains
Of music and life are felt no more,
Yet in this world some scrap of us remains?