Robert Crawford: Poet 1877-1931

by Robert Aitken 12th March 2008

Following the story of the 1922 disaster at No 4 pit, East Plean, a Mrs Charlotte Gibson wrote to the editor with the story of a Plean miner who triumphed over disaster, her grandfather Robert Crawford of whom she is rightfully proud, Robert was born in Dalry in Ayrshire in 1877, his family moved to Haywood in Lanarkshire when he was nine, at the age of thirteen he worked in a colliery and then on the railway, from 1906 until 1919 he worked as a collier at Plean until a roof fell in on him, injuring him so that he could no longer do the heavy manual labour required of a miner, during the years of enforced idleness a latent talent as a poet bloomed.

Robert was a member of The Scottish Centre Pen, founded in 1927 by Hugh MacDairmid, an organisation dedicated to freedom of expression. Robert is listed as a member in 1928 along with Neil M.Gunn, Edwin and Willa Muir, W.D. Cocker of the Daily Record, John Cockburn of the Evening Times, Professor W. McNeile Dixon of Glasgow University, Professor W.J.Entwhistle of Glasgow University, Compton Mackenzie and David Cleghorn Thomson of the B.B.C. along with dozens more. As a measure of his character he was asked by a Captain Thorneycroft to speak out against the growing trade union movement, this he refused to consider. He was acknowledged as a great speaker he was in much demand at Burns suppers, as a guest speaker at the Scots Vernacular Association of Edinburgh along with The Hon. Lord Sands he was billed as one of the finest living Scottish poets.

Here are some lines from”The Scottish Emigrant”

“Ring up the past, Bring pictures old and sweet,
Names more than music, round our being wound,
Old storied Scotland crystallised in sound,
Her temple hills where atheists might pray,
When amber gloaming drops on Rothesay bay
And o’er the misty Cumbraes, rising red,
The moon , great with romance, rears up its head,
Ye hills, Ye moors, ye pockets of dark fir,
Where the blue nights come up with little stir,
And touch the cord that reaches on past Death
That hour when breathless nature take a breath,
Grey wardens o’er the far atlantic flood,
Core-deep ye thrill the tartan in the blood!
Though exiled far by Fate’s compelling arm
For you in death, I think my heart would warm,
For you I mourn when some true Scot is sped,
Who leaves this land that will not give him bread,”

Walter de la Mere said of his poems ” In Quiet Fields” “These poems prove once more how amazingly a real gift can triumph over circumstance”
Robert died four days after his granddaughter Charlotte was born and two months later a letter was sent to his widow in Plean from the Golden Syndicate Publishing Company from Los Angles California, who wished to get his permission to include him in a publication called The Who’sWho of Living Authors of Older Nations.

Here is the last of five poems from “Coalscapes” giving a glimpse of what was endured.

“The fiery blast has swept the pit, – yet men
Come forward as against a spirit wind
That blows all littleness far behind,
And fans the strong blood up to dare again
Earth’s crumbling bowels- the tremendous pen
That hides their mates, if living, fast confined
By dislodged mountains-rocks that, undermined,
Follow the fire-fiend’s roar with dull Amen

A thousand feet below the Carbrook meadows
Intrepid hands unbar those fate-loud gates,
Where placid death in yet warm awful shadows
With blackened trunks and shock-sealed stare
Mutely they gather these, -unless God hears,
Ploughing each grimy face, Messiah-tears.”

Robert Crawford is buried in Bannockburn Cemetery; his headstone was erected by his fellow poets and bears the inscription “In Quiet Fields”.

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