X marks the Scot

Ever since I discovered the poem, Scotland Our Mither, by Charles Murray, I’ve had an urge to create a piece of calligraphic artwork based on it. Only fellow calligraphers will comprehend such an urge. We calligraphers discover words that strike a chord… and we are suddenly fetching our pens and putting them to paper. It happens to me all the time. It’s not enough just to read the words. I have to become involved with them, to immerse myself in them… I’m compelled to be creative.

But, as I said, it’s a calligrapher-thing. My “normal” friends just don’t get it.

Scotland Our Mither is written very much from the perspective of an expatriate Scot. So, although I am Scottish through and through, I have no idea why the poem’s sentiments affect me so much, since I’ve never spent more than a fortnight outside Scotland at any one time. I certainly can’t identify with the thoughts of an expatriate. And I’m reluctant to admit that, despite being a Scot, I don’t understand much of the language, which is written in Old Scots.

Yet the poem somehow got under my skin, and so I started writing. The resultant artwork is shown above, (or larger on Flickr).

The poet, Charles Murray (1864-1941), was born and raised in Alford in north-east Scotland, but he emigrated to South Africa. The poem, Scotland Our Mither, features in his second book of poetry, Hamewith.

A previous post featured a quotation that I was similarly compelled to write. Maybe I should consult a doctor about my “affliction”!

And so that I know I’m not alone, if any other calligraphers suffer from a similar “affliction,” I’d love you to leave a comment.


The Poem (thanks to rampantscotland.com)…

Scotland Our Mither

Scotland our Mither – this from your sons abroad,
Leavin’ tracks on virgin veld that never kent a road,
Trekkin’ on wi’ weary feet, an’ faces turned fae hame,
But lovin’ aye the auld wife across the seas the same.

Scotland our Mither – we left your beildy bents
To hunt wi’ hairy Esau, while Jacob kept the tents.
We’ve pree’d the pangs o’ hunger, mair sorrow seen than mirth,
But never niffer’d, auld wife, our rightfu’ pride o’ birth.

Scotland our Mither – we sow, we plant, we till,
But plagues that passed o’er Egypt light here an’ work their will.
They’ve harried barn an’ basket till ruin claims us sure;
We’d better kept the auld craft an’ herdit on the muir.

Scotland our Mither – we weary whiles an’ tire;
When Bad Luck helps to outspan, Regret biggs up the fire;
But still the hope uphaulds us, tho’ bitter now the blast,
That we’ll win to the auld hame across the seas at last.

Scotland our Mither – we’ve bairns you’ve never seen –
Wee things that turn them northward when they kneel down at e’en;
They plead in childish whispers the Lord on high will be
A comfort to the auld wife – their granny o’er the sea.

Scotland our Mither – since first we left your side,
From Quilimane to Cape Town we’ve wandered far an’ wide;
Yet aye from mining camp an’ town, from koppie an’ karoo,
Your sons richt kindly, auld wife, send hame their love to you.

Meaning of unusual words:
kent = knew
aye = always
beildy bents = sheltered hilly ground
pree’d = tasted
niffer’d = bartered
bairns = children


For the technically-minded…

After hand-lettering the entire poem in black ink (in Italic with reduced x-height), I scanned the lettering and imported it into Photoshop, where I digitally coloured it white and created a centred layout by organising the verses into two columns (one left, and one right justified). I centered the title above, and the poet’s name below the verses. That was simple enough, but the background took more time to consider and create.

My original hand-lettering of the two final verses of the poem, before scanning.

I knew I wanted the background to be the Scottish national flag (Saltire), but the difficulty was in unifying it with the lettering in the foreground. I eventually settled for stacking a few textured layers (with various blending modes and opacity) on top of a blue rectangular background (the official blue, chosen by the Scottish Parliament, is Pantone 300). Then I placed a white x-shaped cross above these layers to complete the flag, and used a white-to-transparent radial gradient to subtly remove the centre of the cross so that the poem’s white lettering would show on the blue background. A few additional minor tweaks completed the effect.


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