Next of Kin

I have in my hand my granny’s copy of the Collected Poems of the Reverend R.S. Armstrong B.D. It is dated 1936 and cost 1/6. When and why she bought this book, I don’t know, but she cared for it enough to put one of her address labels on the inside cover.

Robert Stirling Armstrong was born in 1883. Speaking of grandparents, he was grandson of James Hutchison Stirling, the first appointed Gifford lecturer of Edinburgh University and a pioneering Hegelian philosopher. But even as a boy, young Robert was drawn to the kirk, his father being a minister in Glasgow. Robert liked nothing more than to watch his father write his sermons “when no doubt he imbibed telepathically much of his religious spirit which inclined him afterwards to the Church as a profession”.*

In 1911 the Reverend Armstrong became minister for Dollar Parish Church and when World War 1 broke out he volunteered early, becoming a chaplain to the forces in Norwich. In 1919 he moved to ministerial duties at the parish of Kilconquhar and Colinsburgh, which is likely where my granny knew him from.

By all accounts, the Reverend Armstrong was a popular and well liked man, and must have been a good minister, he stayed at Kinneuchar (in local parlance) for 34 years. He died on the 13th December 1958 aged 77 and is buried in Dollar churchyard.

So why are we talking about a minister who published at least one book of poems? Well, his poetry collection touches on God, love, ballads and places or landmarks but throughout all of these, runs the ever present theme of the natural world. Religion clearly was important to him, yet so was nature and this dominates most of his poems. To my knowledge the good Revs poems have never made it onto the internet, until today. You can read an article by Reverend R.S. Armstrong B.D, an account of his days as a student missionary in the Highlands, in the Dollar magazine, September 1914 here.

His passion for the outdoors, and for Scotland, shine through in this piece and I encourage you to read it from page 22. Perhaps we will revisit some of his work another time, but for now here’s a poem entitled Next-of-Kin.

Bruce Bryce is a horror fiction writer, from Fife, Scotland.

* The Dollar Magazine, September 1914


Columbines and buttercups

I hold within my hand;

They tell me they are cousins,

              But I do not understand:

To me they are but simple flowers

              Which God hath greatly planned.

The speak to me of sunshine

And golden-tinted hours

That speed as fast as swallows

In and out among the bow’rs,

Ne’er dreaming of departing day,

Of sunset and of show’rs.

And yet I know of shadows

That darken hill and dale,

Enshrouding flowerets’ faces

And turning roses pale,

That steal the glory from the earth

Like wrack of winter’s gale.

The sunlight and the shadow

Are they not next-of-kin?

Like rosy hope and pale despair,

Rude health and suffering,

The burden and the travail here

That hem man’s spirit in.

The deepest note of nature

Is sacrifice of kind;

Each fading flow’r is dying,

Its self that it may find;

And death’s the avenue of life

To each ennobled mind.

We weave the light and shadow

Into one web of gold,

Whose dual strands uniting

The mystic symbol hold

Of God’s mysterious working

And purposes untold.