Biography of Edwin Morgan
Edwin George Morgan was a Scottish poet and translator who was associated with the Scottish Renaissance. He is widely recognised as one of the foremost Scottish poets of the 20th century. In 1999, Morgan was made the first Glasgow Poet Laureate. In 2004, he was named as the first Scottish national poet: The Scots Makar.
Life and Career
Morgan was born in Glasgow and grew up in Rutherglen. His parents were Presbyterian. As a child he was not surrounded by books, nor did he have any literary acquaintances. Schoolmates labelled him a swot. He convinced his parents to finance his membership of several book clubs in Glasgow. The Faber Book of Modern Verse (1936) was a "revelation" to him, he later said.
Morgan entered the University of Glasgow in 1937. It was at university that he studied French and Russian, while self-educating in "a good bit of Italian and German" as well. After interrupting his studies to serve in World War II as a non-combatant conscientious objector with the Royal Army Medical Corps, Morgan graduated in 1947 and became a lecturer at the University. He worked there until his retirement in 1980.
Morgan first outlined his sexuality in Nothing Not Giving Messages: Reflections on his Work and Life (1990). He had written many famous love poems, among them "Strawberries" and "The Unspoken", in which the love object was not gendered; this was partly because of legal problems at the time but also out of a desire to universalise them, as he made clear in an interview with Marshall Walker. At the opening of the Glasgow LGBT Centre in 1995, he read a poem he had written for the occasion, and presented it to the Centre as a gift.
In 2002, he became the patron of Our Story Scotland. At the Opening of the Scottish Parliament building in Edinburgh on 9 October 2004, Liz Lochhead read a poem written especially for the occasion by Morgan, titled "Poem for the Opening of the Scottish Parliament". She was announced as Morgan's successor as Scots Makar in January 2011.
Near the end of his life, Morgan reached a new audience after collaborating with the Scottish band Idlewild on their album The Remote Part. In the closing moments of the album's final track "In Remote Part/ Scottish Fiction", he recites a poem, "Scottish Fiction", written specifically for the song.
In 2007, Morgan contributed two poems to the compilation Ballads of the Book, for which a range of Scottish writers created poems to be made into songs by Scottish musicians. Morgan's songs "The Good Years" and "The Weight of Years" were performed by Karine Polwart and Idlewild respectively.
Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney "[paid] formal homage" during a 2005 visit.
In later life Morgan was cared for at a residential home as his illness worsened. He published a collection in April 2010 titled Dreams and Other Nightmares, months before his death, to mark his 90th birthday. Up until his death, he was the last survivor of the canonical 'Big Seven' (the others being Hugh MacDiarmid, Robert Garioch, Norman MacCaig, Iain Crichton Smith, George Mackay Brown, and Sorley MacLean).
On 17 August 2010, Edwin Morgan died of pneumonia in Glasgow, Scotland, at the age of 90 years. The Scottish Poetry Library made the announcement in the morning. Tributes came from, among others, politicians Alex Salmond and Iain Gray, as well as Carol Ann Duffy, the UK Poet Laureate.
First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond's leader's speech to the Scottish National Party Conference at Inverness on 22 October 2011 referred to Morgan's bequest of £918,000 to the Party in his Will as "transformational". The next day it was announced that all of the bequest would be used for the party's independence referendum campaign. Morgan also left £45,000 to a number of friends, former colleagues and charity organisations and set aside another £1 million for the creation of an annual award scheme for young poets in Scotland.
Morgan worked in a wide range of forms and styles, from the sonnet to concrete poetry. His Collected Poems appeared in 1990. He has also translated from a wide range of languages, including Russian, Hungarian, French, Italian, Latin, Spanish, Portuguese, German and Old English (Beowulf). Many of these are collected in Rites of Passage. Selected Translations (1976). His 1952 translation of Beowulf has become a standard translation in America.
Morgan was also influenced by the American beat poets, with their simple, accessible ideas and language being prominent features in his work.
In 1968 Morgan wrote a poem entitled Starlings In George Square. This poem could be read as a comment on society's reluctance to accept the integration of different races. Other people have also considered it to be about the Russian Revolution in which "Starling" could be a reference to "Stalin".
Edwin Morgan's Works:
Beowulf: A Verse Translation into Modern English, Hand and Flower Press, 1952
The Vision of Cathkin Braes and Other Poems, William MacLellan, 1952
The Cape of Good Hope (limited edition), Pound Press, 1955
Poems from Eugenio Montale (translator), School of Art, University of Reading, 1959
Sovpoems: Brecht, Neruda, Pasternak, Tsvetayeva, Mayakovsky, Martynov, Yevtushenko (translator) Migrant Press, 1961
Collins Albatross Book of Longer Poems (editor) Collins, 1963
Starryveldt Eugen Gomringer Press, 1965
Emergent Poems Hansjörg Mayer, 1967
Gnomes Akros publications, 1968
The Second Life Edinburgh University Press, 1968
Selected Poems of Sándor Weöres and Selected Poems of Ferenc Juhász (translator and introduction for Sándor Weöres) Penguin, 1970
The Horseman's Word: Concrete Poems Akros, 1970
Twelve Songs Castlelaw Press, 1970
Glasgow Sonnets Castlelaw Press, 1972
Instamatic Poems Ian McKelvie, 1972
Wi the haill voice: 25 poems by Vladimir Mayakovsky (translator and glossary) Carcanet, 1972
From Glasgow to Saturn Carcanet, 1973
Nuspeak8: Being a Visual Poem by Edwin Morgan Scottish Arts Council, 1973
The Whittrick: a Poem in Eight Dialogues Akros, 1973
Essays Carcanet, 1974
Fifty Renascence Love-Poems (translator) Whiteknights Press, 1975
Rites of Passage (translator), 1976
Edwin Morgan: an interview by Marshall Walker Akros, 1977
The New Divan, 1977
Selected poems by August Graf von Platen-Hallermünde (translator) Castlelaw Press, 1978
Star Gate: Science Fiction Poems Third Eye Centre, 1979
Scottish Satirical Verse (compiler) Carcanet, 1980
Grendel Mariscat, 1982
Poems of Thirty Years, 1982
The Apple-Tree (modern version of a medieval Dutch play) Third Eye Centre, 1982
Grafts Mariscat, 1983
Sonnets from Scotland Mariscat, 1984
Selected Poems, 1985
From the Video Box Mariscat, 1986
Newspoems Wacy, 1987
Tales from Limerick Zoo (illustrated by David Neilson) Mariscat, 1988
Themes on a Variation, 1988
Collected Poems (republished 1996 with index), 1990
Crossing the Border: Essays on Scottish Literature, 1990
Nothing Not Giving Messages: Reflections on his Work and Life (edited by Hamish Whyte) Polygon, 1990
Hold Hands Among the Atoms: 70 Poems Mariscat, 1991
Edmond Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac: A New Verse Translation (translator), 1992
Fragments by József Attila (translator) Morning Star Publications, 1992
MacCaig, Morgan, Lochhead: Three Scottish Poets (edited and introduced by Roderick Watson) Canongate, 1992
Cecilia Vicuña:PALABRARmas/WURDWAPPINschaw Morning Star Publications, 1994
Sweeping Out the Dark, 1994
Long Poems – But How Long? (W. D. Thomas Memorial Lecture) University of Wales, Swansea, 1995
Collected Translations, 1996
St. Columba: The Maker on High (translator) Mariscat, 1997
Virtual and Other Realities, 1997
Chistopher Marlowe's Dr Faustus (a new version) Canongate, 1999
Demon Mariscat, 1999
A.D.: A Trilogy of Plays on the Life of Jesus Carcanet, 2000
Jean Racine: Phaedra (translation of Phèdre), 2000 (Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize)
New Selected Poems, 2000
Attila József: Sixty Poems (translator) Mariscat, 2001
Love and a Life: 50 Poems by Edwin Morgan Mariscat, 2003
The Battle of Bannockburn (translator) SPL in association with Akros and Mariscat, 2004
Tales from Baron Munchausen Mariscat, 2005
The Play of Gilgamesh, 2005
Thirteen Ways of Looking at Rillie Enitharmon, 2006
A Book of Lives, 2007
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Edwin Morgan Poems
No smoke without you, my fire. After you left, your cigarette glowed on in my ashtray and sent up a long thread of such quiet grey
There were never strawberries like the ones we had that sultry afternoon sitting on the step
The First Men On Mercury
– We come in peace from the third planet. Would you take us to your leader? – Bawr stretter! Bawr. Bawr. Stretterhawl?
At ten I read Mayakovsky had died, learned my first word of Russian, lyublyu; watched my English teacher poke his earwax with a well-chewed HB and get the class
Push the boat out, compañeros, push the boat out, whatever the sea. Who says we cannot guide ourselves through the boiling reefs, black as they are,
My shadow -- I woke to a wind swirling the curtains light and dark and the birds twittering on the roofs, I lay cold in the early light in my room high over London.
A Little Catechism From The Demon
What is a demon? Study my life. What is a mountain? Set out now. What is fire? It is for ever. What is my life? A fall, a call.
'A man's a man for a' that' – how does he know? Traipsing with his plough, the rural hero, Swaggering down the lea-rigs, talking to mice, Sweating his sickly verses to entice
My shadow --
I woke to a wind swirling the curtains light and dark
and the birds twittering on the roofs, I lay cold
in the early light in my room high over London.
What fear was it that made the wind sound like a fire
so that I got up and looked out half-asleep
at the calm rows of street-lights fading far below?
Only the wind blew.