Edwin Morgan 1920-2010

I just heard the sad news of the death of  Edwin Morgan, Scotland’s first Poet Laureate and last survivor of that iconic group of seven who revived our reputation as a centre for literature and the arts in the middle years of the twentieth century –

Edwin Morgan aged 89. February 2010. Photo by Alex Boyd

McDiarmid, Garioch, MacCaig, Crichton Smith, Mackay Brown, Sorley MacLean, and of course Morgan himself. Names to strike fear into the defence of any poetic opposition lineup.

The first time I met Edwin Morgan was when I was in my second year at Glasgow University and he became my English tutor. In my youthful ignorance I had no idea of course of his own significance as a poet, nor of his growing international reputation, but his tolerance of my ignorance of literature, and life in general, was a measure of the extent of his humanity. In years to come, like many other English teachers, I was to draw extensively on his hugely imaginative and wide-ranging poetic canon for classroom material – it never failed to engage the young people to whom it was introduced or to provoke a response, even from the least likely members of the class.

The next and only other time I met him was many years later. I had been invited by a couple of friends to Mauchline Burns Club‘s annual celebration of the life of Robert Burns, and Morgan was the guest speaker. After delivering a particularly erudite, and some might argue controversial, Immortal Memory, he was thanked by the chair and invited to deliver one of his own poems. Again, eschewing the easy option, given that the audience consisted largely of men brought up on a diet of whisky, haggis and rhyming couplets, he chose to recite The Loch Ness Monster’s Song, prompting one inebriated listener to exclaim, ‘Ca’ that f*****g poetry?’

I’m sure the man of letters didn’t hear it, but if he had, I’m equally sure it would have produced a wry smile, for the true mark of the man was not in the poetry but in himself.

The Loch Ness Monster’s Song

Sssnnnwhuf ff fll ?

Hnwhuffl hhnnwfl hnfl hfl ?

Gdroblboblhobngbl gbl gl g g g g glbgl.

Drublhaflablhaflubhafgabhaflhafl fl fl-

gm grawwwww grf grawf awfgm graw gm.

Hovoplodok-doplodovok-plovodokot-doplodokosh ?

Splgraw fok fok splgrafhatchgabrlgabrl fok splfok !

Zgra kra gka fok !

Grof grawff gahf ?

Gombl mbl bl-

blm plm,

blm plm,

blm plm,

blp.

10 thoughts on “Edwin Morgan 1920-2010

  1. He was certainly a character Bill!

    I also met him when I was about 14 or 15, as he presented me with a poetry award.

    To be honest, the most vivid aspect of the memory was how my English teacher flapped around him like a pubescent love-sick groupie. However, her admiration must have rubbed off on me and I never tire of his work, particularly the Instamatic poetry.

    I certainly feel a Morgan tribute week coming on at work. If I’m feeling brave, I may even attempt the Loch Ness Monster Song – maybe minus the whisky aid!😛

  2. Hi Kari,
    I think an Edwin Morgan week would be a fitting tribute. His poetry appealed to all ages and could be read on a number of levels. More to the point, as an award-winning poet yourself at the age of 14 I hope you are still writing!

    Bill

  3. I was privileged to meet and work alongside Edwin Morgan in the 1980’s when I was asked by the Director of Education in Tayside to help set up the Pushkin Prizes creative writing competition for S1/S2 pupils. Edwin Morgan was on the judging panel. My lasting memory is of a modest and caring person who was able to sit alongside and appreciate the efforts of these young people without conveying any sense of superiority. His comments on their work were kind and also insightful. I wish I had made more of that great opportunity to learn more about his work.

  4. Hi John,
    Great story, and nothing you have said there surprises me about the man of course. It’s at times like this when we tend to say ‘if only….’ so carpe diem and all that! Thanks for sharing.

    Bill

  5. Hi Bill,
    A lovely post – I too met Eddie a few times and he was a wonderful man, very generous with his talent. For me, he’s the best Scottish poet since Burns and I am sure time will agree.
    His sonnet on Jimmy Reid felt particularly apt yesterday, a sad day for Glasgow and Scotland.
    Claire

    • Thanks Claire. Very poignant indeed that he should pass away on the day of Reid’s funeral – two great Scots of the 20th Century, each of them shaping our lives in different ways but with very similar values.

  6. I had the opportunity to work with Eddie in the final few months of his life, which is an experience that I never dreamt would happen when I was studying his poems and translations at school and then later at Glasgow University.

    The man had a vast knowledge which encompassed everything from literature to the workings of the Universe and there was truly nothing which did not captivate or interest him.

    His humanity, kindness and warmth should long be celebrated, and he will rightly be held high as one of the greatest poets of his generation.

    I think quite rightly that his birthday (April 27th) should be celebrated as Edwin Morgan day!

  7. Hi Alex,
    Great to hear from you and what a terrific photo (I was assuming the terms of the licence allows me to use it here!)
    As you said, no topic was too small or too big for his consideration – from a cigarette butt to the arrival of the first men on Mercury. I’m sure your call for an annual EM Day would win lots of support.

    Bill

  8. Hi Jo,
    Must confess I missed that but it was my daughter’s wedding on Sunday so I was a bit pre-occupied. I’m sure it must have been a powerful and moving event though. Good luck with the school celebration idea. Look forward to hearing how it all goes.

    Bill

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