Edwin George MorganOBEFRSE (27 April 1920 – 17 August 2010) was a Scottish poet and translator 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 Makar or National Poet for Scotland.
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 described 'CHANGE RULES!' as 'the supreme graffito', whose liberating double-take suggests both a lifelong commitment to formal experimentation and his radically democratic left-wing political perspectives. From traditional sonnet to blank verse, from epic seriousness to camp and ludic nonsense; and whether engaged in time-travelling space fantasies or exploring contemporary developments in physics and technology, the range of Morgan's voices is a defining attribute.
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 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.
On 17 August 2010, Edwin Morgan died of pneumonia in Glasgow at the age of 90. 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. 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 the Edwin Morgan Poetry Award, an annual award scheme for young poets in Scotland. In 2012, The Edwin Morgan Trust was established to administer the generous Award which the poet wished to create from the earnings of a long and distinguished writing career. From 27 April 2020 The Edwin Morgan Trust will be celebrating the life and work of Edwin Morgan with a year long centenary programme.
Poetry by Edwin Morgan inscribed on the pavement on Candleriggs, Glasgow.
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.
His poetry may be studied as a Scottish Text for National 5 English. Currently, if Edwin Morgan is studied at National 5, pupils study: "Winter" - a depressed narrator describing Bingham's pond during winter; "In the Snackbar"; "Glasgow 5 March 1971"; "Good Friday" - a poem about a bus journey on the christian holiday; "Trio" - a tale about the power of friendship; Glasgow Sonnet (I) - a petrarchan sonnet about poverty.
In 1968 Morgan wrote "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".
Other notable poems include:
"The Death of Marilyn Monroe" (1962) – an outpouring of emotion and a social criticism after the death of prominent actress, Marilyn Monroe
"King Billy" (1968) – flashback of the gang warfare in Glasgow led by Billy Fullerton in the 1930s.
"Glasgow 5 March 1971" – robbery by two youths by pushing an unsuspecting couple through a shop window on Sauchiehall Street
"In the Snackbar" – concise description of an encounter with a disabled pensioner in a Glasgow café.
"A Good Year for Death" (26 September 1977) – a description of five famous people from the world of popular culture who died in 1977
"Poem for the Opening of the Scottish Parliament" – which was read by Liz Lochhead at the opening ceremony because he was too ill to read it in person. (9 October 2004)
The Politics of Poetry, review of Yeats, Eliot, Pound and the Politics of Poetry by Cairns Craig, in Hearn, Sheila G. (ed.), Cencrastus No. 12, Spring 1983, p. 44, ISSN0264-0856
Novy Mir and the Stalinist Whirlwind, a review of Within the Whirlwind by Eugenia Ginsburg and "Novy Mir": A Case Study in the Politics of Literature 1952 - 1958 by Edith Rogovin Frankel (ed.), in Hearn, Sheila G. (ed.), Cencrastus No. 14, Autumn 1983, p. 54, ISSN0264-0856