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Edwin Morgan, 1920-2010

The poet and translator Edwin Morgan has died at the age of 90 in his beloved home city of Glasgow. David Hayes salutes a "Glasgow internationalist and Scottish universalist", who made the world new for generations of readers.

Edwin Morgan, a poet of endless variousness and transformative insight, died on 19 August 2010 at the age of 90 in his beloved home city of Glasgow. A life of protean achievement that encompassed service in north Africa in the second world war, many years of teaching English literature at Glasgow University, translation (from Hungarian, Russian, Anglo-Saxon, French, Cambodian...), verse-plays, critical essays, and many styles of poetry, has ended.

Edwin Morgan's mind-bending work - from The Second Life (1968) to From Glasgow to Saturn (1973), from The New Divan (1977) to Hold Hands Among the Atoms (1991), from Nothing Not Giving Messages (a book of interviews, published on his 70th birthday) to A Book of Lives (2007), and so much more - made the world new for generations of readers. His modernist intelligence, scrupulous critical voice and searching judgment taught many by example how to think for themselves. The warm, gentle presence of a beautiful, generous man enriched those privileged to know him.

And always, at the centre of his work - at once wellspring, subject-matter, inspiration, forcefield, human community, imaginary focus, and inexhaustible resource - there was both a native city and a native country. Edwin Morgan was a Glasgow internationalist and a Scottish universalist. He lived multiple connections to the world while belonging to a corner of it, each aspect containing and enriching the other. His boundary-less imagination taught many Scots to understand that intense attachment to home and place, to literary tradition and political community, need not entail a retreat from the world but could be a way of joining and recognising it in all its exhilirating complexity. In this, his influence on Scotland in the late 20th century - animated by his pathbreaking Sonnets from Scotland (1984) - was as profound as any public figure's. Perhaps, indeed, its true measure is yet to come in the 21st.

Edwin Morgan's work, a nourishing ocean, will live and reverberate in minds and hearts for as long as poetry is read. Today, the children of his heart can only mourn.

David Hayes


The Sheaf

My life, as a slant of rain

on the grey earth fields

is gathered in thirsty silence, disappears.

I cannot even guess

the roots, but feel them sighing

in the stir of the soil I die to. Let this rain

be on the children of my heart,

I have no other ones.

                     On the generations,

on the packed cells and dreaming shoots,

the untried hopes, the waiting good,

I send this drop to melt.


Edwin Morgan

© Carcanet Press

About the author

David Hayes is a co-founder of openDemocracy. He has written textbooks on human rights and terrorism, and was a contributor to Town and Country (Jonathan Cape, 1998). His work has been published in PN Review, the Irish Times, El Pais, the Iran Times International, the Canberra Times, the Scotsman, the New Statesman and The Absolute Game. He has edited five print collections of material from the openDemocracy website, including Europe and Islam; Turkey: Writers, Politics, and Free Speech; and Europe: Visions, Realities, Futures. He is the editor of Fred Halliday's Political Journeys - the openDemocracy Essays (Saqi, 2011)

More On

Edwin Morgan (1920-2010) was a Scottish poet, translator, dramatist, and scholar. He served as Glasgow's first poet laureate from 1999–2002. In February 2004 he was appointed Scots Makar, in effect poet laureate for Scotland. His Collected Poems was published in 1990, and Collected Translations in 1996. In 1997 he received the Hungarian Order of Merit for his translations of Hungarian poetry.

Edwin Morgan died in Glasgow on 19 August 2010

Edwin Morgan's poetry is published by Carcanet and Mariscat Press

Edwin Morgan's website is here

His poem written for the opening of the Scottish parliament in 2004 is here

A celebration of Edwin Morgan by his city on his 85th birthday is here

A celebration of Edwin Morgan by his city on his 90th birthday is here

Also in openDemocracy, several of Edwin Morgan's translations from Hungarian poetry are here

David Hayes's article "A new politics? Move out of Westminster..." (24 June 2009) contains the full text of Edwin Morgan's poem Open the Doors!, written for the opening of the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood in on 9 October 2004

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