A Brief Biography ofEdwin Morgan
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xiii A Brief Biography of Edwin Morgan Edwin George Morgan was born on 27 April 1920 in Hyndland, in the West End of Glasgow. His father, chief accountant of an iron and steel merchants firm, was, like his mother, reserved and politically conservative . Morgan grew up gifted, lonely, intrinsically curious and publicly self-restrained. Moving with his parents to Pollokshields, then Rutherglen, he went to school at Rutherglen Academy, then Glasgow High School. He began publishing as ‘Kaa’ (the name of the unobtrusive, comprehensively observant rock-python in Kipling’s Jungle Books) in both the High School Magazine in 1936 and later the Glasgow University Magazine, having entered Glasgow University in 1937 to study English. His study was interrupted in 1940 when he was called up for war service. After considering registering as a conscientious objector, discussions with parents and friends led to his joining the Royal Army Medical Corps, serving in Egypt, Lebanon and Palestine. After demobilisation in 1946, Morgan completed a first-class Honours degree and, despite an option of research at Oxford, he stayed in Glasgow when the English Department offered him a lectureship. His full-time employment there continued from 1948, through a professorship in 1975, until retirement in 1980. After the war, he published under his own name, reviews and translations appearing in a range of periodicals. His first two books appeared in 1952: The Vision of Cathkin Braes and a translation of Beowulf. Translations continued throughout his life alongside original poetry: his Collected Translations is almost as large as the Collected Poems; his version of Racine’s Phaedra won the Oxford–Weidenfeld Translation Prize in 2001. The 1950s were difficult, as he struggled to confirm his self-confidence in social, sexual, poetic and professional worlds. A decisive change began in 1962, when he met and fell in love with John Scott, a factory xiv storeman from Lanarkshire. Their relationship continued until an argument, about which Morgan felt considerable regret and sorrow, shortly before Scott’s early death in 1978. Though they never lived together, there were regular international holidays and home visits. After the 1950s’ oppressions, there was a buoyancy in Morgan in the 1960s. Even prohibitive laws – homosexuality was illegal in Scotland until 1980, so that throughout his university career, Morgan could not openly admit his sexuality and expect to keep his job – could be managed. 1968 saw the poetic breakthrough, a carefully designed hardback collection, The Second Life. This established Morgan as a major poet of the era – and an innovator. Having studied American poets – North American Beat and Black Mountain poets, South American concrete poets – Morgan’s technical adaptation and dealing with popular cultural material opened new possibilities in Scottish poetry. This liberation extended throughout the 1970s: films, news items, the ephemera of modern living, entered poems with as much facility as references to a wide range of literature, science and technological developments. Never owning a computer, he wrote poems as if computer-designed, probing serious political questions about technology’s effects, never shy of worst scenarios, always seeing virtues in possibility. Asked by the National Museum of Scotland for an essential modern item, he selected a recording of Yuri Gagarin’s voice speaking from outer space – bringing together domestic and galactic technology, love of languages and political curiosity. Deploring political oppressions, he always applauded revolutionary hope, translating into Scots the Communist Mayakovsky’s poetry. He continued playfully inventing forms and perspectives while addressing issues of utmost seriousness in Europe’s highest classical verse form, in the ‘Glasgow Sonnets’ and in 1984, in the book-length sequence Sonnets from Scotland. These reaffirmed Morgan as dedicated to Scotland, reimagining the nation as a potentially independent state. In the 1980s, this politically decisive statement was crucial to Morgan. Equally so was, in 1990, the public declaration of his homosexuality. His work was widely taught in schools, well liked and loved by many. Nonetheless, reactionary condemnation followed. Sections of the Church received his dramatic trilogy about Christ, A.D. (2000), with hostility. Morgan accepted the risks: dramatising Western literature’s most ancient text, Gilgamesh, and writing more poetry, his commitment was undiminished by age or ailment. Diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1999, he responded with a dialogue poem between two human cells, one healthy, one cancerous. His last major sequence of poems, Love and a Life (2003), collected in A Book of a brief biography of edwin morgan xv Lives (2007), was openly autobiographical, recounting varied experiences of love. Best known in the 1970s...