Scottish 'poet laureate' Edwin Morgan dies, aged 90
New generations of fans continue to discover his work
The death of Edwin Morgan, the Scots Makar, at the age of 90, has deprived us of one of our greatest writers. Words: Allan Radcliffe
Edwin Morgan was a Glasgow writer: born in the city’s West End, he was raised in Rutherglen and studied and worked at the University of Glasgow. Much of his writing reflects his love of the city and its changing nature, and he was never afraid to explore Glasgow’s seamier side, most prominently in the poignant, unflinching ‘Glasgow Sonnets’ and in standalone poems such as ‘Glasgow Green’, which describes a violent male-on-male rape.
Yet Morgan was anything but parochial. He translated numerous foreign works, including poems by Brecht, Neruda and Pasternak, and he updated canonical works such as Christopher Marlowe’s Dr Faustus. He experimented endlessly with form and gave voice to mythical creatures such as the Loch Ness Monster (‘Sssnnnwhufffll?’) and aliens living on Mercury (‘Gawl horrop. Bawr.’). His classic 1973 collection From Glasgow to Saturn reflected his fascination with space travel.
Morgan’s decision to come out as gay at the ripe young age of 70 provoked a fuss in the media. But while many of his tenderest and most sensual love poems, including ‘Strawberries’ and ‘The Unspoken’, use the ambiguous second person, he does deal with explicitly gay encounters in poems such as ‘Christmas Eve’, which depicts a fleeting encounter on a bus.
In recent years Morgan battled cancer and spent his final years in a nursing home. And yet his unending curiosity and ability to evolve, the humanity and compassion displayed in his writing and the timelessness of his work have meant his poems have continued to find new readers. He collaborated on a song with Idlewild in 2001 and contributed poems to the Chemikal Underground project Ballads of the Book in 2007.
Coincidentally, Morgan died the day after the results of the Edinburgh International Book Festival’s poetry competition, named after him, were announced. It’s a measure of his enduring popularity with readers of all ages that the news of his death became the number one Twitter trend for that day, with fans sharing their favourite works, including the achingly tender love poem that reads, ‘When you go / if you go / And I should want to die, / there’s nothing I’d be saved by / more than the time / you fell asleep in my arms’.