Skip to content | Skip to main menu | Skip to current section menu | Accessibility

Print this page


"The most dynamic, brilliant, freewheeling poet around, endlessly
accessible and inventive, glorious refreshment"

The poet Edwin Morgan reading. Image (c)

Edwin Morgan 1920-2010

Many voices, many languages

Born in 1920, and first published in the 1950s, Edwin Morgan produced an extensive body of work. Endlessly curious and open-minded, he experimented with the language of machines as well as translating from a variety of European languages. He was a poet who was willing to give a voice to everything around him, whether it was an apple, the Loch Ness Monster, a cancer cell or the source of the Big Bang.

Edwin Morgan's poetry is also marked by an acceptance of change and an exhilarating energy. In the 1960s he became involved with the international Concrete Poetry movement, publishing his first major collection The Second Life (1968). The title of his 1973 collection, From Glasgow to Saturn, indicates both the scope of his subject matter, and his interest in science fiction.

A life

"I was born in Glasgow and have lived most of my life there, and whatever image the city has to the outside world, to me it underlies and pervades my feeling at a deep level of identification and sympathy."

Edwin Morgan was born in Glasgow on 27 April, 1920, in Glasgow. An only child, he attended Rutherglen Academy and the High School of Glasgow, before studying English at Glasgow University. During the Second World War he registered as a conscientious objector, before serving in the Royal Army Medical Corps, mainly in the Middle East.

He resumed his studies in 1946, and the following year began lecturing in English at Glasgow University. His first books – original poems and translations – appeared in 1952.

In the 1960s he was linked with the international Concrete Poetry movement, and his first major collection The Second Life (1968) contains a mix of experimental and conventional poems. His next collection From Glasgow to Saturn (1973) gives an idea of the range of his work, taking in both the local and the furthest-flung. That book, and Wi The Haill Voice, a volume of Mayakovsky's poems in Scots, began a long publishing association with Carcanet Press in Manchester.

Edwin Morgan became a professor at Glasgow University in 1975, and retired from full-time teaching in 1980. In the 1980s he also began publishing with Glasgow's Mariscat Press, notably Sonnets from Scotland (1984). In 1990 when he turned 70, Carcanet published his Collected Poems, a book of essays About Edwin Morgan was published by Edinburgh University Press, and he came out publicly for the first time as a gay man.

His Collected Translations (1996) includes his versions of poems from many languages, including Spanish, Russian, Latin, German and even English (his Scots versions of Lady Macbeth's speeches). As well as poetry, he has written for the stage, notably a Scots version of Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac (1992) and a trilogy about the life of Jesus AD (2000).

In the 21st century, and now in his eighties, he continued to write and publish prolifically, enjoying collaborations with young musicians as diverse as Tommy Smith and Roddy Woomble. In 2004 he was appointed the first Scottish Makar (or Poet Laureate) by the Scottish Parliament.

A Book of Lives (2007) won the Sundial Scottish Book of the Year Award.

Edwin Morgan marked his 90th birthday in April 2010 with the publication of a new collection of poetry, Dreams and Other Nightmares: New and Uncollected Poems 1954-2009 (2010).

Morgan died a few months later, on 19 August 2010.


"I think of poetry as partly an instrument of exploration, like a spaceship, into new fields of feeling or experience (or old fields which become new in new contexts and environments)"

"I'm more interested in what does change than in what has been and what is constant."

"I've always been equally attracted by something that's intensely local and things that are international."

"I like to see exploration, divergence, risk-taking"

"The pleasure [is] of making something meaningful out of something very new, the pleasure in language itself, its malleability, its untapped potential."

"Who would not be impatient of categories?"

"I [also] need a direct poetry of human relationships, friends, lovers, family, a poetry of vulnerabilities, desires, losses, encounters missed and encounters won."

"Maybe all I'm saying is that there could be different kinds of poetry."

"Leave symmetry to the cemetery."

"I'll continue to say, 'Let's go'"

"Unknown is best"



Image ©

Edwin Morgan quoted from Nothing Not Giving Messages (Polygon, 1990), and Strong Words (Bloodaxe, 2000); and from poems ‘For the Opening of the Scottish Parliament, 9 October 2004’, and ‘At Eighty’.

Review from The Scotsman

A life