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 entered the University of Glasgow in 1937. It was at university that he studied French and Russian, while self-educating in "a good bit of Italian and German" as well. After interrupting his studies to serve in World War II as a non-combatant conscientious objector with the Royal Army Medical Corps, Morgan graduated in 1947 and became a lecturer at the University. He worked there until his retirement in 1980.
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 especially 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.
Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney "[paid] formal homage" during a 2005 visit.
In later life Morgan was cared for at a residential home as his illness worsened. He published a collection in April 2010 titled Dreams and Other Nightmares, months before his death, to mark his 90th birthday. Up until his death, he was the last survivor of the canonical 'Big Seven' (the others being Hugh MacDiarmid, Robert Garioch, Norman MacCaig, Iain Crichton Smith, George Mackay Brown, and Sorley MacLean).
On 17 August 2010, Edwin Morgan died of pneumonia in Glasgow, Scotland, at the age of 90 years. 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.
Further Readings :
Three Scottish Poets
Paperback: 117 pages
Publisher: Canongate U.S. (July 26, 2001)
Amazon: Three Scottish Poets
This book collects the finest work from three of Scotland's best-known and best-loved poets: Norman MacCaig, Edwin Morgan and Liz Lochhead. Each has fascinated and charmed readers and listeners across Scotland, Britain, Europe, and America with the energy, humor, and compassion of their vision. MacCaig’s memorable celebrations of the physical world and the tragi-comic note of many of his short lyrics contrast strikingly with Morgan’s poems on the modern world and city life. Liz Lochhead writes with an alert and sensitive eye on personal relationships and women’s experience of them. The book provides an invaluable introduction to modern Scottish poetry and to the poets who are arguably its greatest living practitioners.
Beyond the Last Dragon: A Life of Edwin Morgan by James McGonigal
Hardcover: 462 pages
Publisher: Sandstone Press (September 2010)
Amazon: Beyond the Last Dragon: A Life of Edwin Morgan
Edwin Morgan was Britain's premier poet. He had published many collections of poetry, criticism, essays and translations. In old age Morgan continued to produce and amaze. His "A Book of Lives" was awarded the Sundial Scottish Arts Council Poetry Award for 2008. This is the first major biography.
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