Yesterday marked the first anniversary of the death of Edwin Morgan, one of Scotland’s greatest poets. Born in 1920 in Glasgow, Morgan was Professor of English at Glasgow University until 1980 and went on to serve as Glasgow’s first Poet Laureate until 2002. In 2004 he was appointed the first ‘Scots Makar’, a position created to recognise Scotland’s rich history of poets (makar is a Scots word for poet).
Edwin Morgan loved language and languages, playing with how words sound and, through his concrete poetry, how they look on the page. In his poems he gives voices to unexpected objects including computers and an apple, and gives language to Mercurians and the Loch Ness Monster. He also translated poems from a number of languages including German, Hungarian, French, Spanish, Latin, Italian and English (into Scots) and published a book of Collected Translations in 1996.
One of my favourite poems by Edwin Morgan is the science-fiction poem ‘The First Men on Mercury’, which sees humans and Mercurians swap languages. Here is an excerpt, but you can, and should, read the poem in full on the Scottish Poetry Library’s website.
- We come in peace from the third planet.
Would you take us to your leader?
- Bawr stretter! Bawr. Bawr. Stretterhawl?
- This is a little plastic model
of the solar system, with working parts.
You are here and we are there and we
are now here with you, is this clear?
- Gawl horrop. Bawr Abawrhannahanna!
- Where we come from is blue and white
with brown, you see we call the brown
here ‘land, the blue is ‘sea’, and the white
is ‘clouds’ over land and sea, we live
on the surface of the brown land,
all round is sea and clouds. We are ‘men’.
Men come –
- Glawp men! Gawrbenner menko. Menhawl?
The Scottish Poetry Library is home to the Edwin Morgan archive, and yesterday the Director, Robyn Marsack posted a tribute to the poet on their blog Our sweet old etcetera…