Edwin Morgan: A Biographical Note

Edwin Morgan was the first Scots Makar in modern times. Imaginative, curious and lively, he was one of the best-loved and most influential poets of the 20th century. Here, Professor James McGonigal of the Morgan Estate provides more information about the Scottish author:

How to sum up a poet who was also a performer, librettist, translator, editor, broadcaster and critic? ‘Creativity’ might be the word, energetic and sustained. 

Image by Alex Boyd (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Edwin Morgan (1920–2010) spent his whole life in Glasgow (setting aside four years’ military service in the Middle East) but through writing he explored different eras, cultures, characters and forms. Translation was one way of doing this. His earliest books were from Anglo-Saxon (Beowulf, 1952), Italian (Eugenio Montale, 1959) and Russian (Sovpoems, 1961). 

Experimental concrete and sound poetry offered another way, as did computer and science fiction poetry, often in the voices of machines. His breakthrough collection, The Second Life (1968) combined these with Glaswegian voices and settings, vibrant with life, as well as tender gay love poems, half-concealed. From Glasgow to Saturn (1973) and The New Divan (1977) extended these themes, bringing international recognition. Poetic drama, whether medieval French and Dutch folk plays for Glasgow’s Third Eye Centre in the 1980s, or the more ambitious Cyrano (1992) and Phaedra (2000), seemed a natural development, and a challenge. His millennial A.D. trilogy on the life of Jesus questioned pious interpretations of a radical message. 

Terminally ill with cancer, Morgan continued to produce powerful and prize-winning poetry in Cathures (2002) and A Book of Lives (2007). He seemed to possess, one reviewer noted, ‘More lives than a basketful of kittens’.  

Take a look at the Edwin Morgan Archive at the Scottish Poetry Library to learn more about the poet's life and work. 

Our co-production of Edwin Morgan's Glasgow-Scots translation of Cyrano de Bergerac was a great opportunity to experience the verve and energy of Morgan's writing.

Cyrano rehearsals
Image by Tim Morozzo

Cyrano de Bergerac
was a co-production with the National Theatre of Scotland and Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh. It ran at Tramway 1 – 22 Sep, The Lyceum 12 Oct – 3 Nov and Eden Court 7 – 10 Nov 2018.