This collection of lyric epiphanies reveals the focus and refocus of sequences, the wily relocation of words in concrete poems, and the weird rhythms of sound poems. The poet's transforming imagination is democratic, generous, and inclusive. Even the sonnet form becomes a new experiment for a poet of questing and anarchic vision, unwilling to rest on rules. This volume includes Poems of Thirty Years, Themes on a Variation, and some 50 uncollected poems from 1939 to 1982.
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About the Author
Edwin Morgan was a professor of English at Glasgow University and retired in 1980. He has since been a visiting professor at Strathclyde University and at the University of Wales in Aberystwyth.
Read an Excerpt
By Edwin Morgan
Carcanet Press LtdCopyright © 2012 The Estate of Edwin Morgan
All rights reserved.
It was the blaze and maelstrom of God's wrath.
So frightfully was never islanded
Mortal voyager in the far flood of the north
When growling berg became his acre and burgh
And sheets of freezing grey lay all his world
As I within the sea of time was lost
And thrown upon the groaning shores of wrath.
My ship long since had struck its rock, and sunk,
My compass the voracious surge had sucked,
My clothes were sodden, rotting with the wet,
My pockets void of knife, or fire, or bread,
My boots kicked off in swimming through despair,
My feet cut fiercely by the biting beach,
My eyes half-blinded by the harsh salt spray,
My throat choked hoarse in the raw haul of the waves.
Cower among the pebbles I could not for the cold,
But in my flapping jacket faced the blast
And set my bloody steps along those rocks
That did not wince to break my flesh anew.
So, buffeted by the blustering hosts of the air,
Shot by sharp batteries of frozen rain
Whose ice congealed my streaming hair and hailed
Torrents of pitilessness upon my face,
Mocking my poor coat threadbare with their lash;
Whirled in that jealous gale with twigs, and sand,
Splinters of hissing rock, smashed shells, crabs' husks,
Thin downlike urchins scooped hollow by the tide,
And tiny sea-birds with stiff starlike feet
And eyes of ice, hurled senseless of the storm;
The boomerang drum-roll doubling and redounding a
The blistering fulgor fire-runnelling the livid vault,
The thunder and the blaze of heaven I bore.
It was the murmur and blame of meditation,
God's grinding reef of chiding and condemnation,
His maelstrom threatening for mortal retrogression.
He cast me from the plunging shiprail, he
To the boiling welter of waters felled me howling
And with his billows and fireballs dashed my ship to the
He bade me fight the wild and beastlike seas,
Flail with my arms the bodiless froth, and climb
Up from each slippery trench with failing strength,
Combing the ungraspable gulf; he flung my flesh
To crack its lungs for gusts of blessed breath
Upon these tearing and offensive teeth
And razorlike sighing shingle of the shore,
And there I dragged, through rain and hail and wind,
My terror and my abasement over that ground,
My legs through stinging bent and bushes forced,
My feet in blood upon the blade-edged stones;
He was that blaze and meditation in the sky
That pierced and scoured the spaces of the air
And showered and shook those lightnings quick and
Over my island and the savage waters;
He was that meditated thunder and thought
That opened up the clouds and rolled them back
Far into reverberating wrath
Ragged with mutters in that hurricane's heaven;
He was the anger and the blast: he was that heaven.
How will I tell then how the dark came down
And in the moaning of the wind I slept,
Crouched in the shivering refuge of a bush,
By weariness within that storm to rest?
Although my eyes were blind to trough and foam,
My ears no longer sang with the fretted sands,
I saw and heard in the gazing of a dream
Within my mind, and tempest there beheld.
So thought has wave in wave, deep behind deep,
Sea beyond sea stretched out far over the world,
Where we set sail, and founder, or to haven tremble,
A ship of glass among the bluffs to gamble.
I saw there other seas, and vaster storms,
Glimmering armadas of a million sails
Veered in a wake of blood, the confusion of hosts
Crushed in the slow slumbrous clash of arms,
Cries rising up like smoke, far, thin, and clear,
Above the tumult and enormous mass
Of the imponderable vessels triumphing there.
Some bugle sadly shook the hanging air,
And sombre flags I saw to fluttering set,
Which clung to the masts like just-fledged feeble
Unstirring in the silence and the space.
Now such a calm as smooths the frowning dead
Was laid on the waters, and they shone with light,
Wide, burnished in the stillness of the sun.
The heavy ships moved slowly through the glare,
The sails were mingled with fire, the masts and spars
Vanished in that dissolving dazzle and hush,
And flag, hull, bugle, anchor, and hosts,
Enemy and sea-friend, captain, armourer, boy
Turned to embrace the tranquil morning gold,
Leaving the shining sea and sky serene
One glory, steady, holy,
One gazing eye, one meditation and blaze.
It was God's steadfast meditation and peace.
I wept upon the fading of the ships,
And shut my eyes against that blazoned grace;
I feared to see that glory face to face.
And though the light had crept upon my clothes,
Gilded my hand and hair, and on my lips
Diamonds and watery sapphires quivering cast,
Yet back and farther back I cringed, and shaded
My lids against the multitudinous flood
And searing soundless furnace-fall of sunlight,
Sobbed and cried out, wrung my burning hands,
Panting in heat too shadowlessly poured,
My blood set seething in the gentle veins
And in my body the heart and regiment
Shrivelling in the dominion of the flame,
Till terror came, that I might be consumed.
Niche, angle, cranny, arch, or shade was none,
Nor tree, nor cloud, nor wall or shelter of stone,
Nor sign of rain, nor noise, nor any change,
But where I stood was focussed all the stillness,
And all the searching glory bent on me,
A gaze too straight, a silence too severe.
Yet as I writhed, my chapped lips salt with sweat,
My coat in singed and charring flakes, there rolled
Suddenly a voice in splendour all around
Resounding from the battlements of light
God, God, God, God;
And I was taken into the blaze and the recession,
My flesh forgot to burn in mortal transgression,
I was not divided from his meditation.
It was a dream of meditation and grace
Where we were gazing fearless face to face.
It was a dream; bitterly then I woke
With the hoar chill of dawning on the sea
And shrieking of the wind and savage gulls,
The shudder of that surge along the cliffs,
The black and shivering tempest-blasted scrub
And nodding reed where I had curled and slept,
All freezing, glistening in the crude daybreak
With ice, cold dew, hard light, and driven spray.
And now the hurricane of the wrath has passed,
And this bare island, the tide and ebb, the sky
Polished and chased by streamers of the wind,
Rainbows, auroras, solar haloes dim
And clouds like the armadas of my dream
Remain, and I in this place content to be
As harsh necessity decides, the will of God
To that end he alone directs and sees.
Until his time and storm revolve new fate
A lee of stone I'll have, shellfish my food
And sea-birds' eggs and crackling tops of weed,
And fire begin from branch and rock and breath;
Nor rail against the maelstrom and the blaze
His anger raised against my voyaging
Nor loss of ship, and goods, and worldly course,
His cause in all things being ever best
And seen in truth when bitterness has ceased.
So may God bless this meditation and poem.
I made it to intercede at his murmur and blame,
And I pray he may gaze upon it in the endless doom.
Stanzas of the Jeopardy
It may be at midday, limousines in cities, the groaning
Derrick and hissing hawser alive at dockyards,
Liners crawling with heat-baked decks, their élite
Drinking languid above the hounded turbines,
Doorways and crossroads thronged with a hundred
Places low over spire and cupola with screaming
Jet-streams or soaring inaudible in disembodied calm,
Plough-teams on headlands in the sweat of noon, the
Earth up-ruffled swarming for crow and gull,
Boys whistling and calling at play in the sea-caves,
Cables humming, telephonists sighing, sirens
Wailing twelve from workshop and factory, tar
Bubbling in the skin of the street, shopfronts
In Times Square, Leicester Square, Red Square – that
the roar, the labour,
The onset and the heat, the engine and the flurry and
The plane and the phone and the plough and the farm,
And the stoker and the airman and the docker and the
shopper and the boy
Shall all be called to a halt:
In the middle of the day, and in the twinkling of an
It could be at midnight, braziers smouldering on
Watchmen dozing by the tar-boiler's hulk, warehouses
Planted gloomily in bloodless night-idleness,
Planted gloomily in bloodless night-idleness,
Desolate siding and shed and circuit littered
With the truck and trash marooned by ebbing daytime,
Astronomers at their mirrors in zodiacal quiet, dancers
Swept through the rosy fantasy of muted waltzes,
Children speaking to the wind and stars in dream,
Great lakes of darkness mountain-locked and moonless
Breaking to the meagre splash of angler's oar,
Badger and hedgehog rooting among the beech-mast,
Swirling with scents disessenced by the dawn,
Lovers lying in the dunes of summer, swimmers
Flashing like sudden fire in the bay – that the play,
The sleep and the pleasure, the tryst, the glow, the
The water and the silence, the fragrance, the vigil and
The fishermen and the slumberers and the whisperers
and the creatures of the wood
Shall craze to an intolerable blast
And hear at midnight the very end of the world.
'Shall the trumpet sound before the suns have cooled?
Shall there not be portents of blood, sea-beds laid bare,
Concrete and girder like matchwood in earthquake and
Shall we not see the angels, or the creeping icecap, or the moon
Falling, or the wandering star, feel veins boiling
Or fingers freezing or the wind thickening with wings?'
The earth may spin beyond apocalypse;
Long before entropy the worlds may stop.
The heart praises its own intentions, while the
The neighbour, the need, the face of love and the
Have passed unseized, as some day they will pass
Beyond all action, beyond despair and redemption,
When matter has uttered its last sound, when the eye
That roved around the universe goes blind, when lips
To lips are numb, when space is rolled away
And time is torn from its rings, and the door of life
Flies open on unimaginable things –
At noon, at midnight, or at no time,
As you receive these verses, O Corinthians.
'What waves have beaten ...'
What waves have beaten on the glass
Through darkness rolling such dazed foam
As now where light should bravely pass
Blinds the eye of this white room?
The moon drew up a sea of frost;
The stars in blackness sparkled back
From crystal characters embossed
While midnight drove the polar rack.
An iris and a rose of ice,
A wren picked out in diamond rime
I read in this minute device
Which gladdens the calm morning-time,
And as I gaze, I wish the sun
Would be this day so cool and wan
That not one claw or vein might run
From beauty rarely feasted on.
A Warning of Waters at Evening
What river-growl appals my flesh?
Night shakes the hounded streams with fear.
What waters roaring plunge, burst, crash
This chafed and shuddering weir?
Fog has hulled the fruited oak
Whose leaves and galls fly in the foam;
Twigs scatter like a starling-flock
Down to their howling home.
Dense as hidden Eden's cloud,
Black as the ravished mine of gold,
Such air refells the dancing blood
Back to blindness and cold.
I see neither tree nor wave;
The dark is full of tongues that bay
Their breathing and invisible drove
Along the glades of prey.
The hunt is neither pack nor fox.
The kill is in the seething firth.
I hear the bell upon the rocks
Where the sea fills the earth:
Swinging in the booming main,
Streaming with the tears of hail,
Singing like the all-damned man
That cries through fire's vale.
What sparkling mountain-spring was there?
The birth of snow and sun is ended.
All feeds the welter of the shore,
To rain-dark gulf descended.
I fear that tempest and that night,
I fear this river at my feet.
I fear the bitter salt far out
Where sin and wrath must meet.
The Sleights of Darkness
One nightmare after cinderfall
Idiocy in a slumber took me aside
To see my friend in his golden fell
Stumble at the handle of fiends'-hovel
By the feral riverside.
Blown like a quill to that fell lintel
He fumbled with bolts to mingle loneliness
With the waiting loneliness till little by little
Meeting by his fever the lascivious toll
He should feel fiend-homeliness.
And yet if all flesh was standing
As thick as smoke from wall to wall
And if love like gold was seen ascending
Through the valley of the blood and the understanding
What would suffice of it all
To my friend in his fleshly desolation?
Misery strides along my daydream
Whenever I re-unlatch his destruction.
His face at the fiends' sill is confusion,
Pale as the breaking stream.
Bitter vision, not of wishes!
Let me not find his heart at bay
Or laid with innocence in ashes,
Or if I must, let our lost riches
Of trust be all we must pay!
Slates flash out on the tawny gable;
Windows strain to the sinking sun;
The mavis drowses on its fable
Of the glory of day till the last feeble
Knot of its song is undone.
I strain and flash and fable too,
From the valid twilight before surrender.
Against the Night that scars the true
And mocks the lonely two by two,
Now love be my defender!
The Sleights of Time
Memory and phantasmagoria of memory
Shuffling feet at the love-catafalque
The sun falls on the choristers
Through tears who can see the chains
Through smoke the burning, through spray the waves
Broken at the rock of the causeway? –
Brilliant assignations, preparations
For dance and satiety at the revel-table
Lust was lifted like a torch
And rebellious shame in ruffled hair
Surrendered laughing to the bloodrace ways
Of hallucinating touch –
Attachments and enchantments too, the avowals
In far-off firelight, dreams of arrivals
Faithful through a thousand snows
Till the fire is scattered, till the hearth is cold
Till the winds that sweep the dancing-floor
Freeze, freeze unliving bones –
Buried and remembered, heads in happiness
I shall never know and disinheriting
My dead may never give:
Son unborn, never to be born,
Wail at the back of time unknown
With longing till longing is life!
A death in the ditch of libertinism!
The last ditch is the last discipline.
The wounded ganymede glows like Gabriel,
Wolves have fetches that are unferal;
Put your sickness to mystic school.
I saw Traherne on a chestnut branch
Watching the woodsmoke wind and vanish
From the stamped-out fire, the friends had departed.
He spread his hands on the finger-patterned
Chestnut sprays, the candours were partnered.
Eckhart by the dying well
Spoke of divining and festival.
'Dig deep to find the dragon's food
In a shaft like flesh to a source like blood
– From the centre how far the stars have soared!'
They row in the bay, they linger in forests,
They know of the tempests, they think of the frosts.
Love is water and betrayal is bread,
The prison's walls are as vast as the world,
The sentence is life, let the walls be rolled.
Trundled before the cold juries
Hearts are crimes to heart-abjurers.
May judge and witness sweeten on the apple,
See through the braille of good and evil,
And put their sapience to mystic school.
Harrowing Heaven, 1924
Tell the archangels in their cells of divinity
They must levitate like larks, for LENIN is coming.
Break it to the ogdoad under the bo-tree
Their parched symposiums exploding in concinnity
From unity to trinity, with a Second Coming,
Have come to poverty, lock stock and poetry.
By candle of Tolstoy he can darken consuls,
By book of Marx he judges Jonahs,
And by bell of Blok repeals your lyres.
Vain to offer him heavenly consols,
Vain the emption, incredible the bonus;
On the opium standard beggars are buyers!
Preaching to sparrows of the fall of man:
Preaching to man of the fall of a sparrow:
This he will spare you, as unmanly folly.
But Dante will be his Caliban
When the lights are named, and charity may harrow
Your hell-proof hierarchy to common melancholy.
'Drill up your multicarated streets!
Dowse your neon-and-topaz noons!
My dialectics is mesembrian and sapphirical.
For dust shall blanch the sainted seats
And instead of saints iguanodons
Shall walk on your enormous wall.
A vision of bread without theophagy,
A handful of salt in the hands of humanity,
And wine that makes but is not blood:
Naked of sacrament, stranger to effigy,
Food for the Magellans of nature's infinity:
Such is the substance of my word.'
Cherubs in ziggurats, watch for Vladímir!
When world's-dreamer is heaven's undreamer,
Saints in their chains may murmur 'redeemer'.
Excerpted from Collected Poems by Edwin Morgan. Copyright © 2012 The Estate of Edwin Morgan. Excerpted by permission of Carcanet Press Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Dies Irae (1952),
The Vision of Cathkin Braes (1952),
The Cape of Good Hope (1955),
The Whittrick: a Poem in Eight Dialogues,
from Newspoems (1965–1971),
from Emergent Poems (1967),
from Gnomes (1968),
The Second Life (1968),
The Horseman's Word (1970),
from Instamatic Poems (1972),
Glasgow Sonnets i-x,
The New Divan (1977),
Star Gate: Science Fiction Poems (1979),
Uncollected Poems (1976–1981),
Sonnets from Scotland (1984),
from Selected Poems (1985),
From the Video Box (1986),
from Themes on a Variation (1988),
Uncollected Poems (1949–1982),
Index of Titles,
Index of First Lines,
Also by Edwin Morgan,