At ten I read Mayakovsky had died, learned my first word of Russian, lyublyu; watched my English teacher poke his earwax with a well-chewed HB and get the class to join his easy mocking of my essay where I'd used verdant herbage for green grass. So he was right? So I hated him! And he was not really right, the ass. A writer knows what he needs, as came to pass. At twenty I got marching orders, kitbag, farewell to love, not arms, (though our sole arms were stretchers), a freezing Glentress winter where I was coaxing sticks at six to get a stove hot for the cooks, found myself picked quartermaster's clerk – 'this one seems a bit less gormless than the bloody others' – did gas drill in the stinging tent, met Tam McSherry who farted at will a musical set. At thirty I thought life had passed me by, translated Beowulf for want of love. And one night stands in city centre lanes – they were dark in those days – were wild but bleak. Sydney Graham in London said, 'you know I always thought so', kissed me on the cheek. And I translated Rilke's Loneliness is like a rain, and week after week after week strained to unbind myself, sweated to speak. At forty I woke up, saw it was day, found there was love, heard a new beat, heard Beats, sent airmail solidarity to Saõ Paulo's poetic-concrete revolution, knew Glasgow – what? – knew Glasgow new – somehow – new with me, with John, with cranes, diffusion of another concrete revolution, not bad, not good, but new. And new was no illusion: a spring of words, a sloughing, an ablution. At fifty I began to have bad dreams of Palestine, and saw bad things to come, began to write my long unwritten war. I was a hundred-handed Sindbad then, rolled and unrolled carpets of blood and love, raised tents of pain, made the dust into men and laid the dust with men. I supervised a thesis on Doughty, that great Englishman who brought all Arabia back in his hard pen. At sixty I was standing by a grave. The winds of Lanarkshire were loud and high. I knew what I had lost, what I had had. The East had schooled me about fate, but still it was the hardest time, oh more, it was the worst of times in self-reproach, the will that failed to act, the mass of good not done. Forgiveness must be like the springs that fill deserted furrows till they wait until – until – At seventy I thought I had come through, like parting a bead curtain in Port Said, to something that was shadowy before, figures and voices of late times that might be surprising yet. The beads clash faintly behind me as I go forward. No candle-light please, keep that for Europe. Switch the whole thing right on. When I go in I want it bright, I want to catch whatever is there in full sight.
Born Glasgow, Edwin Morgan lived there all his life, except for service with the RAMC, and his poetry is grounded in the city. Yet the title of his 1973 collection, From Glasgow to Saturn, suggests the enormous range of Morgan's subject matter. He was Glasgow's first Poet Laureate 1999-2002, and the first to hold the post of 'Scots Makar', created by the Scottish Executive in 2004 to recognise the achievement of Scottish poets throughout the centuries.Read more about this poet