Saturday, 18 September 2010

Lost letters reveal Morgan's muse

The trauma of unrequited love, the pleasure and pain of friendship and the sheer beauty of language emerge powerfully from a collection of “lost” poems and letters written to his student friend and muse by the young Edwin Morgan.

The poems — most unpublished — are revealed for the first time today by The Times and were composed for Vivian Linacre.

Now 82, Mr Linacre was in his early twenties and a final-year student at the University of Edinburgh when he met Morgan, then 29, who had recently been appointed as an assistant lecturer at Glasgow University.

Morgan, Scotland’s Makar (or National Poet), died last month, aged 90. His English counterpart, the Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, described him as irreplaceable, “poetry’s true son and blessed by her”.

Morgan had concealed his homosexuality until he was 70, but as a young man, for four years, he maintained an intimate correspondence with Mr Linacre, sometimes barely unable to conceal his longing, but never quite confessing his true desire.

Instead, beginning the summer of 1949, in a succession of literary letters — in which he occasionally wrote in blank verse — Morgan often made main plain his feelings.

For Mr Linacre — addressed as “Vividest Lineament”, “Vivihand” and “Vivid Liniment” by Morgan — these letters were “purely poetic”, the mark only of a strong friendship, ripened by a shared love of language.

“I was very naive at the time,” said Mr Linacre, who is twice married and has eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. “Looking back I realise just how intense it was, how emotionally charged. But as far as I was concerned it was a literary thing.

“Like Robert Graves, he always needed a muse, and he had several. I served that purpose, too. He wasn’t interested in me, I think he just needed someone to address.”

One of the poet’s published pieces, A Metre-Reading, was written for Mr Linacre, and is ripe with sexual imagery: “... The groin mine groans with gold,/ Meditation is choked,/ Mine-shaft, granary-wall/Crack gold, spout grain-of-gold/ Swelling by love’s lintel / In lust’s wastrel jostle . . .”

Morgan found life particularly difficult during the 1950s, when he hid his sexuality away for fear of carrying the stigma of being openly homosexual. This week, a biography of the poet, written by James McGonigal, will suggest that Morgan became depressed and even considered committing suicide during this period.

Some of his correspondence to Mr Linacre makes clear Morgan’s discomfort. One of his letters, written in verse, reads: “The patient was a patient/ Even in Edinburgh/ And had no heart to see you/ Being in much pain and so/ Desiring only hiding/ Like the lonely forest things/ Till gaiety should return.”

Looking back, there was no doubt that his friend had suffered from a form of depression, Mr Linacre said. “In the poetry there are lots of references to illness,” he added.

“I suspected at the time that there was nothing wrong medically, but he suffered bouts of the ‘black dog’ and would withdraw himself, though he wouldn’t advertise it. If you read between the lines, you can see that he would look into himself and use all this stuff as material.”

Mr Linacre moved to London in 1953 to pursue a career as a surveyor. He lost touch with Morgan but kept many of the letters and items sent by the poet, over their four-year friendship. These include A Metre Reading and another poem Cheiromantra, apparently unpublished until today — when it is reprinted opposite.

Morgan also sent Mr Linacre copies of his first two published books,A Vision of Cathkin Braes and a translation of Beowulf; copies of then unpublished works, such as the love poem, Benedicite Omnia Opera, and Michelangelo: 4 Sonnets, as well as copies of many works in progress.

The two men first met in July 1949, through a shared interest in the Edinburgh Festival, when Mr Linacre was a month short of his 21st birthday. At the time, he was “half-heartedly reading English” while devoting the rest of his life to debating societies and dissipation.

“In Edinburgh we met in either the Cockburn Hotel or Darlings Hotel,” Mr Linacre said. “Occasionally I made the round trip by train to Glasgow and by tram to Burnside, Rutherglen, for tea with his parents at 12 Albert Drive.

“As a special treat, we would travel as far north as Drymen for a frugal meal at the Buchanan Arms. Our correspondence continued long after he had moved into his modern flat on Great Western Road, though I never visited him there.”

Mr Linacre said that Morgan was essentially a loner. The younger man was conscious both of his literary friend’s strained relationship with his parents, and of the fact that he remained distant from the famous poets of the day, such as Sydney Goodsir Smith, Hugh MacDiarmid, Sorley MacLean and Norman MacCaig.

His parent simply didn’t understand him and that made him very unhappy,” Mr Linacre said.

Though he destroyed some of the correspondence, Mr Linacre kept the letters and poems which he considered most important. The first item is dated August 23, 1949, and followed an Edinburgh production of T.S. Eliot’s play The Cocktail Party, one of the highlights of that year’s festival.

Morgan attended the play, while Linacre enjoyed a drink at Darling’s Hotel, in Waterloo Place, a favoured haunt of the Edinburgh arts crowd.

The letter begins: “A little document, my dear Linacre,/ To express my resentment at the wretched angustity/ Of fate and time which tormented my feet/And hindered my dating you at Darling’s Hotel/ At the hour hoped-for: for he (Eliot)/ Kept us in the Lyceum later than cued, And cars were full, and fretting keenly/ Took me no earlier than twenty to eleven/ To the vacated rendezvous; you must recently have vanished.”

A letter of November 4, 1949 again is written in verse, and charmingly recounts the humdrum details of Morgan’s everyday life.

“My friend Sydney Graham is/ In hospital in Truro,/ Another poetry-shard/ Another crock of a Jock,/ And I worry about him/ Since he is too drugged to write . . . I am reading Gormenghast/ And the Seven Cantos;/ Saw an aquarium fish/ Exhibition yesterday;/ And have put on a yellow/ Pullover to knit up care/A little with its brilliant/ Ravelment; such my poor news. Haut les coeurs, kingfisher cries,/ ... Haut les coeurs, O haut les coeurs!” The poem is signed “Endgloom Mornagain!”

Morgan, who announced he was gay on his 70th birthday — he said “as a present” to himself — had endured agonies and anxiety for periods of his life. Homosexuality remained a criminal offence in Scotland until 1980, and his public position called for discretion.

The 1950s had been particularly difficult, Hamish Whyte, a long-standing friend of the poet, said. He had difficulties writing and suffered from the buttoned up sexual mores of the day.

“Eddie felt the muse had deserted him, so he poured himself into his translation of Beowulf. I wouldn’t go so far as to say he had depression with a capital ‘D’, but he was probably confused. It was a very repressive time for him until the Sixties exploded.”

Morgan met John Scott in 1963, though the two never lived together, this finally, was the defining relationship in the poet’s life, until Scott’s death in 1978.

Professor McGonigal said that he had been aware of Mr Linacre from Morgan’s correspondence, which the poet kept, and from their conversations, but he doubted that Mr Linacre had been the poet’s muse.

“It would be difficult to judge the relationship from the correspondence Eddie kept,” he added. “Eddie was interested in lively people and good company, and Vivian Linacre perhaps fitted the bill. I got the impression he was bright and interesting. There was a correspondence between them, but I didn’t form the impression that it was hugely important. I could be wrong.”

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