I am enjoying my '3 Scottish Poets' book… Morgan and MacCaig are great. Lochhead's poetry however, does not come to me in a way I can connect with.
A string of pearls
in the dark window, that wet spring,
sometimes a white hand raised with a cigarette
blurred by rain and buses
anyhow. A lonely
Nothing she was waiting for
came, unless what took her
in the coldest arms.
It seems to be the pearls
we remember, for what they spoke
of another life than waiting,
and being unknown dying
in a high dark street.
Who she was you'll keep thinking.
The hearse rolled off in thunder,
but showers only lay dust.
Liz Lochhead is a fair bit younger than Morgan and MacCaig (who is now dead), perhaps its a generational thing. Here is a link for her:-
Both Morgan and MacCaig were also academics, Morgan was professor of English at Glasgow University, and MacCaig was also an English teacher; where as Lochhead has an art school background and is better known as a dramatist than a poet. Edwin Morgan quite recently wrote a trilogy of plays on the life of Christ (called AD) in which one of his disciples makes homosexual advances, needless to say the local Christians were up in arms! One even said if Morgan had been from the Middle East and had written such plays there, he would be executed for blasphemy!
As to the poem 'The Woman', I have to admit I am having difficulty with it. Morgan often does focus on an inanimate object (like the Strawberries in the poem of that name) and use it to associate with other feeling, in this case the pearls "we remember, for what they spoke
of another life than waiting". Am I correct in thinking she is made up with pearls in her coffin in the Hearst?
What I will say about Morgan as a poet is that he has great sympathy and compassion for people, especially those who suffer in some way (like the hunchback from 'In The Snack Bar'), and for this unknown woman with the pearls. I tend to think that this is in some way related to Morgan being gay, the fact that he lived in a very repressive age where his sexual orientation could have wrecked his life totally gave him a sympathy for the outsiders and dispossessed in society which otherwise he would probably not have had. Or at least would not have had such a good insight in to their sufferings.
Hi Monco –
Thanks for the reply.
My feelings toward Lochhead's poetry - I think it is a matter of incompatibility of styles.
I like to read poems that 'fly before my eyes', 'take me places,' 'cut thru,' 'make me think' – that is what I take from poetry [literature], the ability it has to awake something inside.
Some authors bring it closer to home [for me] than others. It may not be their academic background or generation – but rather what makes them tick. Morgan considered Art before deciding on taking English literature. Two of my favorite authors: one went to law school [a drop out], showed love for 'painting,' but literature spoke louder and it became his canvas. The other – went to law school, practice law his whole life – although literature was what got him thru and he wrote many books throughout his life [died at the age of 40/1], and he is in my opinion one of the brightest writers of all times.
Morgan's AD sounds interesting - have you read it?
I remember when that movie 'The Last Temptation of Christ' [Martin Scorsese's] came out and the buzz that caused, remember that?
It is such a controversial topic and artists usually get all the heat for portraying any religious character as human being [or having any human 'emotions'].
What makes me wonder why some think that one has to respect their beliefs but they cannot respect one's freedom of expression [I could call freedom of expression and thought also beliefs]. Seems like an unilateral view to me.
The Woman: First is gives me a very lonely, dark and elegant image: a woman, darkness, loneliness, rain, pearls…
"It seems to be the pearls
we remember, for what they spoke
of another life than waiting…"
For me he is making a connection with pearls and her 'real' life… The pearls could give in her status – a wealth woman?
And the way I take it – doesn't matter who you are 'the end' has the ability to turn everthing into the same.
..."but showers only lay dust"…
"What I will say about Morgan as a poet is that he has great sympathy and compassion for people, especially those who suffer in some way"…
Yeah… if you are or ever been the under dog… you can relate much closer…
Will post more soon...
I found your interpretation of the poem interesting, but personally I didn't think the pearls were a sign that the woman was wealthy. I am wondering if perhaps your being a Los Angelean, and my being a Glaswegian are colouring our readings of this poem. Perhaps with LA being a city where wealth is displayed more ostentatiously than here in the more puritanical Glasgow means 'pearls' has a different meaning for each of us. I would actually have thought of the pearls as being cheap and tacky, maybe from a bargain store, and perhaps indicating a desire of the woman to lead the kind of life she didn't, or couldn't.
"Nothing she was waiting for
It tends to make me think of a rather sad and disappointed woman who wished for another life, and had a lonely and anonymous death in a bleak Glasgow street.
No I have never read Morgans, though I followed the controversy in the newspapers. Morgan is far to gifted a writer, and brilliant a man to indulge in anything tacky or tasteless. He said that most of the complaints came from people who had never read or seen the play, but who just put 'Christ' and 'Gay' together and assumed the worst. Though it never reached Scorsese like levels of controversy.
I am not familiar enough with Lochheads work to give any judgement on it, but certainly I think it will vary a great deal for each individual. Personally my favourite poet is Philip Larkin, he wrote wonderfully economical poetry, and had a great insight in to the everyday and the ordinary which not too many poets have. But I also like Sylvia Plath who is a very different kind of poet, and not one whom I feel speaks to me personally.
Hi Monco -
I find your interpretation interesting as well… However, nothing in the poem makes me think 'cheap' or 'tacky.' The word 'pearls' for me spells elegance, wealthy, tradition, mature age [it is rarer to see pearls on a young woman] and a lot more.
I am not sure about our geographic location, being responsible for the way we are coloring the poem. Remember an earlier talk we had about how two people can look at the same thing and have complete different sayings on it? I would say it is a matter of individual views. As we definitely see two very different women there!
Again it [the poem] shows me a lonely, older and wealthy woman - "Nothing she was waiting for came" –she could be waiting for so many things: a way out of loneness, to see loved ones or better days… The mention of a 'lonely ring' at the beginning also makes me think that she may have been married at some point in her life.
"Who she was you'll keep thinking"...
As for Lochhead and other authors that are not my favorites, instead of 'judging' [right or wrong] them – I use the right that I have as a reader to choose what I want or what I do not want to read. A 'selection of style' one could call it. And as for literature yes! it must move me in someway.
I found some of Larkin's poems on line and will have a look at them when I have more time… My favorite poets – I have posted some on the 'Favorite Poetry' thread.
After all the talking would be good to post some Lochhead next…
“However, nothing in the poem makes me think 'cheap' or 'tacky.' The word 'pearls' for me spells elegance, wealthy, tradition, mature age [it is rarer to see pearls on a young woman] and a lot more. “
Not in Glasgow it doesn’t! Glasgow is a very democratic city, it doesn’t have wealthy elitist cliques like most other cities have. I always read Morgans poetry with a sense of Glasgow in my mind, regardless of the subject matter. In ‘One Cigarette’ its not just about a man sitting in his home with the still burning cigarette of his departed lover in his ashtray, its about a man in his Glasgow home with the still burning cigarette of his departed lover in his ashtray.
I cannot take Morgans poetry out of Glasgow. The places he mentions are places I know, like Duke Street in his poem ‘Death In Duke Street’, I cannot read it without thinking about that street, and I have an idea in my mind about that street from my own experience. It’s the same with the Kilpatrick Hills in ‘Strawberries’. I can see those hills from my house, so when the poem ends with “and summer lightning on the Kilpatrick hills, let the storm wash the plates” I am not thinking about any old hills, but about a geography I know very well. That’s kind of what I mean by our environments colouring our respective readings of the poems.
“I would say it is a matter of individual views. As we definitely see two very different women there!”
You see, the woman you mention is not really the kind of woman you would be very likely to see in Glasgow, or the type Morgan would be inclined to write about. He writes about marginalised people like the man from ‘In The Snack Bar’
Though I am not trying to say you are wrong, I am just saying how I see it based on my own life, really Morgan is the only poet I have this kind of relationship with. I don’t with any other poet.
What are days for?
Days are where we live.
They come, they wake us
Time and time over.
They are to be happy in:
Where can we live but days?
Ah, solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor
In their long coats
Running over the fields.
-- Philip Larkin 1922 - 1985
Hi Monco -
I now understand where you are coming from when you read Morgan. I am therefore coming from the opposite direction. I was not born, raised or ever been to Glasgow and have never lived in a place where 'elitist cliques' did not exist. As you can see different existences, experiences – individual views – interesting discussions.
As for marginalized people – I think 'The Woman' would fit the profile of an outcast in Glasgow with her pearls – one way or another.
From '3 Scottish Poets' :
Morgan comes closer to home with the many poems he has written about cities in general and Glasgow in particular. Works such as 'The Second Life,' 'The Woman,' 'Trio,' 'In the Snack-bar,' 'Christmas Eve' and 'For Bonfires' reveal him as one of our finest modern poets of the urban experience. In these poems, as in his love lyrics ('One Cigarette,' 'Absence,' 'Fado'), Edwin Morgan writes with great poignancy about the fleeting nature of personal contact amid the rush of crowds and the sea of information which is where we live. From this territory he has written very fine lyrics of solitude, beauty and desolation, and yet his delight in astonishment, balance and (always) regeneration makes 'Cinquevalli' something of a personal statement for him, and shines through 'Instructions to an Actor.' *
Thanks for Larkin's 'Days' - Smart poem, enjoyed it and am still thinking about the priest and the doctor.
Lochhead is on… *will post some of them…
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