He touched hearts - farewell to Makar Edwin Morgan

HE was the national poet whose reverie might "start in a tenement close", but could take his readers off on an "intergalactic voyage".

• A service was held at Glasgow University in celebration of the late Makar's life

An audience drawn from the worlds of the arts, politics, and academia yesterday bade farewell to Edwin Morgan, Scotland's Makar, who died last week four months after celebrating his 90th birthday.

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At a service of appreciation and celebration at the University of Glasgow, the institution with which he forged a lifetime's association, those who collaborated with him, or drew inspiration from a canon of work spanning seven decades, fondly recalled the cultural icon.

In his eulogy, Dr George Reid, former presiding officer of the Scottish Parliament, described Morgan as a man who not only changed the medium he loved, but "expanded the frontiers of Scotland itself".

He was one of a number of speakers to say goodbye to Morgan at the 90-minute humanist service. The diversity of their backgrounds - in addition to fellow poets, there were tributes from a mezzo-soprano, a publisher, and a jazz saxophonist - made clear the breadth of Morgan's own intellectual curiosity.

Born into a loving yet conservative, presbyterian family, Morgan was, Dr Reid added, someone who loved in equal measure the likes of the Beat Poets, space travel, Russian modernists, The Beatles, and the language of the ordinary Glaswegian.

In turn, he said, Morgan took sustenance from such dizzying influences, producing sonnets, sound poetry, opera librettos, jazz performances, and translations from Russian, Hungarian, French, Latin, Spanish, and Portuguese.

"We honour a world-class poet who was one of our own," Dr Reid told the service. "A poet of this parish who was universal in his outreach. Whose imagination knew no bounds. A whit trick of a writer who could start in a tenement close and then take this city and country off on an intergalactic voyage.

"A great humanist Scot who, despite all the pyrotechnics of his poetry, always wanted to explore existence and what it means to be alive. Nothing was beyond Eddie's frontiers."Among those in an audience several hundred strong was First Minister Alex Salmond and his predecessor, Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale, who appointed Morgan Scots Makar six years ago. Also there were novelists James Kelman and Alasdair Gray.

Dr Reid acknowledged the university's Bute Hall as a fitting setting for a service celebrating its cherished son. It was the seat of learning where a 17-year-old Morgan secured a place in 1937. After serving with the Royal Army Medical Corps in the Middle East, he graduated a decade later with first-class honours in English language and literature.

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Morgan knocked back the offer of a Oxford scholarship to stay at Glasgow, thus setting out on a lifelong career from junior lecturer to professor. The university, Dr Reid, said, was "as comfortable and familiar to him as an old pair of slippers".

Poets Jackie Kay, David Kinloch, and Liz Lochhead, the latter Morgan's successor as Glasgow's poet laureate, read his work Cinquevalli, while soloist Christina Whyte sang The Beatles' Here There and Everywhere and jazz saxophonist Tommy Smith gave a reading and improvisation of a piece the two men co-wrote.

Reverend Stuart MacQuarrie, the university chaplain who conducted the service, said: "Eddie was a national figure in Scottish life and in international life as Scotland's Makar. His words touched hearts and inspired minds."

Mr Smith said: "If Eddie had been a jazz musician, he'd have been the best in the universe. He could paint sounds with his words. He was a chameleon."

Robyn Marsack, director of the Scottish Poetry Library, said of Morgan: "Glasgow was his parish but not his universe. He could take his poems from Scotland to Saturn."

Morgan died at his care home in Glasgow on 19 August after a bout of pneumonia. Having been diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1999, Dr Reid recalled the poet's conversation with the consultant. "When he asked how long he had, the consultant said it could be six months or six years. 'I think I'll take the six years,' said Eddie."

For the next decade, Morgan, who came out as homosexual in 1990 as a "birthday present" to himself, maintained his prodigious workload.By the end of his life, he had written more than 60 books of poetry.

As well as being appointed the inaugural poet laureate for his home city in 1999, he was winner of the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry the following year. Following the service, guests were invited to the university chapel, where Glenmorangie and Tunnocks teacakes - both favourites of the poet - were laid out. Morgan's family and friends later attended a private cremation at Maryhill Crematorium.