Death and Strawberries

This week in August 2010 has taken on quite a melancholy mood. Only a few days ago there was the death of physicist Nicola Cabibbo. Yesterday I heard that the great Russian mathematician Vladimir Igorevich Arnold, who did a lot of work of interest to physicists, had also passed away aged 72. And then this morning I was saddened to hear of the death of the wonderful Scottish poet Edwin Morgan, of pneumonia, at the age of 90.

It’s always sad when someone who has contributed so much to their field – whether it’s artistic or scientific – passes away, but the consolation is that each of them in their own way has left a wonderful legacy that remains to be treasured and will also inspire future generations.

Anyway, I thought I’d mark the passing of Edwin Morgan with my favourite poem of his, called Strawberries.

There were never strawberries
like the ones we had
that sultry afternoon
sitting on the step
of the open french window
facing each other
your knees held in mine
the blue plates in our laps
the strawberries glistening
in the hot sunlight
we dipped them in sugar
looking at each other
not hurrying the feast
for one to come
the empty plates
laid on the stone together
with the two forks crossed
and I bent towards you
sweet in that air

in my arms
abandoned like a child
from your eager mouth
the taste of strawberries
in my memory
lean back again
let me love you

let the sun beat
on our forgetfulness
one hour of all
the heat intense
and summer lightning
on the Kilpatrick hills

let the storm wash the plates

It may surprise you to learn that this poem is not written by a man to a woman, but from one man to another. A similar reaction is sometimes provoked by certain of Shakespeare’s Sonnets. It came as a shock to quite a few people when it was finally revealed, in fact, because Edwin Morgan kept to himself for a very long time who this was written about. Actually, it wasn’t until he was 70 that the poet stepped out of the closet, announced that he was gay, and explained that the poem was written about an experience he shared with another man. He maintained that at least part of the reason for him not being open publically was that he didn’t want to be branded as a “gay” poet, and that his poems were intended to be universal, which (in my view) they are but then that depends on what kind of universe you live in.

5 Responses to “Death and Strawberries”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mark Rushing, Peter Coles. Peter Coles said: Deaths and Strawberries: […]

  2. Anton Garrett Says:

    I’d missed Arnold’s death – apparently he died on June 3rd. He was without doubt the great man of abstract Hamiltonian dynamics, which in one sense is the highest direct line from Isaac Newton.

    I knew a Scottish poet contemporary of Morgan, Bob Silver (who also invented desalination as a commercially viable continuous-flow process – ie you didn’t have to stop from time to time to chip the salt out). He spoke much of the Scottish literary scene and often mentioned Chris Grieve aka Hugh MacDiarmid, but I don’t recall Bob’s recollections of Morgan.


    • telescoper Says:

      I only knew about Arnold’s death because I saw the obituary in the Guardian, so I must have missed it at the time too.

      I wonder if Edwin Morgan’s death might prompt the release of the fabled recording of Planet Wave that I mentioned in a previous post? I’d be fascinated to hear it.

  3. John Peacock Says:

    “The consolation is that each of them in their own way has left a wonderful legacy”.

    Consoling for us, maybe. But they would probably stick with Woody Allan: “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying”.

    Less flippantly, I attended a moving humanist funeral recently, and the pastor simply pointed out that we live on in the memories of those we loved, and who loved us. That’s all the legacy you need.

    • telescoper Says:

      Funerals are bearable only when whoever organises them realises that they’re for the people left behind and not for the departed. When someone close to us dies we sometimes fool ourselves ithat we grieve for them, but its always our loss we mourn.

      Still, I’m not sure I’d want to live forever anyway. I think that would increase the risk of developing piles.

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