St Andrew’s Day Poem: ‘Canedolia’ by Edwin Morgan

  30 Nov '21   |  Posted by: Birlinn

Edwin Morgan(1920-2010), Scotland’s first modern Makar, was one of the country’s most playful and curious poets. His vast body of work teems with humanity, from the short lyrics such as ‘Aberdeen Train’, to the documentary realism of ‘Death In Duke Street’, to the anger of ‘Flowers of Scotland’, to the epic scope of his Beowulf translation. His most distinctive poems might be his ‘concrete poetry’, linguistic experiments in which word-play comes to the fore. Even if they seem nonsensical at first glance, these poems make sense as soundscapes, or as stories about language itself.

For St Andrew’s Day, here is his brilliant ‘Canedolia’ which, in its inventive use of Scottish place-names, is a celebration of the whole country and says something about its people. As Morgan wrote in his introduction to the 1961 collection Sovpoems, ‘Experiment if you like, but love the world’.

an off-concrete Scotch fantasia

oa! hoy! awe! ba! mey!

who saw?
rhu saw rum. garve saw smoo. nigg saw tain. lairg saw lagg.
rig saw eigg. largs saw haggs. tongue saw luss. mull saw
yell. stoer saw strone. drem saw muck. gask saw noss. unst
saw cults. echt saw banff. weem saw wick. trool saw twatt.

how far?
from largo to lunga from joppa to skibo from ratho to
shona from ulva to minto from tinto to tolsta from soutra 
to marsco from braco to barra from alva to stobo from
fogo to fada from gigha to gogo from kelso to stroma from
hirta to spango.

what is it like there?
och, it’s freuchie, it’s faifley, it’s wamphray, it’s frandy, it’s 

what do you do?
we foindle and fungle, we bonkle and meigle and 
maxpoffle. we scotstarvit, armit, wormit, and even 
whifflet. we play at crossstobs, leuchars, gorbals, and 
finfan. we scavaig, and there’s aye a bit of tilquhilly. if it’s
wet, treshnish and mishnish.

what is the best of the country?
blinkbonny! airgold! thundergay!

and the worst?
scrishven, shiskine, scrabster, and snizort.

listen! what’s that?
catacol and wauchope, never heed them.

tell us about last night
well, we had a wee ferintosh and we lay on the quiraing. it 
was pure strontian!

but who was there?
petermoidart and craigenkenneth and cambusputtock and
ecclemuchty and corriehulish and balladolly and
altnacanny and clauchanvrechan and stronachlochan and 
auchenlachar and tighnacrankie and tilliebruaich and 
and invervannach and achnatudlem and machrishellach 
and inchtamurchan and auchterfechan and kinlochculter 
and ardnawhallie and invershuggle.

and what was the toast?
schiehallion! schiehallion! schiehallion!

[from The Second Life
 (Edinburgh University Press, 1968)]

Read more about Edwin Morgan and concrete poetry at the National Poetry Library website.

To mark his centenary in 2020, Polygon published the Edwin Morgan Twenties, five slim volumes of poems introduced by leading Scottish writers and critics.

  • Paperback | Pub: 02 Apr 2020

    Introduced by Jackie Kay, this selection of poems include the famous ‘Strawberries’ and ‘One Cigarette’ and four from Morgan’s autobiographical sequence, Love and a Life – love in all its aspects.

  • Paperback | Pub: 02 Apr 2020

    In this volume Michael Rosen introduces Edwin Morgan’s animal poems. Morgan’s empathy with animals is well represented, from the still very topical ‘The White Rhinoceros’ to the prehistoric ‘The Bearsden Shark’ and the famous ‘The Loch…

  • Paperback | Pub: 02 Apr 2020

    Introduced by Liz Lochhead, in this selection we journey round Scotland in ‘Canedolia’, study its history in ‘Picts’, home in on Morgan’s own city of Glasgow in ‘Glasgow Sonnet v’, imagine the country’s future in ‘The Coin’.

  • Paperback | Pub: 02 Apr 2020

    A mixture of Morgan’s science fiction poems and concrete poems. There’s the famous encounter between humans and aliens in ‘The First Men on Mercury’, early digital tongue-twisting in ‘The Computer’s First Christmas Card’ and the…

  • Paperback | Pub: 02 Apr 2020

    Introduced by Ali Smith, the title of this group of poems about people is taken from Morgan’s poem ‘Pelagius’, the theologian who is a kind of alter ego. Morgan has the ability to enter into so many lives: the blind hunchback of ‘In the…

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