Thursday, August 26, 2010
Edwin Morgan: a farewell
It's an entirely secular funeral, and as others I've been to seems longer than the average church ceremony. Maybe there is felt a need to say more, to let everyone contribute in the absence of set ritual; most of the contributions are more wordy than the poet would allow in his work. The best moments glow - David Kinloch reading Strawberries; Tommy Smith's keening saxophone and sudden wolf-howl in front of the coffin; John Butt's organ playing Maxwell Davies' Farewell to Stromness. I sit on the hard seat, and think of the lightness and unassuming grace of the man we're remembering, and some of the Chapel Choir sing A Man's a Man and I long for a less pedestrian setting.
We're all invited to take a dram and a bit of shortbread in the University Chapel. There are also hot drinks, but I stick with the whisky and sip it as I suddenly realise that's Bernard McLaverty over there, and see Alex Salmond and Jack McConnell - and George Reid who was Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament and who spoke at length ...
There are folk, mostly men, who look as if they should be important, in a literary sort of a way, and there are the quietly ordinary ones who turn out to be seriously important but don't seem to have realised it. Sir Kenneth Calman, the Chancellor, has mislaid Liz Lochhead, and Jackie Kay passes and smiles. I realise I've still not had any lunch - a cereal bar eaten in the sunny Arts Quad before the ceremony doesn't really count - and feel it's time to leave. I walk down the chapel steps to the Professors' Quadrangle for the first time since my wedding day forty years ago, into the warm sun that never seemed to shine in term-time. I think of being young, and uncertain, and of how the wind whistled round the quadrangles as we queued for classes, and how unreal university felt, that first year in 1964.
Life is very short, really - even for a 90 year old. Thank God for the poetry.