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
From The Second Life (Edinburgh University Press, 1968). Also published in Collected Poems (Carcanet, 1990)
Reprinted by permission of Carcanet Press
© The Edwin Morgan Archive at the Scottish Poetry Library, individual authors and copyright holders.
Published by the Scottish Poetry Library. A registered charity (No. SCO23311)
‘Strawberries’ by Edwin Morgan
The poet says.
«Meeting [John Scott] in 1963 was probably the thing that unleashed most of the poems in the 1960s … All the love poems from the 1960s were started off by meeting him and were about him in various ways … Most of them, not every one exactly, but most of them did come out of things that actually happened. ‘Strawberries’ came out of eating strawberries on that French window, there in fact [points], from which you can see the Kilpatrick Hills, so that just comes from life if you like. It just happened really pretty well exactly as it is there. Most of them are rather like that, though in some cases a bit of imagination comes into it.
Edwin Morgan, interviewed by Christopher Whyte, Nothing Not Giving Messages (1990), pp.174-7
A reader says.
«In its economy of setting and deceptive simplicity of expression, how evocative and sensuous it is from the outset, and how subtly sustained the alliterative pattern of ‘s’ and ‘st’ sounds pinning its two-beat lines in place. But it is the last line which touchingly clinches things, both at a practical, almost mundance level and in conjuring up, in the intense heat, an alternative urgency. I sense in it a reminder of how moments of intimacy must be grasped, in the face not just of the elements but of mortality.»
Stewart Conn in From Saturn to Glasgow (2008)
- Where and when is the poem set?
- There are just two characters in the poem, the ‘I’ and the ‘you’ – what do we learn about each of them?
- What aspects of the characters does the poet not describe, and how does this affect your reading of the poem?
- What changes over the course of the poem?
- Why do you you think the poet chooses not to use any punctuation?
- What kind of metre does the poet use?
- Why do you think the poet begins a new verse at l.26?
- Why do you think the last line is separated from the rest of the poem?
- Why do you think the poet highlights the ‘strawberries’ in the title of the poem?
- He could easily have called it something else – ‘Hot sunlight’, or ‘Forgetfulness’, or ‘The Storm’, for example.
The poem ‘Strawberries’ poem was composed around 20 January 1965. Edwin Morgan wrote several other poems just before and just after this:
- ‘From the domain of Arnheim’
- ‘The suspect’
They are all included, and dated, in The Second Life (1968).
Take one of these poems and compare it with ‘Strawberries’. Consider the two poems’ similarities and differences in one or more of these areas:
- subject matter
- any changes that occur in the course of the poems
- the way the characters relate to one another
- the way the speaker reveals himself
- the relationship the speaker has to the other character(s)
A summer afternoon
Write a poem about a memorable and enjoyable summer afternoon you spent with someone – a friend, a family member, a boyfriend or girlfriend. Before you write it, think about and make some notes on:
- where you were
- who you were with
- what you did (including perhaps what you ate)
- the weather
- anything that changed during the afternoon, for example the weather, or perhaps you travelled from one place to another.
Expressive Arts (Art)
Make a drawing or painting to illustrate ‘Strawberries’
The poem takes place in a single location, but over a period of time.
- How best can you find a single image that represents the whole poem?
- Think about who and what the poet describes, and how these might be conveyed or interpreted visually.
There are two characters, whose physical relationship to one another is described at various points, for example ‘facing each other / your knees held in mine’, and ‘I bent towards you’.
- Various objects are mentioned, for example ‘strawberries’, ‘the open french window’, ‘the two forks crossed’.
- The wider setting is given too, for example ‘that sultry afternoon’, ‘hot sunlight’, ‘the Kilpatrick hills’.
- The ‘blue plates’ are mentioned in the poem, but which other colours are implied?
- Which of the above do you want to include in your work, and why?
- How do you want to present them – sketched and undefined, or in some detail? Why?
- Think about the point of view – what is in the foreground, middle ground, background?
- Think about whether you would like to include a line or a phrase from the poem in your finished work.
- Think about a title for your work
- Is it simply called ‘Strawberries’ like the poem, or can you give it another title that is more appropriate or more evocative?
Read this poem in…
Morgan, Edwin. The Second Life.
Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1968.
Voices: An Anthology Of Poetry And Pictures: The Third Book.
Geoffrey Summerfield. Ed.
Middlesex: Penguin Education, 1968.
pp. 70-71 ‘Strawberries’
O’Hara, Mary. Celebration Of Love.
London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1985.
p. 105 ‘Strawberries’
Talk Poetry: Edwin Morgan, Selected Poems.
CD. Canto. 1985.
The Hutchinson Book Of Post-War British Poets.
Dannie Abse. Ed. London: Hutchinson, 1989.
p. 150 ‘Strawberries’ next to blemish on page has penciled ‘strawberry mark?’
The Nation’s Favourite 20th Century Poems.
Griff Rhys Jones. Ed. London: BBC, 1999.
p. 59 ‘Strawberries’
Edwin Morgan Recorded June 5th 2000 At His Home In Glasgow, Scotland.
CD. The Poetry Archive. Gloucestershire, England.
Morgan dedicated The Second Life to John Scott (‘J. G.S.’). Scott died in 1978, and among the later poems about or dedicated to him are ‘After a Death’ in Sonnets from Scotland (1984), ‘A Coach Tour’ in Hold Hands Among the Atoms (1991), and ‘John 1’ and ‘John 2’ in Love and a Love (2003). Stanzas 4 and 6 of Seven Decades also refer to him.
- Readings of Edwin Morgan’s ‘Strawberries’ by Hamish Whyte and Liz Cameron
- Essay on The Second Life by Ken Cockburn
Resource written by Ken Cockburn, April 2009
The following Edwin Morgan poems are in Booknotes:
- One Cigarette
- In the Snack Bar
- Glasgow Sonnet No°1
- The death of Marilyn Monroe
Booknotes allows you to read our notes about the poems as well as add your own.
Edwin Morgan biography
Edwin George Morgan was born on 27 April 1920 in the West End of Glasgow. He went to Glasgow University to study English literature in 1937. While at University Morgan also studied French and Russian. The Second World War then interrupted his studies. From 1940 Morgan served in the Royal Army Medical Corps. Returning to Glasgow in 1946, he graduated with first class honours the following year. Morgan then joined the staff of the English Literature Department after turning down a scholarship to Oxford. He worked as a lecturer at Glasgow until his retirement as a professor in 1980.
Morgan’s first book of poetry was published in 1952. Since then he has continued to live and work in Glasgow, producing work which has received increasing recognition at both home and abroad. In the 1960s Morgan became involved in the international concrete poetry movement, corresponded with concrete poets in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and became, along with Ian Hamilton Finlay, perhaps the major exponent of concrete poetry in these Islands. A committed internationalist, Morgan has been a prolific translator, producing versions of poems and plays from a large number of languages.
Edwin Morgan’s work has received a number of prestigious accolades and has assumed an increasingly public role. In 1999 he became Glasgow’s first official Poet Laureate and a year later received the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry. Most recently, in 2004, Morgan became Scotland’s first official national poet or ‘Scots Makar’, charged with ‘representing and promoting Scots poetry’. In the years after his appointment to the Glasgow laureateship Morgan was an active supporter of the repeal of Section 28, criticising Church and business leaders for their support of the ‘Keep the Clause’campaign. This endorsement of gay rights and inclusive attitudes to social and cultural difference characterised his publicly liberal stance in the 1990s and into the 21st Century.
Edwin Morgan died in Glasgow on 19 August, 2010.