November 20, 2020

Gavin’s Notes:

In  Glasgow

In Glasgow sets five poems by Edwin Morgan from his collection Sonnets from Scotland and is for a 24-voice chamber choir. It was commissioned by Celtic Connections for performance January 2021. I had already set eight of these sonnets for men’s choir: three for the Estonian Men’s Choir (and recorded on  BCGBCD 11 “Silva Caledonia”); three for a consortium of American men’s choirs, and two to form part of my Piano Concerto “The Solway Canal” as well as being separate works. I admire Edwin Morgan’s poetry immensely and had the opportunity to meet him in Glasgow before the Tallinn performances of Silva Caledonia in 2006. In Glasgow is dedicated to my friend, the Scottish writer Brian Morton


Gavin Bryars: In Glasgow

Edwin Morgan, from Sonnets from Scotland

  1. The Poet in the City

Rain stockade Glasgow, we paused, changed gears,

found him solitary but cheerful in

Anniesland, with the cheerfulness you’d win,

we imagined, through schiltrons of banked fears.

The spears had a most sombre glint, as if

the forced ranks had re-closed, but there he wrote

steadily, with a peg for the wet coat

he’d dry and put on soon. Gulls cut the cliff

of those houses, we watched him follow them

intently, see them beat and hear them scream

about the invisible sea they smelt

and fish-white boats they raked from stern to stem

although their freedom was in fact his dream

of freedom with all guilts all fears unfelt.


  1. Poe in Glasgow

The sun beat on the Moby-Dick-browed boy.

It was a day to haunt the Broomielaw.

The smell of tar, the slap of water, draw

his heart out from the wharf in awe and joy.

Oh, not Virginia, not Liverpool –

and not the Isle of Dogs or Greenwich Reach –

but something through the masts – a blue – a beach –

an inland gorge of rivers green and cool.

‘Wake up!’ a sailor coiled with bright rope cried

and almost knocked him off his feet, making

towards his ship. ‘You want to serve your time

as cabin-boy’s assistant, eh?’ The ride

and creak of wood comes home, testing, shaking.

‘Where to?’ He laughed. ‘To Arnheim, boy, Arnheim.’


  1. De Quincey in Glasgow

Twelve thousand drops of laudanum a day

kept him from shrieking. Wrapped in a duffle

buttoned to the neck, he made his shuffle,

door, table, window, table, door, bed, lay

on bed, sighed groaned, jumped from bed, sat and wrote

till the table was white with pages, rang

for his landlady, ordered mutton, sang

to himself with pharmacies in his throat.

When afternoons grew late, he feared and longer

for dusk. In that high room in Rottenrow

he looks out east to the Necropolis.

Its crowded tombs rise jostling, living, thronged

with shadows, and the granite-bloodying glow

flares on the dripping bronze of a used kris.


  1. G. M. Hopkins in Glasgow


Earnestly nervous yet forthright, melted

by bulk and warmth and unimposed rough grace,

he lit a ready fuse from face to face

of Irish Glasgow. Dark tough tight-belted

drunken Fenian poor ex-Ulstermen

crouched round a brazier like a burning bush

and lurched into his soul with such a push

that British angels blanched in mid-amen

to see their soldier stumble like a Red.

industry’s pauperism singed his creed.

He blessed them, frowned, beat on his hands. The load

of coal-black darkness clattering on his head

half-crushed, half-fed the bluely burning need

that trudged him back along North Woodside Road


  1. After a Death


A writer needs nothing but a table.

His pencil races, pauses, crosses out.

Five years ago he lost his friend, without

him he struggles through a different fable.

The one who died, he is the better one.

The other one is selfish, ruthless, he

uses people, floats in an obscure sea

of passions, half-drowns as the livid sun

goes down, calls out for help he will not give.

Examine yourself! He is afraid to.

But that is not quite true, I saw him look

Into that terrible place, let him ,live

at least with what is eternally due

to love that lies in earth in cold Carluke.




Gavin Bryars