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This article is taken from PN Review 104, Volume 21 Number 6, July - August 1995.

Insatiable Distances: Edwin Morgan's World Plays Stan Smith

EDWIN MORGAN, Sweeping out the Dark (Carcanet) £8.95.

Edwin Morgan has always favoured science fiction scenarios. The title of his present collection comes from a sonnet sequence near its start, 'Trajectory', which deploys the now familiar trope of the earth viewed from space, a vulnerable globe without visible means of support physical or metaphysical, 'unhung on any golden chain, unarmed by more/than air'. The concluding lines tum from this Olympian view to a more mundane perspective: 'In backstreet Naples, under her living cliff,/a woman vigorously sweeps out the dark.' It's probably too slight a sequence to hang a volume on, with signs of verbal straining and amplification to meet the sonnet's formal requirements. But the moment is a significant and characteristic one in Morgan's poetry. All the while the grand projects unfold, there are always those still keeping the world turning, absorbed in the patient task of ablution round earth's mortal shores, reproducing the material base from which all the celestial ladders start.

Another poem on the same ground, 'Morning in Naples', recalls early Sunday in a silent city, waiting to leave, with Vesuvius ominous in the background. But if the poet is 'all transience, all pause, all flight', he watches with quiet admiration 'a world beginning over,/lover and over without a blurt of trumpets' as unassumingly as it had done since before the first Greek traders arrived until this 'unlikely now'. The final lines speak both of his departure and of 'something else we ...

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