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This article is taken from PN Review 127, Volume 25 Number 5, May - June 1999.

Shelf Lives: 5: Edwin Muir Peter Scupham

These years had come alive, after being forgotten for so long, and when I wrote about horses they were my father's plough-horses as I saw them when I was four or five; and a poem on Achilles pursuing Hector round the walls of Troy was really a resuscitation of the afternoon when I ran away in real terror, from another boy as I returned from school. The bare landscape of the little island became, without my knowing it, a universal landscape over which Abraham and Moses and Achilles and Ulysses and Tristram and all sorts of pilgrims passed; and Troy was associated with the Castle, a mere green mound, near my father's house.

Edwin Muir was born in 1887. An Autobiography (Hogarth Press, 1954), his extension of The Story and the Fable (Hogarth, 1940), is a compelling account of the way in which a poetic was consciously built out of isolation and distance - an isolation and distance both spatial and temporal. The formative experience of a unified, prelapsarian world in late nineteenth-century Wyre in the Orkneys, the terrifying fall into a family diaspora, family deaths, a dark subsistence on the edges of Glasgow's underclass, the dreams - these went to the making of the Fable, Muir's reading of his own life in the light of such glimpses and half-understandings of a transcendental, universal order as were given him. The Story continued: the autodidact, the translator, the cosmopolitan intellectual the British Council Lecturer the Warden of ...


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