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Edwin Muir (1887-1959) - Poet

He was born on 15th May 1887 at Deerness on the west of the Orkney mainland. His early childhood was spent on the island of Wyre and at Garth near Kirkwall, where he was educated at the local grammar school. When Muir was 14 his family left Orkney and settled in Glasgow, Scotland, where Muir worked in a number of menial jobs. After the death of his parents he began to involve himself in socialist politics, becoming a member of the Independent Labour Party. During World War I he worked in Greenock and started writing for A. R. Orage's magazine The New Age. On 7th June 1919 he married the novelist Willa Anderson and they settled in London, where he took up a career as a literary journalist. Muir's first book. We Moderns, a collection of aphorisms, was published in 1918 under the pseudonym 'Edward Moore'. Its publication in the United States gave the Muirs the necessary finance to travel in Europe, and between 1921 and 1924 they lived in Germany, Czechoslovakia, Italy and Austria. On his return Muir published a verse collection, First Poems (1925), many of which had their origin in an earlier period of psycho-analysis in London.  This was followed by a long poem, Chorus of the Newly Dead (1926), which shows a group of misfits looking back at their life on earth.

During a period in France in 1926 Muir wrote the best of his three novels, The Marionette (1927), which centres on a recurring theme in Muir's work, the value of early memories and the danger inherent in a search for the lost Eden of childhood. In the novel the boy Hans confuses the reality of his own life with the make-believe world of his dolls and of a puppet theatre which portrays Faust's love for Gretchen. Muir's other novels are The Three Brothers (1931), an examination of dualism in the soul, and Poor Tom (1932), a thinly disguised account of his childhood experiences. More rewarding for him financially was his translation of Lion Feuchtwanger's novel few
Suss (1926) and he became a regular translator of contemporary European literature, including the work of Franz Kafka. In 1927 Muir settled with his family in Sussex; he later lived for a time in London before moving to St Andrews in 1935, where he became friendly
with the composer Francis George Scott. He became a prominent member of PEN, the writers' organization, and after a conference in Edinburgh in 1934 he wrote Scottish Journey (1935), a sensitive study of contemporary Scotland.

In his poetry Muir used symbolism to formulate a highly personal vision of existence, which included not only the fall from Eden and the impossible yearning for childhood but also the penetration of time to a higher world of eternity. Variations on a Time Theme, a complex series of poems which balance eternity with faith in survival, was published in 1934, and Journeys and Places, a symbolic journey through time, where mythical figures interpret man's place, was published in 1937. War and pessimism about the past dominate The Narrow Place (1943), which contains 'Scotland 1941' and 'Robert the Bruce', two poems that contrast the ancient nobility of Scotland with its destruction as a nation by internal divisiveness and perverse religious dogma. The Voyage (1946), based on a story told to Muir by the novelist ERIC linklater, returns to the theme of man's symbolic journey through life. Muir's reputation as a major poet was established by The Labyrinth (1949), which includes some of his best work: 'The Transfiguration', a radiant perception of the state of being, and the poems reflecting Muir's hatred of oppression — 'The Good Town', 'The Interrogation', 'The Usurpers' and 'The Combat'.

In 1942 Muir began working with the British Council in Edinburgh and in 1946 he became director of its Prague office, an unhappy period which ended in 1949 when he moved to Rome. The following year he was appointed Warden of Newbattle Abbey College, a residential
adult education college near Edinburgh; during his period of tenure he was able to encourage writers such as George Mackay Brown and Tom Scott who were students there. Muir moved to the United States in 1955 as Norton Professor of English at Harvard; he returned in 1956 to live at Swaffham Prior near Cambridge which remained his home until his death on 3 January 1959. He published One Foot in Eden in 1956, a final collection which ontains 'The Horses', his apocalyptic vision of war and destruction and of the primal grace and endurance of horses and their necessary relationship to man. His Collected Poems appeared in 1960 (revised 1963) and Selected Poems, edited by T. S. Eliot, in 1965. As a critic Muir wrote a number of notable books including The Structure of the Novel (1928), John Knox: Portrait of a Calvinist (1929), The Story and the Fable (1940), Essays on Literature and Society (1949) and The Estate of Poetry (1962). His controversial study Scott and Scotland (1936) reached the conclusion that 'Scotland can only create a national literature by writing in English'.

works Include: We Moderns (1918); Latitudes (1924); First Poems (1925); Chorus of the Newly Dead (1926); Transition (1926); The Marionette (1927); The Structure of the Novel (1928); John Knox: Portrait of a Calvinist (1929); The Three Brothers (1931); Poor Tom (1932); Variations on a Time Theme (1934); Scottish Journey (1935); Scott and Scotland (1936); Journeys and Places (1937); The Present Age, from 1914 (1939); The Story and the Fable (1940); The Narrow Place (1943); The Voyage (1946); The Labyrinth (1949); Essays on Literature and Society (1949); Collected Poems (1952); An Autobiography (1954); One Foot in Eden (1956); The Estate of Poetry (1962); Collected Poems, 1921-1958 (1960);ed. T. S. Eliot, Selected Poems (1965).

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