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Edwin Muir Biography

(1887–1959), New Age, We Moderns: Enigmas and Guesses, First Poems, Chorus of the Newly Dead

Scottish poet, critic, and translator, born at Deerness in Orkney, educated at Kirkwall Grammar School. In 1901 the family moved to Glasgow, where Muir lost both his parents and two of his brothers in five years and himself experienced physical and mental ill-health. This period of privation informed his work as an imaginative antithesis to the vision of purity of being he strove to manifest in his verse. In 1919 he married Willa Anderson and moved to London to join the staff of the New Age; the socialist verse-polemics and Nietzschean aphorisms he had contributed to the periodical since 1913 were published under the pseudonym ‘Edward Moore’ as We Moderns: Enigmas and Guesses (1918). Muir began producing the poetry for which he is remembered between 1921 and 1924, when he and his wife travelled in Europe following his submission to psychoanalysis; their collaboration as translators, which resulted in their well-known versions of many of Kafka's works, also began at this time. First Poems (1925) contained numerous pieces reflecting his experiences of Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia. His subsequent collections of verse include Chorus of the Newly Dead (1926), Journeys and Places (1937), The Labyrinth (1949), and One Foot in Eden (1956); by the mid-1930s he was recognized as a poet whose essentially traditional manner did not compromise the radical originality of his mythopoeic imagination. The increasingly visionary character of his later verse is exemplified by the evocation of spiritual and material renewal in ‘The Transfiguration’. After teaching for the British Council in the 1940s, he was warden of the college at Newbattle Abbey near Edinburgh, where he encouraged George Mackay Brown, and held a visiting professorship at Harvard in 19556. His critical works include The Structure of the Novel (1928) and Scott and Scotland (1936), which estranged him from Hugh MacDiarmid for its views on the unviability of Scots as a literary language. Among the collections of his essays are Latitudes (1924), Transition (1926), and Essays on Literature and Society (1949). His novels, The Marionette (1927), The Three Brothers (1931), and Poor Tom (1932), are not as highly regarded as the lyrically autobiographical prose of Scottish Journey (1935) and The Story and the Fable (1940), the latter revised as An Autobiography in 1950. Collected Poems (1960) is edited by Willa Muir and J. C. Hall. P. H. Butter's Edwin Muir: Man and Poet appeared in 1966.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Mr Polly to New France