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Strawberries -- Edwin Morgan

(Poem #827) Strawberries
 There were never strawberries
 like the ones we had
 that sultry afternoon
 sitting on the step
 of the open french window
 facing each other
 your knees held in mine
 the blue plates in our laps
 the strawberries glistening
 in the hot sunlight
 we dipped them in sugar
 looking at each other
 not hurrying the feast
 for one to come
 the empty plates
 laid on the stone together
 with the two forks crossed
 and I bent towards you
 sweet in that air

 in my arms
 abandoned like a child
 from your eager mouth
 the taste of strawberries
 in my memory
 lean back again
 let me love you

 let the sun beat
 on our forgetfulness
 one hour of all
 the heat intense
 and summer lightning
 on the Kilpatrick hills

 let the storm wash the plates
-- Edwin Morgan
Sumer is icumen in, which means (in England, at least) Wimbledon, Ascot and
the Ashes. Oh, and strawberries in cream - hence today's choice of poem.

Truth to tell, though, the strawberries of the title are rather incidental
to the poem, which is mostly about love, and memory, and experience. No,
wait, I take that back: the strawberries may be incidental, but that's
entirely the point - the poem is about incidents, about the million and one
little things that make life worth living. The events described may be just
one story out of many, but they're no less real and no less important for


[Minstrel Links]

The magic of the ordinary is a theme which runs through much of Edwin
Morgan's work; see, for instance, his justly celebrated "The Unspoken",
Minstrels Poem #147. See also Seamus Heaney's "Song", Minstrels Poem #61.

Morgan's poetry also has a strong undercurrent of humour; see Minstrels
Poem #215, "The Loch Ness Monster's Song", and Minstrels Poem #304, "The
Subway Piranhas". I find his playfulness a welcome relief in an age
where poets often take themselves all too seriously.

Finally, while we're on the subject of berries, see William Carlos Williams'
equally evocative slice-of-life, "This Is Just To Say", Minstrels Poem #274.

33 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

wirschnc said...

This is a love poem in disguise. The subject in the poem
isn't the girl he 'loves' or even the moment they shared,
it's centered around his idea of loving her. "Let me love
you" is almost a demand not a mutual feeling b/w the two.
He lusts selfishly over a woman that he describes not at
all. This makes her interchangeable to become any woman
that he wishes, be it lover, wife or just throw away fling
and thats not really very romantic or personal simply


Alex Bueno-Edwards said...

But love is love right, I mean "lean back let me love you" who doesn't want
to hear the ultimate lovemaking statement

Nancy Wood said...

I think the lover's privacy is respected by his/her anonymity. The
poet could be speaking to you, you know, this moment could be yours
as well. Let me love you isn't a command, quite, it's that urgent
thrilling I-must-have-you of love, then there's a nice sequence of
transformation through the three 'Lets'. Let the sun beat on our
forgetfulness is more of a prayer or wish, then Let the storm wash
the plates is allowing, accepting, drifting into sleep.

This is certainly a poem about love, but also about death and love's
valiance in the certain face of death. Not hurrying this feast
refers not only to not hurrying the eating of strawberries before the
feast of love to come, but also not hurrying life away before death.
The feast to come is us, you know, we will be death's feast, and the
feast of worms. See Shakespeare in Mercutio's speech. The empty
plates that lie on the stone together with their two forks crossed
are like two effigy tombs lying side by side on the stone together
with their arms crossed.

He's done something wonderful here: using the ordinary, he's touched
the infinite.


Gary xxx said...

The poem is about a time of homosexual lovemaking.

If we take the strawberry to be symbolic of another bulbous end that holds
many seeds - a symbolism shared by some painters - then the theme becomes

In the first stanza the blue plates symbolise both parties being male, the
plates only slot together one way like spooning homosexual lovers. By the
end of the first stanza the first round of lovemaking is over - the plates
are empty, laying on the stone. "The two forks crossed" symbolise male
genitals crossed in the embrace afterward.

Stanza 2 and the lovers are ready for more with the taste of "strawberries"
fresh in thier memory.

and so on.

McGuire4 Rebecca said...

As a reply to Nikki's comment,

Morgan doesn't describe the woman he loves, not through ignorance, but because he was describing a man, and feared persecution for his homosexuality as his was written in a much less tolerant time.

The effect of 'merely' describing the memory of this specific time they shared, and not his lover's personal attributes (although it is hinted at that they are similar and share many qualities "two forks crossed" etc) a universal feeling is given, so this moment could be anyone's simple but wonderful time in their life that they shared with their lover, so it could have been written about anyone, male, female, heterosexual, or not.

I feel Morgan portrays his feelings towards his lover very well, and is, perhaps selfish ("lean back and let me love you", "your knees held in mine") but by admitting these feelings, the poem is further made universal, as many have been selfish and desperate in love.

Anonymous said...

in reply to Gary xxx

That is only an assumption we will never know wether or not this was a time of homosexual lovemaking as he never says and the examples you gave may well mean other things such as the crossed forks being symbols of their intimacy and the fact that they come together as one.

In my opinion the fact that this is a universal love poem which knows no boundaries when it comes to gender or who it applies to is a stroke of genius and shows that love is not just between a man and a woman or a man and man but between two humans who share a memorable evening together that ends in neither rushed nor planned intimacy.

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Anonymous said...

i'm setting this piece to music. All comments have given me a different suggestion of what the text is about which I hope to capture in the harmony and rhythm of the music (to be sung by a baritone)so thank you all!

Anonymous said...

I love this poem and the fact that Edwin Morgan was able to express his love for a man in this manner. 'lean back again, let me love you' for me has very sexual connotations and to me refers to a certain act of love making. It might not be, but it is how I understood it and therefore congratulate Morgan for being so bold at the time. One of my favourite poem. ever.

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Anonymous said...

One thing that strikes out to me is that I don't find it to be very sexual. It's more about the sensuality and strong emotional connection between the poet and his lover: "...looking at each other, not hurrying the feast," Looking into someone's eyes is a very intimate thing to do. The poem is almost post-coital, in that it could be reflecting on the warm glowy feeling you get after enjoying sex with someone you love... "lean back again, let me love you..." Lean back into my arms, let me hold you? Ravish you (again)?
There is more to "homosexual love-making" than just sex, and I feel it's important to recognise this part of intimacy in the poem.

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