Edwin Muir (15 May 1887 - 3 January, 1959) was a Scottish poet and novelist.
He was was born on a farm in Deerness , Orkney Islands in the remote northeast of Scotland. In 1901, when he was 14, his father lost the farm and the family moved to Glasgow. In Glasgow first his father, then his two brothers, and then his mother died in the space of a few years. His life as a young man in Glasgow was a depressing experience for him, involving a succession of unpleasant jobs. In 1919 he married Willa Anderson (they would later collaborate on English translations of such writers as Franz Kafka and Hermann Broch) and moved to London. From 1921 - 1923 he was in Prague, Dresden, Italy, Salzburg and Vienna; he returned to England in 1924. Between 1925 and 1956 Muir published seven volumes of poetry which were collected after his death and published in 1991 as The Complete Poems of Edwin Muir. From 1927 to 1932 he published three novels and in 1935 he came to St. Andrews where he produced his controversial Scott and Scotland (published in 1936). From 1946-1949 he was Director of the British Council in Prague and Rome. 1950 saw his appointment as Warden of Newbattle Abbey College (college for working class men) near Edinburgh and in 1955 he was made Norton Professor of English at Harvard University. He returned to England in 1956 but died in 1959 at Swaffam Priory , Cambridge and was buried near Cambridge.
His childhood in remote and unspoiled Orkney represented an idyllic "Eden" to Muir, while his family's move to the city corresponded in his mind to a deeply disturbing encounter with the "fallen" world. The emotional tensions of that dichotomy shaped much of his work and deeply influenced his life. His psychological distress led him to undergo Jungian analysis in London. A vision in which he witnessed the Creation strengthened the Edenic myth in his mind, leading him to see his life as an individual and his career as a poet as a working-out of archetypal fable. In his Autobiography he wrote, "the life of every man is an endlessly repeated performance of the life of man"; our deeds on earth constitute "a myth which we act almost without knowing it." Alienation, paradox, the existential dyads of good and evil, life and death, love and hate, and images of journeys, labyrinths, time and places fill his work.
His Scott and Scotland advanced the claim that Scotland can only create a national literature by writing in English; an opinion which placed him in direct opposition to the Lallans movement of Hugh MacDiarmid. He had little sympathy for Scottish nationalism. Remembered for his deeply felt and vivid poetry in plain, unostentatious language with few stylistic preoccupations, Muir is a relatively little known but significant modern poet. In 1965 a volume of his selected poetry was edited and introduced by T. S. Eliot. An excellent essay discussing Muir's literary career (Edwin Muir?s Journey, by Robert Richman ) is available in the online archives of The New Criterion. Many of Edwin and Willa Muir's translations of German novels are still in print.
The following quotation expresses the basic existential dilemma of Edwin Muir's life: "I was born before the Industrial Revolution, and am now about two hundred years old. But I have skipped a hundred and fifty of them. I was really born in 1737, and till I was fourteen no time-accidents happened to me. Then in 1751 I set out from Orkney for Glasgow. When I arrived I found that it was not 1751, but 1901, and that a hundred and fifty years had been burned up in my two day's journey. But I myself was still in 1751, and remained there for a long time. All my life since I have been trying to overhaul that invisible leeway. No wonder I am obsessed with Time." (Extract from Diary 1937-39.)