Edwin Muir Analysis

Other literary forms

(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Edwin Muir (myoor) is known principally for his poetry, which was compiled near the end of his life into Collected Poems, 1921-1958. Muir wrote in other genres, including fiction, biography, and nonfiction, primarily works of literary criticism and theory. Besides his poetry, however, Muir is most remembered for An Autobiography (1954) and his translations with his wife, Willa Muir, of the novels and short stories of Franz Kafka.


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

On the surface, Edwin Muir seems the very image of the erudite and reticent scholar and poet, calling on myth, allusion, and the classical tradition to craft poems that seemed rooted in the English poetic tradition at a time when the modernist poets were taking poetry in a new direction. This picture of Muir, however, is misleading. He came from a rural Scottish family, did not begin writing poetry until he was thirty-five, and endured an impoverished childhood in the harsh environs of Glasgow. Muir distilled his experiences into a powerful, if traditional, poetry and, through his translations, brought the English-speaking world’s attention to the work of Kafka. T. S. Eliot speaks admiringly of Muir’s “integrity” in his preface to Selected Poems (this preface first appeared in The Listener in May, 1964, and also in the 1965 edition of Collected Poems, 1921-1958), explaining that all of Muir’s work and life were of a piece, focused on a single unified expression of his ideas and experience.

In his later life, Muir received many awards and honorary degrees, including the Foyle Prize (1950), the Heinemann Award (1953), membership in the Royal Society of Literature (1953), the Frederick Niven Literary Award (1953), Commander of the Order of the British Empire (1953), and the Russell Loines Award (1957).


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Aitchison, James. The Golden Harvester: The Vision of Edwin Muir. Aberdeen, Scotland: Aberdeen University Press, 1988. Comprehensive overview and analysis of the entirety of Muir’s poetry.

Gairn, Louisa. “Questioning Our Place in the World: The Significance of Pastoral in the Work of Edwin Muir.” In New Versions of Pastoral: Post-Romantic, Modern, and Contemporary Responses to the Tradition, edited by David James and Philip Tew. Madison, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2009. Citing Muir’s break with the pastoral in his family’s move from the Orkney Islands to Glasgow, Gairn explores Muir’s use of pastoral elements and his relationship with technology.

Kinzie, Mary. “Edwin Muir and the Primal World.” In By Herself: Women Reclaim Poetry, edited by Molly McQuade. St. Paul, Minn.: Graywolf Press, 2000. Kinzie analyzes Muir’s poetry and discusses its relationship to An Autobiography.

McCulloch, Margery. Edwin Muir: Poet, Critic and Novelist. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1993. An introduction to the poetry, criticism, and fiction of Muir intended for students and for the general audience.

MacLachlan, C. J. M., and D. S. Robb, eds. Edwin Muir: Centenary Assessments. Aberdeen, Scotland: Association for Scottish Literary Studies, 1990. A significant collection of essays on Muir’s work. Essayists in the collection consider biographical connections to his work as well as literary analysis of specific works.

Mellown, Elgin W. Edwin Muir. Boston: Twayne, 1979. Good basic introduction to the life and work of Muir. Three chapters concentrate on the poetry. Includes chronology, biography, and bibliography.

Whyte, Christopher. Modern Scottish Poetry. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2004. Examines Muir’s work in the context of Scottish poetry from the beginning of World War II until 1999. Muir is one of twenty Scottish poets discussed.

Wiseman, Christopher. Beyond “The Labyrinth”: A Study of Edwin Muir’s Poetry. Victoria, B.C.: Sono Nis Press, 1978. Canadian poet Wiseman offers an in-depth and sometimes critical view of Muir’s poetry, examining the structure and development of some of Muir’s best-known work.