Trio by Edwin Morgan Poem Analysis

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“Trio”, by Edwin Morgan, is a poem that deals with a chance encounter one winter evening in Glasgow. The poet happened to notice a passing group, or two girls and a boy, whose very happiness seemed to radiate from them in a tangible form. It is this momentary incident which prompts Morgan to search for some deeper meaning behind the trio’s joy, and consider humanity’s ability to draw happiness from apparently mundane sources.

To bring across these ideas, and his strength of conviction, the poet employs a variety of techniques. It is how he uses these to such effect in conveying the life-enhancing themes of the poem that I intend to investigate.

From the very onset of the poem, the idea of a “trio” is clearly important; not only as the title, but in several connotations which will be brought out in the duration of the passage.

Musically, a “Trio” consists of a group of three musicians working together harmoniously to produce music – a positive effect, allowing more complex, intricate music patterns. Religiously, too, the word “Trio” holds significance; as a Hebrew number of completion; the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit; the three Magi of the nativity story; and the three crosses of the Crucifixion. All of these are seen as having positive influences on people, and concepts that will be elaborated on later in the poem are introduced to the reader’s mind with this title.

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Analysis of Structure and Devices in Trio By Edwin Morgan

The opening section of “Trio” is effective in a variety of ways, both technically and in ‘setting the scene’ for the reader. Significant detail is used to establish a particular setting – in this case, “Buchanan Street”, in Glasgow, on a “Sharp winter evening”, where the poet notices “A young man and two girls” – presumably the “Trio” that is to feature in the poem. In addition to this more obvious technique, Morgan also employs control of line length and sentence structure, to create, from early in the poem, a feeling of tension and drama. By ending the first line with “quickly, on a sharp winter evening”, the reader is uncertain as to whether such a description is negative or positive – “winter” and “sharp”, coupled with night-time, hold many negative connotations, of discomfort and cold, and traditional fear of the night, thus raising tension in the reader.

In addition to this, the sentence structure echoes the words themselves, “quickly”, with short sharp words, the sentences filled with numerous commas, starts and stops. In the second line, parenthesis is employed in the dash, signalling a train of thought in the poet’s mind, an epiphany, where he receives a sudden, dramatic personal insight into the scene before him, which will continue for most of the poem. Inversion is also used to heighten the tension in the first two lines of the poem, where Morgan withholds the information as to ‘who’ the poem is about until the second line, rather than the more conventional first. This constant change, moving towards climax and anti-climax, is added to with the use of the non-sentence, and the purely present tense used when describing an event past; “coming up” – still changing, even in the poet’s memory?

Despite the musical connotations of “Trio”, of three people united for a common cause, Morgan originally creates an impression of the young people as separates, individuals, rather than a group. Each person is allocated their own line for their description, via the control of line length, and is referred to in the singular, not the plural; “The young man… the girl… the girl”. In addition to this, each is described not by what features they share, but by the different things they are carrying; a guitar, a baby, a Chihuahua. Each person separate, individual, carrying a different object.

However, this initial impression is to be short lived; in the following lines, and indeed for the remainder of the poem, Morgan conveys the sense of how the three are ‘united in happiness’. This is brought out in how all references to the three are now in the plural, no longer referring to individuals, but to a group; “the three… their… they”. Acting together simultaneously, their happiness reflected in each other, with the word choice further bringing out this idea. “Laughing” clearly implies happiness and joy, as does the imagery of their breath rising up in a “Cloud of happiness”, laughing out their pleasure and contentment, frosted breath mingling harmoniously in one cloud. This ‘cloud’ image seems almost a reversion of the traditional ‘cloud of misery’ idea, of bad luck and despair following the unfortunate target – instead, happiness flourishes around this trio.

One particular thing that a poet can do is reveal the wonderful and miraculous within the mundane and ordinary. In “Trio” Morgan uses this to good effect with the dialogue of “Wait till he sees this but!” The particular dialect helps to embed the incident in the ‘real’ world, as the practice of ending a sentence with “but” is peculiar to the Glasgow area – realistic, and as such, imaginable to the reader, lending credibility to the rest of the poet’s epiphany. It also conveys the sense of the dramatic which was established in the opening lines, as two unknown factors are introduced to the reader, leading them to speculate as to who “he” is, and what, exactly, has been bought for him to cause such excitement and exclamation. In addition to this, the picture of three people, carrying gifts, things that are precious to them, has overtones leading back to the title, with the three magi who brought gifts to the baby Jesus.

Now that the Christian analogy has been signalled, the poet goes on to consider the ‘gifts’ that these young people are carrying. In an apostrophe, the poet characterises these gifts as “Orphean sprig! Melting baby! Warm Chihuahua!” The reference to Orpheus, a character of Greek legend as a poet and skilled lyre player, has associations of music, and stringed instruments – as both lyre and guitar are stringed. However, while “Orphean” seems to refer to the guitar, there is more than one possible interpretation. The guitar was earlier described as being “tied at the neck with silver tinsel tape and a brisk sprig of mistletoe”. This “sprig” could be the one mentioned later in the poem, and as mistletoe is traditionally kissed under at Christmas time, the poet is bringing connotations of love and happiness to the concept of music, as well as the traditional viewing of plants and the natural world as healthy and positive.

With “Melting baby!” Morgan is not only talking about the standard descriptions of babies ‘melting people’s hearts’ but also the idea that the baby is literally generating warmth, via body heat and therefore “melting” the edge off the frost laced wind on that “sharp” evening. There are even sickeningly sweet overtones of the saying ‘butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth’, portraying the baby as completely innocent, perhaps furthering the religious connotations of the baby Jesus. The idea of warmth is furthered with “Warm Chihuahua!” both in terms of the dog being warm, wrapped up in a “tartan coat” and it’s body heat lending warmth to those around it. Warmth has always has positive connotations, at least in terms of on a freezing night, so these gifts add up to create a very positive, comforting effect, despite their initial diversity, brought together by the poet’s representation of the group through word choice and imagery.

Throughout the poem, it is clear that the poet considers these gifts to be of some symbolic importance. Though exactly what their significance consists of is not made clear until the end of the poem, the change in tone and register when discussing them makes it clear that what they do symbolise is very important in the poet’s eyes. The register becomes increasingly complex and allusive with references to “vale of tears”, “Christ is born, or is not born” and “abdicates” – all very formal, serious language, laced with biblical references. “Vale of tears” in the Bible refers to the world which we live in, full of hardship and suffering, and how only through Christ, and His sacrifice, do we find true freedom and happiness and escape. Yet the poet does not seem to be pushing this idea – rather, with “Whether Christ is born, or is not born” he seems to be saying that it is irrelevant, that it is, in fact, through ourselves that people find ‘true’ happiness, however briefly.

With “You put paid to fate” it is uncertain to which ‘you’ the poet is addressing. It is clearly important, as the “you” has been emphasised by placing it at the end of the line, but I do not believe it is the reader to whom Morgan is addressing. One possible interpretation is that he is talking about the gifts, and their bearers – that these gifts, and what they symbolise, have the power to transform the reality of our world into momentary happiness, by sharing them with others. While the poet seems to go through some uncertainty with “whether Christ is born, or is not born”, both the contrasting change in register and the alliteration of “put paid to fate” highlights his eventual certainty. After the more formal style of language previously used, the slang of “put paid” makes this conclusion stand out significantly – “abdicates” is the word used to describe this withdrawal of the pressures and troubles of life from the scene. That particular word choice has several interesting connotations; the abdication of life’s troubles temporarily, allowing human happiness; or perhaps Christ’s abdication from the throne of Heaven, in order to allow human happiness. Whichever interpretation you prefer, the conclusion is clear – happiness is possible.

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Trio by Edwin Morgan Poem Analysis. (2019, Dec 07). Retrieved from

Trio by Edwin Morgan Poem Analysis
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