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Sound: 'The Loch Ness Monster's Song'

'The Loch Ness Monster's Song' by Edwin Morgan

The poet says...

'The Loch Ness Monster's Song' is an example of a performance piece. It absolutely demands to be read aloud, and the way the lines are set out, the spelling, the punctuation are all devised – even if it might not seem so at first glance – to help the performance. It needs a bit of practice, but it can be done, and although I have recorded the poem myself on tape, I would not want to say that there is only one way of reading it. Anyone can have a go – and enjoy it. Whether the Loch Ness Monster really exists or not – there is no clinching evidence – I imagine the creature coming to the surface of the water, looking round at the world, expressing his or her views, and sinking back into the loch at the end. I wanted to have a mixture of the bubbling, gurgling, plopping sounds of water and the deep gruff throaty sounds that a large acquatic monster might be expected to make. How much meaning comes through the sounds? I leave that to you!

Nothing Not Giving Messages (1990)


Sound poetry

'The Loch Ness Monster's Song' can be described as a 'sound poem', whose meaning is transmitted solely by sound, rather than by the semantic content of its words. Sound poetry can trace its roots back to traditional folksong refrains ('tralala', 'hey nonny no'), nonsense verse ('hey diddle diddle'), representations of birdsong, onomatopoeia, mantras, and the many 'artificial' languages invented in recent centuries.


Teaching ideas


Edwin Morgan reads the poem aloud on the Poetry Archive website and on the CD Selected Poems (1985).

  • Read the poem aloud.
  • Split the poem into 5 sections:
    • lines 1-2
    • lines 3-5
    • lines 6-7
    • lines 8-9
    • lines 10-14
  • Think about what is going on in each section, and how each section is different from the one before and the one after.
    • The sounds, the punctuation and the length of the words will all give you clues.
  • Look at which vowels the poet uses and which he doesn't.
  • Find an adjective or adjectives to describe each section – for the first, you might use 'questioning' or 'breathy', and so on.
  • Piece these together so you can 'tell the story' of what happens in the poem.
  • There is no single right answer, but you should be able to justify your version of events by reference to the poem.

Once you have a sense of the way the poem develops, imagine you are the interpreter for the monster, and make a 'translation' of its 'words' into English or Scots.



Poems by objects

As a class, choose three contrasting objects, for example a car, a pebble and a cloud. Then work in smaller groups.

  • To start focusing on the objects, make a list of 4-5 adjectives for each.
  • Then make a list of 4-5 sounds for each. Like the objects, the sounds should be contrasting.
  • Present the objects just through the sounds.
  • Can the other groups guess which is which?

Write down a line of sounds for each object.

  • Move round the groups, object by object, so you speak your line for say the car, then the next groups does so, and so on.
  • Once you've done this, work out the best sequence for the lines.
  • Do this for the other objects as well.
  • Arrange the written versions on a pinboard.

Once you feel confident enough, choose an object and write your own sound poem about it – or rather by it.


Expressive Arts (Music)


Create a soundscape to read 'The Loch Ness Monster's Song' over.

  • Think about the kind of atmosphere you want to create.
  • Look at pictures of Loch Ness.
  • Discuss, or write answers to, these questions.
  • What time of year is it when the monster speaks?
  • What time of day is it?
  • What other creatures can be heard?
  • What noise does the water make?
  • What weather noises can be heard?
  • Are there any other sounds you can hear?

Once you have considered some of the sounds from Loch Ness, find out how you can best make them.

Ask pupils to work in groups.

  • Each group could try making suitable sounds in different ways – one group using percussion instruments, another a piano, a third just using their mouths, and so on.
  • Remember the poem has to be heard over the soundscape.
  • Listen to the individual soundscapes, and read the poem over them.
  • Do any of the soundscapes work better than the others?
  • Can some or all of the soundscapes be merged?
  • Does it work best to keep the sounds constant, or should they vary and be used more like the punctuation in the poem?

Cross-curricular links

Social Sciences (Geography)

Find out about Loch Ness, and the conditions that have led some people to believe that a 'monster' could live in it.




Edwin Morgan has written many poems in the voices of creatures, though they speak English or, occasionally, Scots, rather than in their own language. In Virtual and other realities (1997) ten 'Beasts of Scotland' speak their mind, from the midge to the red deer. 'Hyena', like 'The Loch Ness Monster's Song', is in the collection From Glasgow to Saturn (1973)


Edwin Morgan's first publication was a translation of the Anglo-Saxon poem 'Beowulf' (1952), which features the monster Grendel.

On a poster featuring 'The Loch Ness Monster's Song' for the Helsinki transport network, Morgan has written four lines from the Finnish epic poem Kalavala:

Then the fearsome Finnish forest
Learned to laugh with Lemminkäinen.
Lingered he by lucky lakeside,
Made mouth music, mimicked monsters

(Kalevala, 51. 255-258)

(Lemminkäinen is one of the heroes of the epic, similar in certain ways to the Norse god Baldur.)

Sound poems

  • The best known British sound poet is Bob Cobbing (1920-2000); his work is collected in Bob Jubile (1990) and Shreiks and Hisses (1999).
  • A number of contemporary Scottish poets have experimented with sound poems, including Tom Leonard, Dilys Rose and Rody Gorman; examples of these can be found in The Order of Things: An anthology of Scottish sound, pattern and concrete poems (2001).
  • Other 20th century sound poets include the dadaists Hugo Ball and Kurt Schwitters, and the Italian futurist Marinetti. Ball's 'Gadji beri bimba' was recorded as 'I Zimbra' by Talking Heads on their album Fear of Music (1979).


Resource written by Ken Cockburn, April 2009


Further reading

Read this poem in…

Second Aeon. No. 10. No date. [post-1968, pre-decimal pricing]
p. 23. “Loch Ness Monster's Song”

Morgan, Edwin. Twelve Songs.
Scotland: Castlelaw Press, 1970. p.12

Edwin Morgan. From Glasgow to Saturn.
Cheadle: Carcanet, 1973. p. 35

Meet And Write: A Teaching Anthology of Contemporary Poetry 2.
Sandy and Alan Brownjohn. Eds.
London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1987.

Poems On The Underground
Gerard Benson et al. Eds.
London: Cassell, 1999.

The New Penguin Book of Scottish Verse.
Robert Crawford, Mick Imlah. Eds.
London: Penguin 2000.


Related links


Resource written by Ken Cockburn, April 2009




Languages (English), Social Sciences (Geography), Expressive Arts (Music)


1970s, Loch Ness, Scotland, monster, music, sound poem