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Louis MacNeice (b. Sep. 12, 1907 - d. Sep. 3, 1963)

Louis MacNeice was born in the month of September and coincidentally, he also died in September. His passing in 1963 was unexpected. It is perhaps also ironic that one of his most important works is Autumn Journal. Too long to reproduce here, it is well worth seeking out as it is still considered one of the most valuable and moving testaments of living through the 1930s.

MacNeice was born in Belfast to parents originally from Connemara in the West of Ireland. In 1909 they moved to Carrickfergus due to the appointment of MacNeice’s father as rector for the anglican Church in the town. At the age of ten he was sent to school in Dorset. MacNeice went on to study classics at Oxford; becoming a close friend and poetic contemporary of W.H. Auden. Living in England, he published many volumes of poetry, criticism and journalistic articles and worked for the BBC from 1941 to 1961. Born in pre-partition Ulster, the son of an Irish nationalist and bourgeois Protestant family, MacNeice chose to live in England where he experienced a great sense of alienation, as he did in Ireland, both North and South. In August of 1963, on location with a unit of the BBC, he went down in a mineshaft. The 'cold' he caught was not diagnosed as pneumonia until too late. He died a month after at 55 years old.

By Louis MacNeice

The room was suddenly rich and the great bay-window was
Spawning snow and pink roses against it
Soundlessly collateral and incompatible:
World is suddener than we fancy it.

World is crazier and more of it than we think,
Incorrigibly plural. I peel and portion
A tangerine and spit the pips and feel
The drunkenness of things being various.

And the fire flames with a bubbling sound for world
Is more spiteful and gay than one supposes?
On the tongue on the eyes on the ears in the palms of one's hands?
There is more than glass between the snow and the huge roses.

The Strand
By Louis MacNeice

White Tintoretto clouds beneath my naked feet,
This mirror of wet sand imputes a lasting mood
To island truancies; my steps repeat

Someone’s who now has left such strands for good
Carrying his boots and paddling like a child,
A square black figure whom the horizon understood -

My father. Who for all his responsibly compiled
Account books of a devout, precise routine
Kept something in him solitary and wild,

So loved the Western sea and no tree’s green
Fulfilled him like these contours of Slievemore
Menaun and Croghaun and the bogs between.

Sixty-odd years behind him and twelve before,
Eyeing the flange of steel in the turning belt of brine
It was sixteen years ago he walked this shore

And the mirror caught his shape which catches mine
But then as now the floor-mop of the foam
Blotted the bright reflections - and no sign

Remains of face or feet when visitors have gone home.

Soap Suds
By Louis MacNeice

This brand of soap has the same smell as once in the big
House he visited when he was eight: the walls of the bathroom open
To reveal a lawn where a great yellow ball rolls back through a hoop
To rest at the head of a mallet held in the hands of a child.

And these were the joys of that house: a tower with a telescope;
Two great faded globes, one of the earth, one of the stars;
A stuffed black dog in the hall; a walled garden with bees;
A rabbit warren; a rockery; a vine under glass; the sea.

To which he has now returned. The day of course is fine
And a grown-up voice cries Play! The mallet slowly swings,
Then crack, a great gong booms from the dog-dark hall and the ball
Skims forward through the hoop and then through the next and then

Through hoops where no hoops were and each dissolves in turn
And the grass has grown head-high and an angry voice cries Play!
But the ball is lost and the mallet slipped long since from the hands
Under the running tap that are not the hands of a child.


by Louis MacNeice

Grey brick upon brick,
Declamatory bronze
On somber pedestals -
O'Connell, Grattan, Moore -
And the brewery tugs and the swans
On the balustraded stream
And the bare bones of a fanlight
Over a hungry door
And the air soft on the cheek
And porter running from the taps
With a head of yellow cream
And Nelson on his pillar
Watching his world collapse.

This never was my town,
I was not born or bred
Nor schooled here and she will not
Have me alive or dead
But yet she holds my mind
With her seedy elegance,
With her gentle veils of rain
And all her ghosts that walk
And all that hide behind
Her Georgian facades -
The catcalls and the pain,
The glamour of her squalor,
The bravado of her talk.

The lights jig in the river
With a concertina movement
And the sun comes up in the morning
Like barley-sugar on the water
And the mist on the Wicklow hills
Is close, as close
As the peasantry were to the landlord,
As the Irish to the Anglo-Irish,
As the killer is close one moment
To the man he kills,
Or as the moment itself
Is close to the next moment.

She is not an Irish town
And she is not English,
Historic with guns and vermin
And the cold renown
Of a fragment of Church latin,
Of an oratorical phrase.
But oh the days are soft,
Soft enough to forget
The lesson better learnt,
The bullet on the wet
Streets, the crooked deal,
The steel behind the laugh,
The Four Courts burnt.

Fort of the Dane,
Garrison of the Saxon,
Augustan capital
Of a Gaelic nation,
Appropriating all
The alien brought,
You give me time for thought
And by a juggler's trick
You poise the toppling hour -
O greyness run to flower,
Grey stone, grey water,
And brick upon grey brick.

For more Poetry Click the Poetry Index.


Thu, Jul 9, 2015
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No matter who does the collecting, the works stand on their own but this is an excellent compilation and well worth adding to your library.
Click here for Yeats.

Collected Poems of Louis MacNeice
Edited by E. R. Dodds

"The writer today should be not so much the mouthpiece of a its conscience, its critical faculty its generous intellect."Louis MacNeice

In his lifetime, Louis MacNeice wrote nearly a dozen books of poetry and one that was published posthumously, “The Burning Perch.” In this collection, the editor has compiled many of the finest examples of the author’s creative efforts, including the excellent “Prayer before Birth” and “Neutrality.”
Click here for Collected Poems of Louis MacNeice.

1000 Years of Irish Poetry: The Gaelic and Anglo Irish Poets from Pagan Times to the Present
by Kathleen Hoagland

Interested in Irish Poetry?Here's the easy way to collect them all (well, almost all, anyway).
Malachy McCourt says in his introduction, "With the republication of this book, the Irish recover under their roof of stars all the great poets and writers who have been falsely claimed by the saxon crown and its minions - even our reprobates."
Amazon states this is out of stock. They still have used copies for almost nothing (except shipping - chuckle). If you would like a new edition, it was available at Powell's. We can't promise it's still there. Click here for Powell's 1000 Years.
Click here for used at Amazon.


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