Thursday, 16 August 2012

'Perdita' and Louis MacNeice's Incorrigible Plurality

I have just ordered Incorrigibly Plural, a collection of essays and reminiscences about Louis MacNeice - along with two or three other poetry books; how incorrigibly plural of me. I am not sure I really need to plunge into any other poets, given that there are too many with whom I'm still skating around on the surface, but I'm quite eager to look at all of these books.

One of the things that amazes me about MacNeice is the sheer variety of his work. I think that 'Bagpipe Music' was probably one of the first of his poems that I read, and though I know for a fact that around age 18-19 it wasn't really my cup of tea, it's impossible not to get swept up:

The glass is falling hour by hour, the glass will fall forever,
But if you break the bloody glass you won't hold up the weather.

(from 'Bagpipe Music')

I have a feeling that MacNeice started to mean a lot to me at some point after I read 'Snow', but I am not sure. 'Sunlight on the Garden' and 'Wolves' definitely played a role, too. I have a colleague who loves 'Prayer Before Birth' and it has become one of my favourite poems - it is one of a few which could rank as MacNeice's greatest and I think it is one of the finest poems of the twentieth century. I have now read all of Autumn Journal and it is extraordinary in its evocation of the atmosphere and personal experience at the start of World War II. His bitter and loving poems about Ireland are amazing as well.

If I were a dog of sunlight I would bound
From Phoenix Park to Achill Sound,
Picking up the scent of a hundred fugitives
That have broken the mesh of ordinary lives,
But being ordinary too I must in course discuss
What we mean to Ireland or Ireland to us;

(from 'Valediction')

With a stone on the cairn, with a word on the wind, with a prayer in the flesh let me honour this country.

(from 'Western Landscape')

The range and rush and vitality of his poems are so exciting; funny, moving, resonant and rhythmic, journalistic, so often with that odd streak of practicality which I find so alluring.

I do know that it was a long slow process for MacNeice to become one of my favourite poets. He was more like a valued acquaintance until perhaps a few years ago. Some of my best friendships have been like that - always with respect and liking, but closeness has come very gradually. They are often the friendships that I end up valuing the most.

'Perdita' has become one of my favourite of MacNeice's poems. This short, evocative work is about memories and missed opportunities, things which sometimes (often) cause me a great deal of anxiety.

PERDITA (Louis MacNeice)

The painting is Monet's depiction of Gare Saint-Lazare, which seemed to go well with the train station image in the poem.


  1. The book "Incorrigibly Plural" seems so interesting, specially with the memoir of MacNeice's son. I'm really happy to see that there's interest in his work and poetry.

    Funny that you learned to like MacNeice with time. I was actually overwhelmed the first time I listened to a Portuguese translation of "Trilogy for X". After that I looked for more of his poems and was hooked ever since.

    Wolves really is an amazing poem and now that you mentioned I must read Autumn Journal again, I've only read parts of it. xx

    1. I have the book now and I haven't read it yet...typical! But it looks interesting.

      I sometimes have that experience of being immediately bowled over by a poet or some other artwork. In the last few years one of the most notable examples for me was the World War II poet Keith Douglas, who overwhelmed me with the power and the sharp familiarity of his words, from the first readings of his work - and continues to do so. But I like the gradual experiences, too. You can look back, and see how it developed, and which poems were significant milestones at certain points.

      I don't think I am too familiar with Trilogy for X...yet...I must do something about that!