Sunday, 17 July 2016

Louis MacNeice: 'Wolves'

Waves by maxine raynal. Used under Creative Commons license

I haven't been writing a lot about Louis MacNeice lately, but he very often comes to mind at times of drama and tragedy on the world stage - Autumn Journal is one that I have re-read a lot. I posted his poem 'Prayer Before Birth' here, in January 2015, in the context of the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris.

MacNeice, who I think of as a journalist of poetry, has that quality of reassurance when you read him - for me, it's like watching a terrible event unfold on the news, but your favourite newscaster is covering it in a calm, measured fashion. It doesn't take away the horror, but it does make it a little easier to process.

This week I thought of MacNeice's short poem 'Wolves', which you can read here:

'Wolves' was written in the mid-1930s, like many of MacNeice's great poems. Thursday's atrocity in Nice may have given it an extra charge, based on the seaside imagery. Essentially, though, I find it quite a difficult poem to grasp firmly. On one hand, the speaker wants to be a person who lives in the moment, with the joys and difficulties that this brings; on the other hand, he knows that this means burying his head in the sand. Presumably this was a very difficult balancing act in the 1930s. It is now, too.


  1. “Come then all of you, come closer, form a circle,
    Join hands and make believe that joined
    Hands will keep away the wolves of water
    Who howl along our coast.”

    I've a MacNeice collection on my bedside table and “The Sunlight on the Garden” committed to memory, sustenance for the times we live in, but I hadn't read “Wolves” before. Thanks for the discovery!

    1. Thanks for stopping by!

      It would be very hard for me to pick my favourite MacNeice poem. Wolves is one, Snow is another... definitely Autumn Journal, Perdita, Order to View, Prayer Before Birth... There are a lot. And they match up with different moments in life. I love a poet like that. In a way he is very much of his time, but I'm always blown away by how contemporary his concerns are. There is nothing new under the sun.