(Poem #864) Snow
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.
"Between" is one of the early MacNeice's favourite words. But where his contemporary W. H. Auden uses it to betoken connection and even a unity of sorts, in MacNeice it implies a sense of suspension (and suspense; there's an air of menace that's never very far from the surface in his poetry). Michael Schmidt puts it well: "Indecision is powerful ... [MacNeice's poems are written in] a language like Auden's, but subtly different, a language not authoritatively set down but winding out like the guy-line strand of a web uncertain what it will attach to or whether it will hold ... the verse is seldom finger-waggingly didactic. It is experential, with the sudden changes of tone and of key, which take us deep into feeling, a sens of the inviolability of individual isolation" -- Michael Schmidt, "Lives of the Poets" Seen in this light, MacNeice is a tired old man, not given to the certainty of Auden on his left or Betjeman on his right, without the optimism of Dylan Thomas nor even the darkness of Philip Larkin. But (and especially in the 1930s, rightly decribed by the ubiquitous Auden in later years as a "low, dishonest decade") certainty is not always a good thing. To a reading public discovering the horrors of Nazism and Fascism - horrors which were exacerbated by appeasement and blindness and romantic self-delusion - the revelation that "World is crazier and more of it than we think / Incorrigibly plural" rings utterly true. MacNeice's skepticism set him apart; it gave him (as it gave the equally independent William Empson) the moral upper ground, as it were. And of course, there's the verse itself. MacNeice's poetry might be uncertain in subject material, but it's indisputably beautiful. Few even of his generation equalled him in ease and flow of word and thought; Thomas and Auden are his peers, never his masters. And there's an excitement, a thrill born of "the drunkenness of things being various" that informs everything he wrote: the insistent rhythms of "Bagpipe Music", the sinister beauty of "The Sunlight in the Garden", the clipped tones of "The Suicide", the delicate balance, the sense that Creation itself teeters on a knife-edge that informs today's poem. Marvellous, simply marvellous. thomas. [Minstrels Links] Louis MacNeice: Poem #18, Bagpipe Music Poem #521, The Suicide Poem #757, The Sunlight on the Garden W. H. Auden, William Empson, Dylan Thomas, John Betjeman, Philip Larkin: see the Minstrels website for a full index: http://www.cs.rice.edu/~ssiyer/minstrels/