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Snow -- Louis MacNeice

(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.
-- Louis MacNeice
"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
        -- 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.


[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:

49 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

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I must to say i love the snow, the cold climate, although i´m not a child anymore i remember my happy childhood and all the beutiful time that i spent with all my friends. Now when is snowing i prefer to spend my time with my boyfriend, most of all that he decided to buy viagra, we enjoy all the time.

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