(Poem #1062) House on a Cliff
Indoors the tang of a tiny oil lamp. Outdoors The winking signal on the waste of sea. Indoors the sound of the wind. Outdoors the wind. Indoors the locked heart and the lost key. Outdoors the chill, the void, the siren. Indoors The strong man pained to find his red blood cools, While the blind clock grows louder, faster. Outdoors The silent moon, the garrulous tides she rules. Indoors ancestral curse-cum-blessing. Outdoors The empty bowl of heaven, the empty deep. Indoors a purposeful man who talks at cross Purposes, to himself, in a broken sleep.
In previous Minstrels commentaries Martin and I have talked about the ominous brilliance that runs through MacNeice's output from the 1930s: poems such as "The Sunlight on the Garden" and "Snow" seem to capture perfectly the menace of that 'low dishonest decade'. Sadly, the potential of those early poems was never fulfilled; indeed, his post-war work suffers from a seeming lack of conviction that was only beginning to be reversed when he died in 1963 ("of pneumonia, which he contracted recording a radio programme in a damp cave" -- so Michael Schmidt informs us, in his magisterial "The Lives of the Poets"). MacNeice was not unaware of this regression, and "House on a Cliff" can be read as an expression of his frustration. Outdoors is the world that the poet wishes he could describe -- "the chill, the void, the siren" -- but something is lost, "the locked heart and the lost key" make "his red blood cool", until all he can do is "talk at cross / Purposes, to himself, in a broken sleep". thomas. [Minstrels Links] Poems by Louis MacNeice: Poem #18, Bagpipe Music Poem #521, The Suicide Poem #757, The Sunlight on the Garden Poem #864, Snow Poem #1039, Prayer Before Birth Poem #1062, House on a Cliff Today's poem is very reminiscent of William Empson's equally powerful apologia for not writing more poetry: Poem #233, Let It Go -- William Empson And it also reminds me of this one, by Ted Hughes: Poem #882, Wind -- Ted Hughes