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Meeting Point -- Louis MacNeice

(Poem #1301) Meeting Point
 Time was away and somewhere else,
 There were two glasses and two chairs
 And two people with the one pulse
 (Somebody stopped the moving stairs)
 Time was away and somewhere else.

 And they were neither up nor down;
 The stream's music did not stop
 Flowing through heather, limpid brown,
 Although they sat in a coffee shop
 And they were neither up nor down.

 The bell was silent in the air
 Holding its inverted poise -
 Between the clang and clang a flower,
 A brazen calyx of no noise:
 The bell was silent in the air.

 The camels crossed the miles of sand
 That stretched around the cups and plates;
 The desert was their own, they planned
 To portion out the stars and dates:
 The camels crossed the miles of sand.

 Time was away and somewhere else.
 The waiter did not come, the clock
 Forgot them and the radio waltz
 Came out like water from a rock:
 Time was away and somewhere else.

 Her fingers flicked away the ash
 That bloomed again in tropic trees:
 Not caring if the markets crash
 When they had forests such as these,
 Her fingers flicked away the ash.

 God or whatever means the Good
 Be praised that time can stop like this,
 That what the heart has understood
 Can verify in the body's peace
 God or whatever means the Good.

 Time was away and she was here
 And life no longer what it was,
 The bell was silent in the air
 And all the room one glow because
 Time was away and she was here.
-- Louis MacNeice
MacNeice in this poem tries to capture the suspension of time that seems
to occur when one is in the company of a loved one. Three images in
particular stand out for me: the stalled escalator (escalators being the
embodiment of perpetual motion -- the infinite loop, as it were), the
inverted bell (pendulums at their extrema always seem to slow down more
than they should) and the empty desert (the high desert, like the
Siberian tundra and the antarctic plateau, has a profoundly hypnotic
_sameness_ to it).

Sadly, the rest of the poem (beguiling rhyme scheme apart) doesn't quite
do the trick. I found the sixth stanza somewhat pointless, and the
scansion of the second stanza is decidedly uneven. (That said, I'm not
sure if more exact prosody would have helped the poem or reduced it to
sing-song triteness). And finally, the ambiguity that gives poems like
"The Sunlight on the Garden" or "House on a Cliff" or "Snow" their
power, here seems to betoken a lack of confidence, a thinning of the

Methinks I cavil too much. All criticism aside, this remains a very
accomplished poem, if not MacNeice's finest. I really must read more of
his work.


56 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Ian Baillieu said...

When does a poem know it’s finished? Paul Valery said “A
poem is never finished, only abandoned”. It appears to me
that Louis MacNeice, having hit on a striking format and
assembled some great images in ‘Meeting Point’, abandoned it
too soon.

The problem is not one of inexact prosody. The metric
irregularities are minor and easily absorbed in skilled
recitation, which uses subtle changes of rhythm and syllabic
weight to make a poem more meaningful aloud than on the
printed page, the only justification for recitation. Too
sing-song a scansion can frustrate that.

IMO the main problem with ‘Meeting Point’ is the use of the
third person viewpoint when the theme is the profoundly
subjective one of time suspended in the presence of a lover.
That detachment seriously thins this poem’s emotional blood.

Suppose that MacNeice, before abandoning it, had revised it
thus. In the 2nd stanza, change ‘they’ to ‘we’ (thrice).
In the 4th stanza, change ‘the cups’ to ‘our cups’. In the
5th stanza, change ‘them’ to ‘us’. In the 6th stanza,
change ‘Her’ to ‘Your’ (twice). In the last stanza, change
‘she was’ to ‘you were’ (twice). The general structure and
appearance would have been identical, but would not the poem
have had more power and been more involving?

I agree the sixth stanza could be discarded without much
loss. It has become dated. The image of crashing markets
as the symbol of troubles put out of mind was probably
always too contemporary to endure. Yet MacNeice could
hardly have foreseen the stigma now attaching to tobacco
smoke. In his day it was thought stylish. The curlicues
from a lighted cigarette could be seen romantically as
imitating the shapes of ‘tropic trees’.

His lovers are in a coffee shop by a stream, so the exotic
image of camels crossing a desert may need to be explained
as something depicted on the walls, or on the table linen.
It is harder to understand how a swinging bell can also
feature. Was there a belfry visible nearby? I don’t rate
these puzzles as faults however. A poem, like a woman, can
attract by being a little mysterious.

It is interesting to compare ‘Meeting Point’ with another
poem tackling a similar theme and setting but in a very
different style: ‘On The Road’, by MacNeice’s friend and
schoolfellow, Bernard Spencer (1909-1963), whose collected
poems OUP published in 1981. I think Spencer’s free verse
poem of only 19 lines succeeds where MacNeice’s fails. His
lovers, referred to as ‘We two’ are in ‘harvest France’
drinking in an ‘arbour’

…built on a valley side where time,
if time any more existed, was that river
of so profound a current, it at once
both flowed and stayed.

I won’t quote all of it here because it is too beautiful to
be relegated to quotation in a comment on someone else’s
poem. It deserves Minstrels selection in its own right.

Steve Campbell said...

> Whereas Crane's originality is almost obtrusive, Hein delights in
> pointing out things that everyone *knows*, but just never thought of.
> His characterisation of a pineapple as "sweet and undefinable" remains
> the best description I've ever seen of the fruit, and that's in large
> part because I knew exactly what he meant the minute I read it.

It was actually:

Love is like
a pineapple,
sweet and

which is a bit diferent.



I am not an expert in English poetry, and English is my second language. I
do like poetry a lot - Russian and English. This is one of my favorite
poems, in terms of emotional impact. I wonder if there are other people who
feel this way. If you one of them, l would like to know what other poems
make you feel the same way.

Galina Kofman

Wad2314 said...

i feel exactly the same way, another poem that gives me similar feelings is
"To His Coy Mistress" by Andrew Marvell, the feeling of time in both poems is
very strong. although it is courtly poetry i feel the tone can at times be
similar to "Meeting Point", however, passing time in "To His Coy Mistress" is
more like an enemy as the speaker feels it is being wasted.

Pleas write back with your thoughts.

Polly said...

I was interested in a comment on here about changing the language to 'our'
and 'we' rather than 'their' and 'they'. I think you may be right in terms
of making the poem more involved and immediate however I personally prefer
the original form.

This poem is one of my favourites and it makes me think of my own past
relationship. The couple in my mind therefore are not together in the
present but frozen in a memory and time cannot affect them. The use of third
person works very well in this respect as I am observing two people which no
longet exist as they once did.

Anonymous said...

Just post the poems thomas, save us from your anal retentive criticism.

Anonymous said...

btw, the sixth stanza, is probably the most beautiful one in the poem, she flicks away the ash, in a nonchalant way, the ash that is part of life again in tropic trees and blooms, and because he's so in love with her, a mere gesture (repeated, trivial) like this transports him to this eternity of energy and matter. They don't care if the markets crash, man made, temporary, because forests will grow and she's there for him. I ruined it with my commentary, but this is one of the most beautiful verses.

Anonymous said...

I had to do a moc exam comparing "Meeting Point" with Shakespeare's X|X for English literature A2.
I think the Camel's crossing the desert are in fact that pattern actually on the cups and plates and so their journey is perhaps never ending, rather like the journey of love.
At first I thought the poem perhaps was ambiguous,but after reading it a second time I think it's a lot to do with heightened senses, noticing your surroundings, and how when In a lovers company nothing else matters - small things go unnoticed because time is still.
I like the line "two people with one pulse" which really outlines how he feels they are soul mates.
All the references to nature perhaps highlight how love itself is a natural thing...
However this poem is open to interpretation of the individual, those however were my thoughts.

Anonymous said...

This is someone in love -the analytical critiques of metre and the seeking of specific meaning in each reference by some commentators seem to betoken a lack of real appreciation of what a poem can mean or create in its entirety-there is a certain mystery involved,unless you want to sit in the restaurant with the poet and his ,I think, illicit lover and see every reference visually manifest in the decor or the view from the window beside them. The magic of her presence is creating in the poet's mind the idea of camels and deserts on the table between them:the glow in the room is not the result of the lighting,time is away(which it can never be, RIP Louis)because love can seem to stop its unstoppable march, even in a Lyons' Tea House.

Anonymous said...

Anybody who has been deeply in love will recognise this poem. I've been in that coffee shop and it was wonderful.

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Anonymous said...

am currently doing an assignment on this poem...and was good learning different perspectives from various people..
thanks guys!!!
i personally love this poem too

Anonymous said...

Currently preparing to teach this poem with a class of special needs students. They will love the quirky imagery and the way he uses time in a different way than Marvell, with whom they have just been doing battle. It's such a beautiful poem and captures exactly how it feels when the rest of the world just falls away because you are with the one you love. thanks for all your insights =)

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Anonymous said...

Interesting to see everyone's comments on MacNeice's use of the impersonal, rather than "I" or "we". It's actually a feature of pretty much all of his work, and I think it, as a stylistic point, is actually quite wonderful. Both clever and somehow challenging.

I've always read the camels and deserts as being a pattern on the tea service, but also an analogy to escaping to something exotic. And I actually also like the 6th stanza; I feel MacNeice probably included it to push his socialist tendencies, and his hatred of markets and impersonal forces commanding over people. Money is pointless in the face of love.

Anonymous said...

Could the "camels" that cross the "sand" around the plates and cups be the cigarettes the two people share and light? Too obvious, a bit crude? But these are intimate, silent gestures. Smoking was popular back then because it was romantic.

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Anonymous said...

I came across this post just because I entered the lines "Time was away and somewhere else" because I probably last read this poem about thirty years ago and, to be honest, could not even remember who wrote it, but I've never forgotten that line and how it encapsulates an aspect of being together in love. If anyone gets near remembering a line I wrote so long after I wrote it, I would be a proud man indeed. In general, I think the criticism of the poem should concentrate on why it has had such impact rather than on the flaws. Nothing is perfect but tome things get nearer expressing it than others, and this poem is a prime example of that fact.

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