Louis MacNeice’s Book on Astrology
I took a flyer on this book because I know the poet, also named Louis MacNeice, and no where in the book could I figure out if they are one and the same. The picture above is of the poet btw. I’m mentioning this book as he has a strong rejoinder to Jones’ Sabian Symbols. I’m attaching them below.
If you are interested in the poet, the New York Times gave a very favorable review of the latest edition of his works, reprinted in part here:
Major poets, like trick-or-treaters, tend to arrive in pairs or small groups (whether this is a matter of fate or academic convenience may be debated). And yet from roughly 1930 to 1950, British and Irish poetry seemed to fall under the sway of a single writer: W. H. Auden. Auden was hardly a solitary figure, of course — his compatriots included Louis MacNeice, Stephen Spender and Cecil Day-Lewis (father of Daniel), and the four writers were once thought to be so intimately related that the poet Roy Campbell referred to them as “MacSpaunday.” But it wasn’t a relationship of equals: the MacSpaunday poets were usually considered notable not because of how closely they resembled one another, but because of how much the other three looked like Auden.
That has begun to change for Louis MacNeice, whose reputation has been steadily rising in part because of vigorous support in the last twenty years, from Irish writers like Edna Longley, Paul Muldoon and Derek Mahon. MacNeice’s “Collected Poems” has finally been published in the United States, where readers will now have a chance to approach this underestimated writer on his own terms.
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MacNeice was born in Belfast in 1907, the son of a schoolteacher inclined to melancholy and an Anglican clergyman who was himself not brimming with joie de vivre. (“I could hear his voice below in the study,” MacNeice writes of a boyhood memory of his father, “intoning away, communing with God.”)
Shortly thereafter, the family moved to the ancient town of Carrickfergus, where MacNeice’s mother descended into a depression that resulted in a scene straight out of a childhood nightmare. “My mother became steadily more ill,” MacNeice says in his memoir, “and at last she went away; the last I can remember of her at home was her walking up and down the bottom path of the garden . . . talking to my sister and weeping.” She would die in a nursing home within the year. MacNeice was 6.
Though he would go on to distinguish himself at Oxford, meet and befriend many of the great literary figures of his day travel the world as a writer for the BBC, there is always a sense that the isolated boy described in the conclusion to “Autobiography” has a hand on the pen of the poet:
When I woke they did not care;
Nobody, nobody was there.
Come back early or never come.
When my silent terror cried,
Nobody, nobody replied.
He is one of the 20th century’s great poets of loneliness. And yet this aspect of MacNeice can be easy to overlook, in part because he seems (as is frequently said of Auden) entirely comfortable with the rhythms and clutter of the modern world: “Cubical scent-bottles artificial legs arctic foxes and electric mops.” We think of solitary poets as writing about ragged claws scuttling across the floors of silent seas; we don’t usually think of them as being interested in “electric mops.”
Nor do we think of them as being fluent. Yet MacNeice is effortlessly, almost ridiculously articulate — he seems capable (again like Auden) of writing about nearly anything, and in nearly any form. The 800 or so pages here include tiny poems (the nine-line “Upon This Beach”); book-length poems (“Autumn Journal,” which helped make his reputation); book-length poems in terza rima (“Autumn Sequel,” which nearly undid it); virtuoso deployment of nearly all forms of rhyme (“London Rain” rhymes a word with itself in every stanza); and a vocabulary that suavely extends from “Tom or Dick or Harry” and “trams” to “ochred” and “archaize.” Surely a poet of loneliness should do a little more stammering.
Or should he? The difference between loneliness and mere solitariness, after all, is that the lonely sensibility wants to be otherwise. There is a reaching out that never quite touches. In MacNeice’s best work, the ingenuousness and inevitable failure of that reaching indicates the depth of the longing. He is a superb love poet, for instance, yet his love poems often foreground their own ephemerality, like ice sculptures in the summertime. Consider “Meeting Point,” which is about the fiction writer Eleanor Clark, one of MacNeice’s many, many paramours.
Here is how the poem begins:
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.
You can read more at Poemhunter.com . It is worth the time.