Biography of Louis Macneice
Attended Oxford, where he majored in classics and philosophy. In 1930, he married Giovanna Ezra and accepted a post as classics lecturer at the University of Birmingham, a position he held until 1936, when he went on to teach Greek at Bedford College for Women, University of London. In 1941, he joined the British Broadcasting Company as a staff writer and producer. Like many modern English poets, MacNeice found an audience for his work through British radio. Some of his best-known plays, including 'Christopher Columbus' (1944), and 'The Dark Tower' (1946), were originally written for radio and later published.
Early in his career, MacNeice was identified with a group of politically committed poets whose work appeared in Michael Roberts's anthology New Signatures. MacNeice drew many of the texts for Modern Poetry: 'A Personal Essay from the New Signature poets'. Modern Poetry was MacNeice's plea for an "impure" poetry expressive of the poet's immediate interests and his sense of the natural and the social world.
Despite his association with young British poets Stephen Spender, W. H. Auden, writer Christopher Isherwood, and other left-wing poets, MacNeice was as mistrustful of political programs as he was of philosophical systems. He was never a member of the Communist Party or any other political groups, and he was quite candid about the ambiguities of his political attitudes. "My sympathies are Left," he wrote. "But not in my heart or my guts."
Although he chose to live the majority of his adult life in London, MacNeice frequently returned to the landscapes of his childhood, and he took great pride in his Irish heritage. His poetry is characterized by its familiar, sometimes humorous tone and its integration of contemporary ideas and images. In addition to his poetry and radio dramas, MacNeice also wrote the verse translation 'The Agamemnon of Aeschylus' (1936), translated Goethe's 'Faust' (1951), and collaborated with Auden on the 'travelogue Letters from Iceland' (1937).
In August of 1963, MacNeice, on location with a BBC team, insisted on going down into a mineshaft to check on sound effects. He caught a chill that was not diagnosed as pneumonia until he was fatally ill.
He died on September 3, 1963, just before the publication of his last book of poems, The Burning Perch. He was 55 years old.
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Louis Macneice Poems
Prayer Before Birth
I am not yet born; O hear me. Let not the bloodsucking bat or the rat or the stoat or the club-footed ghoul come near me.
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.
The Sunlight on the Garden
The sunlight on the garden Hardens and grows cold, We cannot cage the minute Within its nets of gold;
Forty-two years ago (to me if to no one else The number is of some interest) it was a brilliant starry night And the westward train was empty and had no corridors So darting from side to side I could catch the unwonted sight
My father made the walls resound, He wore his collar the wrong way round. When I was five the black dreamscame;
It's no go the merrygoround, it's no go the rickshaw, All we want is a limousine and a ticket for the peepshow. Their knickers are made of crepe-de-chine, their shoes are made of python, Their halls are lined with tiger rugs and their walls with head of bison.
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.
Down the road someone is practising scales, The notes like little fishes vanish with a wink of tails, Man's heart expands to tinker with his car For this is Sunday morning, Fate's great bazaar;
And this, ladies and gentlemen, whom I am not in fact Conducting, was his office all those minutes ago, This man you never heard of. These are the bills In the intray, the ash in the ashtray, the grey memoranda stacked
I do not want to be reflective any more Envying and despising unreflective things Finding pathos in dogs and undeveloped handwriting And young girls doing their hair and all the castles of sand
This brand of soap has the same smell as once in the big House he visited when he was eight: the walls of the bathroom open To reveal a lawn where a great yellow ball rolls back through a hoop To rest at the head of a mallet held in the hands of a child.
It all began so easy With bricks upon the floor Building motley houses And knocking down your houses
Rows of books around me stand, Fence me in on either hand; Through that forest of dead words I would hunt the living birds -
I was born in Belfast between the mountain and the gantries To the hooting of lost sirens and the clang of trams: Thence to Smoky Carrick in County Antrim Where the bottle-neck harbour collects the mud which jams
And this, ladies and gentlemen, whom I am not in fact
Conducting, was his office all those minutes ago,
This man you never heard of. These are the bills
In the intray, the ash in the ashtray, the grey memoranda stacked
Against him, the serried ranks of the box-files, the packed
Jury of his unanswered correspondence
Nodding under the paperweight in the breeze
From the window by which he left; and here is the cracked
Receiver that never got mended and here is the jotter