Louis MacNeice has often been thought of as a Thirties (and Forties) poet and/or as one of the satellites circling Auden. However, in recent years it has been recognized that he stands on his own, and that the generational pigeon-holing is too simplistic. Still, a tendency remains to focus on the poems that he wrote during the Thirties and Forties -- poems such as "Wolves," "Snow," "The Sunlight on the Garden," and Autumn Journal. Although these poems (and many others from his earlier years) are indeed wonderful, I believe that MacNeice wrote a number of his finest poems later in his life.
After 1948 (when Holes in the Sky was published), MacNeice went through a dry spell that lasted nearly 10 years. He did publish Ten Burnt Offerings (1952) and Autumn Sequel (1954) during this time, but these lengthy poems were not of the same quality as that which had come before. However, things changed in 1957 -- the year in which MacNeice turned 50 and the year in which Visitations was published. In that volume, and in the two further books that were published prior to his too-early death in 1963 (Solstices in 1961 and The Burning Perch in 1963), MacNeice was again at his best.
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.
Louis MacNeice, Visitations (1957).
Stanley Spencer, "Fire Alight" (1936)
Figure of Eight
In the top and front of a bus, eager to meet his fate,
He pressed with foot and mind to gather speed,
Then, when the lights were changing, jumped and hurried,
Though dead on time, to the meeting place agreed,
But there was no one there. He chose to wait.
No one came. He need not perhaps have worried.
Whereas today in the rear and gloom of a train,
Loath, loath to meet his fate, he cowers and prays
For some last-minute hitch, some unheard-of abdication,
But, winding up the black thread of his days,
The wheels roll on and make it all too plain
Who will be there to meet him at the station.
Louis MacNeice, Visitations (1957). The repetition in "Loath, loath to meet his fate" is very nice, I think.