Friday, January 28, 2011

Late MacNeice Revisited: "A Hand Beckons To All The Life My Days Allow"

In a previous post, I suggested that Louis MacNeice regained his poetic form in the collections published between 1957 (his fiftieth year) and 1963 (the year of his death).  That post featured poems from Visitations, which was published in 1957.  The following poem is from Solstices, which came out in 1961.

The title of the poem has its source in the first two lines of Canto I of Dante's Inferno:  "Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita/mi ritrovai per una selva oscura."  One translation (out of hundreds):  "Midway in the journey of our life/I found myself in a dark wood."

                              Selva Oscura

A house can be haunted by those who were never there
If there was where they were missed.  Returning to such
Is it worse if you miss the same or another or none?
The haunting anyway is too much.
You have to leave the house to clear the air.

A life can be haunted by what it never was
If that were merely glimpsed.  Lost in the maze
That means yourself and never out of the wood
These days, though lost, will be all your days;
Life, if you leave it, must be left for good.

And yet for good can be also where I am,
Stumbling among dark tree-trunks, should I meet
One sudden shaft of light from the hidden sky
Or, finding bluebells bathe my feet,
Know that the world, though more, is also I.

Perhaps suddenly too I strike a clearing and see
Some unknown house -- or was it mine? -- but now
It welcomes whom I miss in welcoming me;
The door swings open and a hand
Beckons to all the life my days allow.

Louis MacNeice, Solstices (1961).

                               Samuel Palmer, "A Hilly Scene" (c. 1826)


Nadia Mohammed said...

I have studied MacNeice as part of the socialist poets of the 1930s, and never occured to me before to pursue his other works. I just come across the poem through refrence note to a novel by Lucy Caldwell, in which she cited the poem. It is amazing poem by the poet and makes me eager to re-study his poetry again from different persepctive

Nadia Mohammed said...

the poem gives new perspective on the poet,whom i studied before as a member of the socialist group poets of 1930s. Now i am eager to re-read his poems all over again with new light

Nadia Mohammed said...

the poem gives me different persepctive on the poet's work. it is nice, and inspiring

Stephen Pentz said...

Ms. N. F. Mohammad: thank you very much for visiting, and for your comments. Yes, MacNeice is mostly known for his poems of the 1930s, and often for the political content of those poems. However, I think that he was uncomfortable being described as a "political" poet, and I do not think that he ever completely shared the political leanings of some of the other 1930s poets. He was too independent for that, and I think that he mistrusted politicians and politics. More importantly, he was ultimately more concerned with life and human relationships outside of politics.

As I indicated in the post, his poetry in the late 1950s and early 1960s (just prior to his death in 1963) deserves more attention.

By the way, if you have difficulty finding volumes of MacNeice's poetry in your country, please contact me via the email address for the blog. I have a number of duplicate volumes of his poetry, and I would be happy to send you some, if you wish.

Thank you again.

Nadia Mohammed said...

Oops, sorry for the repeated comments, i thought that something wrong with internet so i had to re-post the comment three times!! reading some of the poet's works now makes me think likewise, that the political identity that we usually give to his work, was only a temporary phase and all the 1930s poets come over it eventually after WWII. i need to explore this theme further. it will interesting topic

Stephen Pentz said...

N. F. Mohammad: please don't worry about the repeated comments -- Blogger can be confusing when it comes to posting comments.

I agree with what you say: the 1930s were a particularly troubling time, and I think that MacNeice and the other poets had no choice but to address what was happening in their poetry, and continued to do so through the war years. But, after that, their political concerns did seem to fade away.

Thank you for stopping by again, and for your thoughts.