January 20, 2006

Lexicographic [Filed under: MacNeice, Louis]

I had the greatest lexicographic moment of my life when I looked up the word ‘cromlech’ after reading this poem.

The Cromlech

From trivia of froth and pollen
White tufts in the rabbit warren
And every minute like a thicket
Nicked and dropped, nicked and dropped,
Extracters and abstracters ask
What emerges, what survives,
And once the stopper is unstopped
What was the essence in the flask
and what is Life apart from lives
And where, apart from fact, the value

To which we answer, being naive,
Wearing the world upon our sleeve,
That to dissect a given thing
Unravelling its complexity
Outrages its simplicity
For essence is not merely core
And each event implies the world,
A centre needs periphery.

This being so, at times at least
Granted the sympathetic pulse
And granted the perceiving eye
Each pregnant with a history,
Appearance and appearances –
In spite of the philosophers
With their jejune dichotomies –
Can be at times reality.

So Tom and Tessy holding hands
(Dare an abstraction steal a kiss?)
Cannot be generalized away,
Reduced by bleak analysis
To pointers demonstrating laws
Which drain the colour from the day;
Not mere effects of a crude cause
But of themselves significant,
To run-of-brain recalcitrant,
This that they are and do is This…

Tom is here, Tessy is here
At this point in a given year
With all this hour’s accessories,
A given glory – and to look
That gift-horse in the mouth will prove
Or disprove nothing of their love
Which is as sure intact a fact,
Though young and supple, as what stands
Obtuse and old, in time congealed,
Behind them as they mingle hands –
Self-contained, unexplained,
The cromlech in the clover field.

December 14, 2005

Things Being Various [Filed under: MacNeice, Louis]

Snow

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.

World is crazier and more of it than we think,
Incorrigibly plural. I peel and portion
A tangerine and spit the pips and feel
The drunkenness of things being various.

And the fire flames with a bubbling sound for world
Is more spiteful and gay than one supposes –
On the tongue on the eyes on the ears in the palms of one’s hands –
There is more than glass between the snow and the huge roses.

I have nothing to say about this poem at the moment, but it’s by MacNeice, I like it, and it’s been snowing here in Minneapolis today. The plows are going past as I write. There are great phrases, great sounds in the verses. It gets, I think, at the incompleteness of the analytical without doing something silly like being all analytical about it.

November 20, 2005

Though it is not Spring [Filed under: MacNeice, Louis]

I am a huge fan of MacNeice now. Read this poem out loud. He is a poet who has such a mastery over sounds that I often care very little about his themes – though they are nothing to sneeze at, either. (It is almost embarrasing to love a poem so much that has “sunshine” in the title.)

Spring Sunshine

In a between world, a world of amber,
The old cat, on the sand-warm window-sill
Sleeps on the verge of nullity.

Spring sunshine has a quality
Transcending rooks and the hammerings
Of those who hang new pictures,
Asking if it is worth it
To clamour and caw, to add stick to stick for ever.

If it is worth while really
To colonize any more the already populous
Tree of knowledge, to portion and reportion
Bits of broken knowledge brittle and dead,
Whether it would not be better
To hide one’s head in the warm sand of sleep
And be buried without hustle or bother.

The rooks bicker heckle bargain always
And market carts lumber–
Let me, in the calm of the all-humouring sun
Also indulge my humour
And bury myself beyond creaks and cawings
In a below world, a bottom world of amber.

By far the most impressive part of this, for me, are the lines: The rooks bicker heckle bargain always/And market carts lumber–

November 6, 2004

London Rain [Filed under: MacNeice, Louis]

London Rain

The rain of London pimples
The ebony street with white
And the neon lamps of London
Stain the canals of night
And the park becomes a jungle
In the alchemy of night.

My wishes turn to violent
Horses black as coal–
The randy mares of fancy,
The stallions of the soul–
Eager to take the fences
That fence about my soul.

Across the countless chimneys
The horses ride and across
The country to the channel
Where warning beacons toss,
To a place where God and No-God
Play at pitch and toss.

Whichever wins I am happy
For God will give me bliss
But No-God will absolve me
From all I do amiss
And I need not suffer conscience
If the world was made amiss.

Under God we can reckon
On pardon when we fall
But if we are under no God
Nothing will matter at all,
Arson and rape and murder
Must count for nothing at all.

So reinforced by logic
As having nothing to lose
My lust goes riding on horseback
To ravish where I choose,
To burgle all the turrets
Of beauty as I choose.

But now the rain gives over
Its dance upon the town,
Logic and lust together
Come dimly tumbling down,
And neither God nor No-God
Is either up or down.

The argument was wilful,
The alternatives untrue,
We need no metaphysics
To sanction what we do
Or to muffle us in comfort
From what we did not do.

Whether the living river
Began in bog or lake,
The world is what was given,
The world is what we make
And only we can discover
Life in the life we make.

So let the water sizzle
Upon the gleaming slates,
There will be sunshine after
When the rain abates
And rain returning duly
When the sun abates.

My wishes now come homeward,
Their gallopings in vain,
Logic and lust are quiet,
Once more it starts to rain.
Falling asleep I listen
To the falling London rain.

December 19, 2003

The Sunlight on the Garden [Filed under: MacNeice, Louis]

The Sunlight on the Garden

The sunlight on the garden
Hardens and grows cold,
We cannot cage the minute
Within its nets of gold;
When all is told
We cannot beg for pardon.

Our freedom as free lances
Advances towards its end;
The earth compels, upon it
Sonnets and birds descend;
And soon, my friend,
We shall have no time for dances.

The sky was good for flying
Defying the church bells
And every evil iron
Siren and what it tells:
The earth compels,
We are dying, Egypt, dying

And not expecting pardon,
Hardened in heart anew,
But glad to have sat under
Thunder and rain with you,
And grateful too
For sunlight on the garden.