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Written between August and December 1938, Autumn Journal is still considered one of the most valuable and moving testaments of living through the thirties by a young writer. It is a record of the author's emotional and intellectual experience during those months, the trivia of everyday living set against the events of the world outside, the settlement in Munich and slow de Written between August and December 1938, Autumn Journal is still considered one of the most valuable and moving testaments of living through the thirties by a young writer. It is a record of the author's emotional and intellectual experience during those months, the trivia of everyday living set against the events of the world outside, the settlement in Munich and slow defeat in Spain.


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Written between August and December 1938, Autumn Journal is still considered one of the most valuable and moving testaments of living through the thirties by a young writer. It is a record of the author's emotional and intellectual experience during those months, the trivia of everyday living set against the events of the world outside, the settlement in Munich and slow de Written between August and December 1938, Autumn Journal is still considered one of the most valuable and moving testaments of living through the thirties by a young writer. It is a record of the author's emotional and intellectual experience during those months, the trivia of everyday living set against the events of the world outside, the settlement in Munich and slow defeat in Spain.

30 review for Autumn Journal: A Poem (Faber Poetry)

  1. 5 out of 5

    Atri

    Only give us the courage of our instinct, The will to truth and love's initiative, Then we could hope to live A life beyond the self but self-completing. Only give us the courage of our instinct, The will to truth and love's initiative, Then we could hope to live A life beyond the self but self-completing.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Bettie

    “September has come, it is hers Whose vitality leaps in the autumn, Whose nature prefers Trees without leaves and a fire in the fireplace. So I give her this month and the next Though the whole of my year should be hers who has rendered already So many of its days intolerable or perplexed But so many more so happy. Who has left a scent on my life, and left my walls Dancing over and over with her shadow Whose hair is twined in all my waterfalls And all of London littered with remembered kisses.” http:// “September has come, it is hers Whose vitality leaps in the autumn, Whose nature prefers Trees without leaves and a fire in the fireplace. So I give her this month and the next Though the whole of my year should be hers who has rendered already So many of its days intolerable or perplexed But so many more so happy. Who has left a scent on my life, and left my walls Dancing over and over with her shadow Whose hair is twined in all my waterfalls And all of London littered with remembered kisses.” http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b084cs48 Description: Colin Morgan reads Louis MacNeice's poetic testament of life in 1938, written against the turbulent backdrop of the Munich Agreement, the fall of Barcelona and Britain's preparations for an inevitable war. Autumn Journal is an autobiographical long poem in twenty-four parts by Louis MacNeice. It was written between August and December 1938, and published in a single volume by Faber and Faber in May 1939 Author's Note: I am aware that there are over-statements in this poem-- e.g. in the passages dealing with Ireland, the Oxford by- election or my own more private existence. There are also inconsistencies. If I had been writing a didactic poem proper, it would have been my job to qualify or eliminate these overstatements and inconsistencies. But I was writing what I have called a Journal. In a journal or a personal letter a man writes what he feels at the moment; to attempt scientific truthfulness would be--paradoxically-- dishonest. The truth of a lyric is different from the truths of science and this poem is something half-way between the lyric and the didactic poem. In as much as it is half- way towards a didactic poem I trust that it contains some 'criticism of life' or implies some standards which are not merely personal. I was writing it from August 1938 until the New Year and have not altered any passages relating to public events in the light of what happened after the time of writing. Thus the section about Barcelona having been written before the fall of Barcelona, I should consider it dishonest to have qualified it retrospectively by my reactions to the later event. Nor am I attempting to offer what so many people now demand from poets--a final verdict or a balanced judgment. It is the nature of this poem to be neither final nor balanced. I have certain beliefs which, I hope, emerge in the course of it but which I have refused to abstract from their context. For this reason I shall probably be called a trimmer by some and a sentimental extremist by others. But poetry in my opinion must be honest before anything else and I refuse to be 'objective' or clear-cut at the cost of honesty. - L. M. March, 1939. Source Youtube: Rare short film from Loopline's TV series 'Imprint' presented by Theo Dorgan was aired on RTE 1999. It celebrated the 60th anniversary of Louis MacNeice's epic poem 'Autumn Journal'.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    From BBC Radio 3 - Drama on 3: Colin Morgan reads Louis MacNeice's poetic testament of life in 1938, written against the turbulent backdrop of the Munich Agreement, the fall of Barcelona and Britain's preparations for an inevitable war. Introduced by poet Colette Bryce and interwoven with archive news reports from the era. Part of Radio 3's 70th season, marking the anniversary of the creation of the Third Programme, Radio 3's predecessor in 1946, where MacNeice worked as a producer and writer. Prod From BBC Radio 3 - Drama on 3: Colin Morgan reads Louis MacNeice's poetic testament of life in 1938, written against the turbulent backdrop of the Munich Agreement, the fall of Barcelona and Britain's preparations for an inevitable war. Introduced by poet Colette Bryce and interwoven with archive news reports from the era. Part of Radio 3's 70th season, marking the anniversary of the creation of the Third Programme, Radio 3's predecessor in 1946, where MacNeice worked as a producer and writer. Produced by Emma Harding. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b084cs48

  4. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    I needed to listen to this strange and sad journalistic poetry. Like it was great timing, seasonally, but also because so much of late 30s Europe feels relateable to current events ("current events!!" mr rhodes cackles as he rubs his hands together). I also just like the idea of a poetic diary. I needed to listen to this strange and sad journalistic poetry. Like it was great timing, seasonally, but also because so much of late 30s Europe feels relateable to current events ("current events!!" mr rhodes cackles as he rubs his hands together). I also just like the idea of a poetic diary.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    MacNeice, a poet and man of letters from Northern Ireland, wrote this long verse narrative between August 1938 and the turn of the following year. It’s simultaneously about everything and nothing, about everyday life for the common worker and the political rumblings that suggest all is not right in the world. As summer fades and Christmas draws closer, he reflects on his disconnection from Ireland; and on fear, apathy and the longing for purpose. Two in every four lines rhyme, but the rhyme schem MacNeice, a poet and man of letters from Northern Ireland, wrote this long verse narrative between August 1938 and the turn of the following year. It’s simultaneously about everything and nothing, about everyday life for the common worker and the political rumblings that suggest all is not right in the world. As summer fades and Christmas draws closer, he reflects on his disconnection from Ireland; and on fear, apathy and the longing for purpose. Two in every four lines rhyme, but the rhyme scheme is so subtle that I was far into the book before I recognized it. I tend not to like prose poems, but this book offers a nice halfway house between complete sentences and a stanza form, and it voices the kinds of feelings we can all relate to. How can this possibly be 80 years old? It is so relevant to our situation now. we think ‘This must be wrong, it has happened before, Just like this before, we must be dreaming…’ now it seems futility, imbecility, To be building shops when nobody can tell What will happen next. There are only too many who say ‘What difference does it make One way or the other? To turn the stream of history will take More than a by-election.’ Still there are … the seeds of energy and choice Still alive even if forbidden, hidden, And while a man has voice He may recover music. The university library copy I borrowed smells faintly of incense, so reading it was rather like slipping into the back pew of an old church and pondering timelessness. Originally published on my blog, Bookish Beck.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Liam Guilar

    (The selection of quotes goodreads offers from this book is weird.) And there should be some way of explaining why reading this in a stand alone edition is so much easier and more enjoyable than reading it in the collected. Described as representing the Thirties in the way the 'The Wasteland' did the Twenties and like a lot of poems from that decade oddly caught in its own stylistic time bubble in a way the Waste Land never was. One man's description of part of what what another Irish poet called (The selection of quotes goodreads offers from this book is weird.) And there should be some way of explaining why reading this in a stand alone edition is so much easier and more enjoyable than reading it in the collected. Described as representing the Thirties in the way the 'The Wasteland' did the Twenties and like a lot of poems from that decade oddly caught in its own stylistic time bubble in a way the Waste Land never was. One man's description of part of what what another Irish poet called the year of the "Munich Bother". It depicts the inevitable and looming war as it affects individuals, in small details; (People rushing to buy the late news and to see what Hitler has said or done is going to do; trees being chopped down on Primrose Hill to make room for anti aircraft guns. the sense of individual helplessness). Immensely readable, but at the same time an interesting spectacle; one of the best lyric poets of the twentieth century going for the long haul. And compared to some of the other train wrecks of long poems attempted during the 20th Century, this one, though lacking the ambition of something like Paterson or the Cantos, works. Sleep to the noise of running water tomorrow to be crossed, however deep; this is no river of the dead or Lethe, tonight we sleep On the banks of the Rubicon-the die is cast; there will be time to audit the accounts later, there will be sunlight later and the equation will come out at last. (and then how MacNeice ghosts a later generation, here particularly Derek Mahon.)

  7. 5 out of 5

    Alice Lippart

    Really liked the themes of autumn and war. A good and interesting collection, but doesn't quite make it into my heart. Really liked the themes of autumn and war. A good and interesting collection, but doesn't quite make it into my heart.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Courtney Johnston

    Louis MacNeice's 'Autumn Journal' made me ask a question I've not really asked before - why write a poem? I mean, I've read plenty of interviews where writers who write both fiction and poetry say that some ideas are better expressed, better fitted, for one form than the other. And beyond that, I guess writers are a little like runners - congenitally better suited to the sprint or the marathon. MacNeice's long poem - 86 pages in the Faber and Faber edition I borrowed - records the months between Louis MacNeice's 'Autumn Journal' made me ask a question I've not really asked before - why write a poem? I mean, I've read plenty of interviews where writers who write both fiction and poetry say that some ideas are better expressed, better fitted, for one form than the other. And beyond that, I guess writers are a little like runners - congenitally better suited to the sprint or the marathon. MacNeice's long poem - 86 pages in the Faber and Faber edition I borrowed - records the months between August 1938 and the new year of 1939. In it, he is fully aware of the monumental events that are taking place (indeed, could anyone who lived through the Great War not feel that weight?) but also at the end of a love affair, voting in the Oxford by-election (fought over Chamberlin's appeasement policy), musing on Greek philosophy, and close observation of London life. I guess today, I would expect this to all be written up as monthly installments in The Atlantic or the New Yorker. The confessional essay - where large matters are mixed in with individual life - seems like the closest match to what MacNeice is doing here. But as MacNeice writes in his introduction: I am aware that there are overstatements in this poem—e.g. in the passages dealing with Ireland, the Oxford by-election or my own more private existence . . . if I had been writing a didactic poem proper, it would have been my job to qualify or eliminate these overstatements and inconsistencies. But I was writing what I have called a Journal . . . . It is the nature of this poem to be neither final nor balanced. I have certain beliefs which, I hope, emerge in the course of it but which I have refused to abstract from the context. For this reason I shall probably be called a trimmer by some and a sentimentalist by others. The poem seems to offer freedoms the essay would not: to mention, elide, allude without explication, circle out, spend two pages on a simple observation. And at the same time, it offers boundaries and restrictions - rhyme, line length. There is something I am interested in, but don't yet fully understand, about taking any subject and treating it within a set of rules: the form stays the same, but culture and the world keep moving on. I found MacNeice's story - half-polemic, half-personal - intriguing, even if my ear didn't thrill to his writing. Some images stick however: snow-covered cars in winter Turn animal, moving slowly In their white fur like bears And the hopeful/melancholy/sad reflections on his lover: September has come, it is hers Whose vitality leaps in the autumn, Whose nature prefers Trees without leaves and a fire in the fire-place; So I give her this month and the next Though the whole of my year should be hers who has rendered already So many of its days intolerable or perplexed But so many more so happy; Who has left a scent on my life and left my walls Dancing over and over with her shadow, Whose hair is twined in all my waterfalls And all of London littered with remembered kisses. There's also an of-the-momentness I really like, a sense of modernity in the very special sense that has of the 1930s. Not simply in the fact that MacNice is recounting events as they happen, but that he seems so tuned in to the grain of the moment, those things that will become period detail Let the old Muse loosen her stays Or give me a new Muse with stockings and suspenders And a smile like a cat, With false eyelashes and finger-nails of carmine And dressed by Schiaparelli, with a pill-box hat. Digging about online, I found this quote from MacNeice's own 'Modern Poetry: a Personal Essay' from 1937: “I would have a poet able bodied, fond of talking, a reader of the newspapers, capable of pity and laughter, informed in economics, appreciative of women, involved in personal relationships, actively interested in politics, susceptible to physical impressions.” He couldn't have been more right.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Kandice

    Deceptively simple poetry that intertwines personal upheaval with the political instability of Europe in 1938. Certain passages haunted me for days after I finished it. Read it if you love poetry. Read it if you think you hate poetry.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Kaethe Douglas

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I've been waiting more than 30 years to read this. Perhaps I would have liked it more then. As it is, the only passages that really grabbed me were ones I already knew: September has come, it is hers Whose vitality leaps in the autumn, Whose nature prefers Trees without leaves and a fire in the fire-place So I give her this month and the next Though the whole of my year should be hers who has rendered already So many of its days intolerable or perplexed But so many more so happy; Who has left a s I've been waiting more than 30 years to read this. Perhaps I would have liked it more then. As it is, the only passages that really grabbed me were ones I already knew: September has come, it is hers Whose vitality leaps in the autumn, Whose nature prefers Trees without leaves and a fire in the fire-place So I give her this month and the next Though the whole of my year should be hers who has rendered already So many of its days intolerable or perplexed But so many more so happy; Who has left a scent on my life and left my walls Dancing over and over with her shadow, Whose hair is twined in all my waterfalls And all of London littered with remembered kisses. *** There will be time to audit The accounts later, there will be sunlight later And the equation will come out at last. *** I had thought I was going to love it. The idea of a poem written in real time and published, same, autobiographical, capturing the time-before-the-war in anticipation of it. When it was about the vacation in Spain just before the fall to Franco, the trip's clichés given piquancy by the looming horror and very uncertain future, that was a poem I thought might give me some sort of solace, or at least perspective, when faced with our own uncertainty. But no. All the rest of it is quite different: an election, a lost dog, a great deal of classical Greek references, most of which I didn't understand. Apparently it was quite popular in 38 and 39, so maybe readers then did find in it what I was hoping to. At least it was possible to get through to the end, which seems like a near impossibility with new works just now. Library copy

  11. 5 out of 5

    Elisa

    I don't normally read poetry but today a friend told me Colin Morgan's reading of this poem was available on the iPlayer so I gave this a go. And I liked it so much I went and bought the ebook off Amazon to be able to read along as Morgan read to be able to appreciate the poetry better. I liked the intimate tone of the verses (it's a diary, duh), the crucial historical moment it was set in (and was a bit unnerved by how relevant most of the political/social commentary still is), the everyday des I don't normally read poetry but today a friend told me Colin Morgan's reading of this poem was available on the iPlayer so I gave this a go. And I liked it so much I went and bought the ebook off Amazon to be able to read along as Morgan read to be able to appreciate the poetry better. I liked the intimate tone of the verses (it's a diary, duh), the crucial historical moment it was set in (and was a bit unnerved by how relevant most of the political/social commentary still is), the everyday description and little snapshots of London life. Poetry still is definitely not my cup of tea but MacNeice's free verse (that's what I'd call it in Italian) flows so easily this was not a hardahip to read. In short, I'm glad I read this, something I'd have never sought on my own. So, thank you Colin Morgan for luring me in with your sexy Irish accent, I guess?

  12. 4 out of 5

    Colin

    Autumn Journal is something I've been meaning to read at this time of the year for absolutely ages. Its appearance on an excellent recent edition of the Backlisted podcast gave me the impetus to get on with it. A long poem of twenty four cantos, it vividly captures the last autumn of peace before the outbreak of the Second World War. It is a mixture of the personal and the public, as MacNeice evokes a lost relationship in a world that is slowly sliding into war. Hypnotic rhythm and rhyme take th Autumn Journal is something I've been meaning to read at this time of the year for absolutely ages. Its appearance on an excellent recent edition of the Backlisted podcast gave me the impetus to get on with it. A long poem of twenty four cantos, it vividly captures the last autumn of peace before the outbreak of the Second World War. It is a mixture of the personal and the public, as MacNeice evokes a lost relationship in a world that is slowly sliding into war. Hypnotic rhythm and rhyme take the reader on a journey through the dying days of the penultimate year of what another poet called a 'low dishonest decade', and through MacNeice's personal odyssey, the two frequently blurring at the edges.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    I'm haunted by this work since it turned me on to a kind of journalistic way of writing poetry as an adolescent. The atmosphere of the impending war, being in love on the streets of London, musings on Spanish civil war and ancient Greek hedonists, the courage of ordinary people going to work every day "to build the falling castle". Also those beautiful long lines with their sly rhymes and cunning rhythms. I recently came across a tatty first edition without cover in a charity bookshop. It had t I'm haunted by this work since it turned me on to a kind of journalistic way of writing poetry as an adolescent. The atmosphere of the impending war, being in love on the streets of London, musings on Spanish civil war and ancient Greek hedonists, the courage of ordinary people going to work every day "to build the falling castle". Also those beautiful long lines with their sly rhymes and cunning rhythms. I recently came across a tatty first edition without cover in a charity bookshop. It had those cut pages and a sense of being from its time. A treasure!

  14. 4 out of 5

    David Campton

    MacNeice is often sneered at as a lesser member of the Auden/Day Lewis coterie, and unfavourably compared with other "Irish" poets, but I have a genuine love of this window into his private thoughts in response to the great events of 1938-9 and reflections on things "back home" in Ulster over the "marching season" of that year. There remains a relevance to it 50 years after his death and 75 years after he wrote it... sadly... MacNeice is often sneered at as a lesser member of the Auden/Day Lewis coterie, and unfavourably compared with other "Irish" poets, but I have a genuine love of this window into his private thoughts in response to the great events of 1938-9 and reflections on things "back home" in Ulster over the "marching season" of that year. There remains a relevance to it 50 years after his death and 75 years after he wrote it... sadly...

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jenny Cooke (Bookish Shenanigans)

    A new favourite.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    didn’t completely understand what was happening

  17. 4 out of 5

    Vishvapani

    We aren't in 1938, but there's something familiar in the sense MacNeice eloquently expresses of being in a bad time and watching vast forces push the world in a bad direction while one feels one's own confusion and impotence and watches, bemused, the responses of others. The poem I'd put alongside it is Auden's New Year Letter, which was written in a similar style at precisely the same time and also combines autobiography, political observation and phiosophical reflection. Having had only a pass We aren't in 1938, but there's something familiar in the sense MacNeice eloquently expresses of being in a bad time and watching vast forces push the world in a bad direction while one feels one's own confusion and impotence and watches, bemused, the responses of others. The poem I'd put alongside it is Auden's New Year Letter, which was written in a similar style at precisely the same time and also combines autobiography, political observation and phiosophical reflection. Having had only a passing acquaintance with Macneice's work, this was a powerful introduction.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jocelin

    Autumn Journal is perhaps the most self-aware modernist text that I have read. Written in the final quarter of a year before the calamitous 1939, MacNeice dryly and pertinently observes a world teetering on the edge of - well, something. Although he hovers in the modern world with a sort of conscious brutality, he often drops away back into the classical past, as though losing his footing in the present. He meanders through the drop into winter through various voices, and employs the most gorgeo Autumn Journal is perhaps the most self-aware modernist text that I have read. Written in the final quarter of a year before the calamitous 1939, MacNeice dryly and pertinently observes a world teetering on the edge of - well, something. Although he hovers in the modern world with a sort of conscious brutality, he often drops away back into the classical past, as though losing his footing in the present. He meanders through the drop into winter through various voices, and employs the most gorgeous turns of phrases: "carting round a toybox of hallmarked marmoreal phrases", "I loved my love with the wings of angels, dipped in henna, unearthly red..." But ultimately for me, it was also simply delightful to have my particular interests in Ireland, poetry, modernism, and classical history blended so beautifully into one text.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Carlton

    So immediate, so that it almost reads as stream of consciousness poetry: Close and slow, summer is ending in Hampshire, Ebbing away down ramps of shaven lawn where close-clipped yew Insulates the lives of retired generals and admirals And the spyglasses hung in the hall and the prayer-books ready in the pew And August going out to the tin trumpets of nasturtiums And the sunflowers’ Salvation Army blare of brass And the spinster sitting in a deck-chair picking up stitches Not raising her eyes to t So immediate, so that it almost reads as stream of consciousness poetry: Close and slow, summer is ending in Hampshire, Ebbing away down ramps of shaven lawn where close-clipped yew Insulates the lives of retired generals and admirals And the spyglasses hung in the hall and the prayer-books ready in the pew And August going out to the tin trumpets of nasturtiums And the sunflowers’ Salvation Army blare of brass And the spinster sitting in a deck-chair picking up stitches Not raising her eyes to the noise of the ’planes that pass By turns, autobiographical and personal. But for all that, so of the historical moment, as he went into 1939.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Emma

    A wonderful snapshot from a country on the brink of war, the mundane and the global all accounted for and so many gorgeous lines; " And we had our little tiptoe minds" " Send her no more fantasy, no more longings which are under fatal tarrif. For common sense is the vogue And she gives her children neither sense nor money Who slouch around the world with a gesture and a brogue" " You were my blizzard who had been my bed" "A fire should be left burning Till it burns itself out: We shan't have another A wonderful snapshot from a country on the brink of war, the mundane and the global all accounted for and so many gorgeous lines; " And we had our little tiptoe minds" " Send her no more fantasy, no more longings which are under fatal tarrif. For common sense is the vogue And she gives her children neither sense nor money Who slouch around the world with a gesture and a brogue" " You were my blizzard who had been my bed" "A fire should be left burning Till it burns itself out: We shan't have another chance to dance and shout Once the flames are silent"

  21. 4 out of 5

    alexandra pintea

    Jurnal de toamna cu (printre multe, multe altele) crizanteme, dalii si foc (in camin): 'In this room chrysanthemums and dahlias Like brandy hit the heart; the fire, A small wild animal, furthers its desire Consuming fuel, self-consuming. And flames are the clearest cut Of shapes and the most transient: O fire, my spendthrift, May I spend like you, as reckless but Giving as good return - burn the silent Into running sound, deride the dark And jump to glory from a single spark And purge the world and warm it Jurnal de toamna cu (printre multe, multe altele) crizanteme, dalii si foc (in camin): 'In this room chrysanthemums and dahlias Like brandy hit the heart; the fire, A small wild animal, furthers its desire Consuming fuel, self-consuming. And flames are the clearest cut Of shapes and the most transient: O fire, my spendthrift, May I spend like you, as reckless but Giving as good return - burn the silent Into running sound, deride the dark And jump to glory from a single spark And purge the world and warm it.'

  22. 5 out of 5

    Leila

    found this in the library while looking for something to read for my mods 1 exam. disappointed that it wasn't even mentioned on my course, as it is probably the only modernist poetry i've liked thus far. an autobiographical poem about the 1938-9 years, the approach of war, the moral dilemma, the civilian war effort and irish nationalism, as well as the hedonism of the 1930s and the poet's own life and love. found this in the library while looking for something to read for my mods 1 exam. disappointed that it wasn't even mentioned on my course, as it is probably the only modernist poetry i've liked thus far. an autobiographical poem about the 1938-9 years, the approach of war, the moral dilemma, the civilian war effort and irish nationalism, as well as the hedonism of the 1930s and the poet's own life and love.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Nathan Leahy

    Masterpiece. I read it every October. Seems especially relevant this year.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Richard Smith

    I enjoyed this greatly. There's something satisfying about a long poem, especially as one as lyrical, illuminating, and easy to read as this one. I'm almost tempted to start again immediately. I enjoyed this greatly. There's something satisfying about a long poem, especially as one as lyrical, illuminating, and easy to read as this one. I'm almost tempted to start again immediately.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Tanya Petrova

    Astonishingly evocative of the times we live in, indescribably beautiful, compassionate and kind. A must-read for any socially conscious and self-aware person out there. Stellar!

  26. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    I read this book because of The Shell Seekers. I found it on YouTube, read by Colin Morgan in three parts with sound effects. And followed along with my copy and it was really good.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Freddie Trevaskis Hoskin

    A wonderful incisive epic, a potently relevant political treaties, a manifesto on not knowing how to live and an eradicator of loneliness. At times a tad prosaic.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Cecly

    I don't normally enjoy poetry, bur MacNiece is brilliant. I have to thank Rosamunde Pilcher for introducing me to this poet. I don't normally enjoy poetry, bur MacNiece is brilliant. I have to thank Rosamunde Pilcher for introducing me to this poet.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Simon Barraclough

    One of the very few books I've started to read again as soon as I've finished: the others being Ulysses, Dombey and Son, and Heart of Darkness. One of the very few books I've started to read again as soon as I've finished: the others being Ulysses, Dombey and Son, and Heart of Darkness.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Finlay Miles

    I'll write more about this another time; a wonderful poem though, with some of the most understatedly beautiful writing i've come across. The best, and most distinctive, thing about this work though is how conversational, personal, and unpretentious it comes across. MacNeice feels like the only great (imo at least) poet of the last century who I could actually keep up a conversation with, and that's not because he's a less 'complex' writer, but rather that he manages to be complex, interesting, I'll write more about this another time; a wonderful poem though, with some of the most understatedly beautiful writing i've come across. The best, and most distinctive, thing about this work though is how conversational, personal, and unpretentious it comes across. MacNeice feels like the only great (imo at least) poet of the last century who I could actually keep up a conversation with, and that's not because he's a less 'complex' writer, but rather that he manages to be complex, interesting, and nuanced in such an approachable and emotionally intelligent manner. This poem is organised in short, eminently readable 80 line cantos, and written in a loose metre and almost prosaically informal tone - you'll find few elaborate metaphors or obscure references here; MacNeice himself wrote: "It is written throughout in an elastic kind of quatrain. This form (a) gives the whole poem a formal unity but (b) saves it from monotony by allowing it a great range of appropriate variations. The writing is direct; anyone could understand it." This directness does not hinder his keen power of observation and deeply felt understanding of the human experience, though. Take Canto XII, where an extended metaphor comparing the Roman Colosseum to the atmosphere of contemporary pre-war politics opens the door seamlessly to classical allusions and rumination on "Plato talking about his Forms/ To damn the artist touting round his mirror", and art and politics and philosophy and even time are subtly drawn together in this dichotomy of homogeneity vs heterogeneity, all bound up in this underpinning classical framework. But this is all done with such a wonderfully offhanded, relaxed and amusing approach: Plato is cast out because he would "destroy" all Tuesdays by reducing them to one (this was written on a Tuesday), while Aristotle "was better", "taking the horse from the shelf and letting it gallop". I do think the relaxed style of the poem has some drawbacks, however. Despite MacNeice's assertion of a 'formal unity', it's hard to feel much of a structure or even purpose emerging from the 2000-odd lines comprising the work: it could just as easily be 200 or 200,000 to be quite honest. This isn't necessarily a failure of the poem itself (it is a journal, after all), but, combined with MacNeice's constant honesty to his own unsureness, it gives the work a slightly airy, weightless feel, where despite its often keen insight into "the tenor of my emotional experiences during that period", as he puts it, it doesn't really resolve these emotional experiences into more than a few vignettes of a similar backdrop and thematic interest. Basically, the end came out of nowhere and left me a little unsatisfied lol (particularly given this is suuuch a historically interesting period that it feels unfortunate his trip to Barcelona was squeezed largely into a single canto near the end). This drawback is nothing at all serious, however, and indeed is really only a necessary consequence of the otherwise inspired concept for this poem. A must-read, especially for people looking to get into the medium!

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