Sunday, July 27, 2014

And Grateful Too: Louis MacNeice

"Between the Wars"... that's what the Twenties and Thirties in Great Britain came to be labeled, defined in retrospect as a time of quiet hope and noisy Charlestons, of outspoken restless workers and the last gasps of the ruling class, the collapse of Weimar and the main World economy and the quick-march of national Fascists.

The younger generation of British Isles poets (led by W.H. Auden and Stephen Spender), and some older ones too ranging from William Butler Yeats to John
Betjemen, wrote overtly political poems in those years that a number of them later repudiated and tried to hide away, embarrassed by the bold statements and (mostly) leftist attitudes, the images of power grids and machinery, of wheatfield sickles and new dawns.

But those leaden lyrics weren't always a waste of paper and pen. Auden was just plain wrong self-critically to suppress his famous 1939 onset-of-War poem; and whether it was craft or sullen art, Dylan Thomas was wise to hang onto his angry death-by-bombing lament, and Henry Reed to expand his "Lessons of the War."

Another personal favorite--influential on the word music I try to write--is largely forgotten now. "The Sunlight on the Garden" is a poignant, rolling rhythm and chiming rhyme, goodbye-to-all-that period piece by Northern Irish (Scotch/Irish, I suppose) poet Louis MacNeice, a grand example of the playful, prancing "bagpipe music" he was writing in the tumultuous Thirties. I've thought of it often over the past year as a fine way to say farewell...

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.

(Visuals copyright Southwest artist Ed Mell.)