• Victoria Wells

Featured Poet: Louis Macneice

Louis Macneice's last poem was Thalassa. It was found amongst his possessions after his death in 1963. Macneice, a friend and contemporary of Auden, Yeats and Day-Lewis, lost his Irish Protestant faith, along with his accent, in his 20's but remained fiercely Irish his whole life.

I have only recently discovered Macneice, and have been wondering why I have not come across him before. Thalassa, his last poem and my first of his, has big themes of life, death, bravery and determinism. Prayer before Birth similarly deals with big themes including the "isms" of his time: communism and fascism. And while the big themes can be easily spotted in the words there is something else that emerges for me; a great hope, a perpetuity, a continuation of humanity.

When I chose poems and other readings for Shared Reading Circles I do have certain criteria; not too long, has to be engaging (although this is subjective) and has to have some meat. By this I mean, some depth that will engender thought and voice, some rumination, something to take with you. I always try to chose a poem that links to the short story in some way, even tangentially. But I have to admit there is something mysterious in the choosing. There is always some commentary the following week that it was a story or poem that hit a spot within someone in the group; brought up issues they had been grappling with or touched a sensitive niche they had been trying to ignore.

Louis Macneice's huge universal themes and the under current of hope always provoke a response. In the discussion following Prayer Before Birth the notion of holding onto the idea of being an individual, against adversity, was raised. The terrible things that people do to each other but also how history repeats and how we as individuals, are not good at seeing the whole picture. The discussion was ended on the note of hope and how even the unborn, in the poem, knew they would have children.

Macneice has brought me a gift, even though I was unaware of him until recently. He has brought me, and others, the gift of big pictures, of finely crafted words and of course, hope. Thank you.

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