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This report is taken from PN Review 259, Volume 47 Number 5, May - June 2021.

Tangerine Dreams of Louis MacNeice
John Clegg
Why does Louis MacNeice eat the tangerine in ‘Snow’? It is one of three examples in the three-stanza poem – the roses against the bay window, the tangerine, the fire – and surely on first appearances an extremely odd choice to illustrate ‘the drunkenness of things being various’. The segments of a tangerine are more unusual for their similarity than their unlikeness. Is the distinction between the flesh of the tangerine and the pips? This doesn’t seem right either; there’s more than glass between the snow and the huge roses, but there’s only a matter of time between the pip and the subsequent tangerine.

R.C. Cragg, in a 1953 article, reaches for every possible distinction he can find. ‘A tangerine ties up the thought – again pure literal image; it is treated as a logical entity, a class subordinate to other classes – the peel, the segments, the pips, the juice, the taste, the pulp’. The last three items on Cragg’s list aren’t mentioned anywhere in the poem, and MacNeice makes no distinction between the sense-perceptions – ‘I peel and portion a tangerine’ is surely not phrasing which insists on the separability of the peel, the individual segments and the tangerine itself. M.A.M. Roberts, replying to Cragg a year later, takes issue with many points of his argument but provides a similar account of the tangerine: ‘Even such a unitary thing as a tangerine dissolves in a drunken chaos of pips, peel and portions’. Again, this is very hard to reconcile to the lines in question. There is no ‘drunken ...

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