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This article is taken from PN Review 178, Volume 34 Number 2, November - December 2007.

Louis MacNeice, Realist and Anti-Realist Roger Caldwell

Louis MacNeice's last collection of poetry, The Burning Perch, was published posthumously in 1963 to meet a less than rapturous reception. MacNeice in the Sixties, in the era of Larkin and Hughes, of youth culture and the Beatles, was out of fashion, a somewhat remote figure, a survivor from the Thirties. In some respects one can see why MacNeice then seemed a little out-of-touch: his manners come from another time and place, he seems something of a stranger in this post-War world of moon-landings, parking-meters, touch-typing and computers. It is also by far his darkest collection, valedictory, if without intending to be so - indeed, MacNeice described himself as taken aback 'by the high proportion of sombre pieces, ranging from bleak observations to thumbnail nightmares'.

Certainly, a poem such as 'In Lieu' is in part a protestation against an increasingly mechanised, commodified, and overcrowded world, but it is more than mere reactionary grumbling: here is a bleak expression of feeling no longer at home in the world, an awareness that something is missing: here hopes are undone just as are flowers and fugues and vows 'While the weather is packaged and the spacemen / In endless orbit and in lieu of a flag / The orator hangs himself from the flagpost.' The orator seems to belong to an earlier era, but it is noteworthy how much even in these, his last poems, MacNeice's sense of the contemporary world remains acute - from radio telescopes ...


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