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This review is taken from PN Review 28, Volume 9 Number 2, November - December 1982.

THE SURRENDERS Louis MacNeice, The Strings are False (Faber) £3.25-pb

The Strings are False was enthusiastically received when it was published posthumously in 1965, and this is a welcome though tardy reissue of MacNeice's unfinished autobiography. For MacNeice it was the culmination of a period of self-exploration in prose, written in the limbo year of 1940-41 and deposited with E. R. Dodds. The very uncertainty of the future was a liberation from normal anxieties: a paradoxical exhilaration gives the prose its qualities, or perhaps only emphasises MacNeice's natural gifts, of freshness, detachment, gay irony.

He begins with a sea journey, always an imaginative stimulus because of those numberless crossings of the Irish Sea-the outward sign of a divided inheritance and allegiance-and a recent transatlantic voyage which had in some respects, he felt, changed his life and the kind of poetry he wished to write. From his most recent experiences in America, MacNeice turns back to his earliest childhood memories: 'My mother was comfort and my father somewhat alarm . . .'. The configuration is familiar to his readers, who will find in the vivid sketches of places and people many of the biographical sources of his poetry and the springs of recurrent imagery. Professor Dodds provides references to specific poems, and MacNeice's sister a few footnotes to set the family record straight, but of course the poet lived by his 'misinterpretation' of events.

The account proceeds through his schooldays at Sherborne and Marlborough, conveying MacNeice's pleasure in mastering intellectual techniques as well as in the ...


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