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This review is taken from PN Review 35, Volume 10 Number 3, January - February 1984.

THE TWO VOICES OF LOUIS MACNEICE Robyn Marsack, The Cave of Making: The Poetry of Louis MacNeice (Oxford) £12.50

Amongst the armoury of critical terms which commentators use in discussing the careers of individual poets, one of the least useful is the idea of progress. Justly considered, few poets' lives actively endorse this pattern. In this century one of the few exceptions may be Louis MacNeice. In his Preface to the updated Collected Poems of 1966, E. R. Dodds, MacNeice's literary executor and former colleague, identifies The Burning Perch (1963) as 'his last (and as many think his best) volume'. In this respect Robyn Marsack is one of the many. Though reticent with general conclusions, she has a strong tendency to see MacNeice as an artist who gradually learned to sift his true worth from a mass of subordinate interests. There were, of course, lapses in the path of self-clarification, yet there seems to Dr Marsack to be a sufficiently clear sense of constructive transformation for her to interpret MacNeice's life's work as a successful attempt to resist his inborn love of conversational display and 'to temper the kind of writing that came easily to him with the demanding art of opening his poems to imponderable forces, tapping resources of dream, parable, and myth.'

To a large extent the younger MacNeice was the victim of his own happy fluency and of historical pressures which drove him towards a limiting topicality. MacNeice's first voice - instantly and endearingly recognizable - is that of a kind of erudite homme moyen sensuel; he revelled in a talent apparently tailor-made ...


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