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This article is taken from PN Review 212, Volume 39 Number 6, July - August 2013.

Radio Silence: MacNeice's Two Autumns Rod Mengham
The following is the lightly edited text of the annual Morag Morris Poetry lecture given at the University of Surrey on 6 October 2011.

Both Autumn Journal (1938) and Autumn Sequel (1953), by Louis MacNeice, are designated as ‘occasional’ poems by their author, responding to the events and moods of the day, and the resulting spontaneities, inconsistencies, contradictions, even, are foregrounded by MacNeice, in his prefatory ‘Note’ to Autumn Journal, as the guarantee of authenticity in poetry that is immersed in the matter of history. Any attempt to remove the flavour of reportage – and even its errors – would in his view amount to an act of ‘dishonesty’. It is important to remember the serious heresy that this represents in the context of 1938, coming as it does after a series of self-conscious statements about the writer’s responsibility to history, in poems written predominantly from a socialist or communist viewpoint, including Stephen Spender’s Vienna (1934), John Cornford’s ‘Full Moon at Tierz: The Storming of Huesca’ (1935), and W.H. Auden’s ‘August for the people and their favourite islands’ (1935) and ‘Spain’ (1936). All of these poets had proposed a model of history that was predictive and prescriptive, confidently orchestrating the relations between past, present and future. In two of the three cases, it must be remembered, the communism could fairly be described as ‘occasional’.

It is equally valid to remember the perversity that MacNeice’s standpoint seems to represent in its rejection of the criteria for a modernist ...

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