Inquisition

INQUISITION

 

“Are you, or have you ever been,

A foreigner?”

Thus spake the coroner

And I replied, behind a screen,

“Yes!

When I went to see my Auntie Bess

In Australia!”

He hissed to his sidekick Damien:

“Emergency! We’ve got an alien!”

And died of heart failure.

 

Perhaps there’s a degree of similarity in the humour, but I wanted to take a chance to promote (I would have said “plug”, but it might have been understood in the American Western sense) another dead poet not enough honoured – Louis MacNeice. He was a contemporary of W.H.Auden and Stephen Spender (and part of their “set” though said to be “irredeemably heterosexual”), but although his poetry has perhaps survived better than Spender’s, he’s far less well known than Auden. I think he should stand at least with Auden. Born in Northern Ireland but spending his adulthood in England, MacNeice had a strong sense of history, of surviving things and of the particular, whereas some other poetry of that time and group seems general and unrelated to time. He had an ear for the vividness and absurdity of everyday speech, an earthy sense of humour (earthy in two senses because his poems often convey a sense of land, country, soil and growing things), at the same time an ability to imply through his windows, mirrors, social oddities and hourglasses that things are not quite as they seem and a marvellous ability to drop an unpalatable truth in like a depth-charge. He wrote brilliantly about ageing and approaching death – though he himself died in his fifties, his ability to fight pneumonia reduced by long-time heavy drinking.

 

His first lines or sentences often catch the attention:

 

Inside, the tang of a tiny oil lamp (“House on a Cliff”)

The precise yet furtive etiquette of dogs (“Dogs in the Park”)

 

but here are the depth-charges:

 

“The glass is falling hour by hour, the glass will fall forever

But if you break the bloody glass you won’t hold up the weather.”

(Bagpipe Music – that sounds especially effective in a Northern Irish accent).

 

“It came to me on the Nile my passport lied,

Calling me dark who am grey.”

(Can’t trace that one – I remember it quoted).

 

He should be cherished.

 

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3 Comments

  1. You know reading another writer’s work is great fun! And you are right in saying “things are not always what they seem”. For me anyway, to enjoy a book, I like to dig a little deeper into what is being said, into the imagery, to find out if there is more below the surface that the author wants me to know. Even films do that and it makes for more pleasant viewing, don’t you think?

    Reply
    • Thanks, Leslie. Welcome.

      I agree. For example, in one of my favourite films, “Chariots of Fire”, set just after the First World War, the Jewish British althlete Harold Abrahams is shown singing Gilbert and Sullivan, an archetypal upper-middle-class-British thing to do at the time, and in particular the song “To Be an Englishman” with the lines “In spite of all temptations/To belong to other nations”. G & S meant by that to make fun of the idea of being proud of being English – or French, American, Australian, Brazilian, whatever – because after all, you didn’t have to make an effort to achieve this and you didn’t have a choice. But the film has made clear that Abrahams, being Jewish, is seen by some English/British people of his own class as not quite English or British, and to be accepted he DOES have to make an effort and it IS an achievement! This made me think more about outsiders and having mixed or ambiguous identity.

      Reply
      • You know that is why I wrote my book of essays, This is My Normal, to let others know that individuals with disabilities are human too. They just do things a little differently. I have a 48 year old brother who happens to be mentally retarded and a soon to be 21 year old who happens to be severly autistic son. To me, they are just two men are living among the rest of us and doing the best they can. I don’t feel sorry for myself because I don’t see my situation as a bad thing. They are who they are and I love them. They don’t need to change.

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