- Louis MacNeice
Frederick Louis MacNeice (
September 12, 1907– September 3, 1963) was a British and Irish poetand playwright. He was part of the generation of " thirties poets" which included W. H. Auden, Stephen Spenderand C. Day Lewis; nicknamed 'MacSpaunday' as a group - a name invented by Roy Campbell, in his Talking Bronco (1946). His body of work was widely appreciated by the public during his lifetime, due in part to his relaxed, but socially and emotionally aware style. Never as overtly (or simplistically) political as some of his contemporaries, his work shows a humane opposition to totalitarianism as well as an acute awareness of his Irish roots.
He wrote in the introduction to his "Autumn Journal":
Louis MacNeice (known as Freddie until his teens, when he adopted his middle name) was born in
Belfast, the youngest son of John Frederick and Elizabeth Margaret ("Lily") MacNeice. Both were originally from the west of Ireland. Lily MacNeice died in December 1914 after a series of illnesses including uterine cancer, depression and finally tuberculosis (MacNeice later described the cause of his mother's death as "obscure", and blamed his mother's cancer on his own difficult birth). His brother William, who had Down's syndrome, had been sent to live in an institution in Scotlandduring his mother's terminal illness. Shortly after his father married Georgina Greer in early 1917, MacNeice's sister Elizabeth was sent to board at a preparatory school in Sherborne, England. MacNeice joined her in Sherborne preparatory school later in the year.
MacNeice was generally happy at Sherborne, which gave an education concentrating on the
classics(Greek and Latin) and literature (including the memorising of poetry). He was an enthusiastic sportsman, something which continued when he moved to Marlborough Collegein 1921, having won a classical scholarship. Marlborough was a less happy place, with a hierarchical and sometimes cruel social structure, but MacNeice's interest in ancient literature and civilisation deepened and expanded to include Egyptian and Norse mythology. He was a contemporary of John Betjemanand Anthony Blunt, forming a lifelong friendship with the latter, and writing poetry and essays for the school magazines. By the end of his time at the school, MacNeice was sharing a study with Blunt and also sharing his aesthetic tastes (though not his sexual ones – Blunt said MacNeice was "totally, irredeemably heterosexual"). In November 1925, MacNeice was awarded a "Postmastership" scholarship to Merton College, Oxford, and he left Marlborough in the summer of the following year.
It was during his first year as a student at Oxford that MacNeice first met
W. H. Auden, who had gained himself a reputation as the University's foremost poet during the preceding year. Stephen Spenderand Cecil Day-Lewiswere already part of Auden's circle, but MacNeice's closest Oxford friends were John Hilton and Graham Shepard, who had been with him at Marlborough. MacNeice threw himself into the aesthetic culture, publishing poetry in literary magazines "The Cherwell" and "Sir Galahad", organising candle-lit readings of Shelley and Marlowe, and visiting Pariswith Hilton. In 1928 he was introduced to the classics don John Beazleyand his stepdaughter Mary Ezra. A year later he thought to soften the news that he had been arrested for drunkenness by telegraphing his father to say he was engaged to be married. John MacNeice (by now Archdeaconof Connor, and a Bishopa few years later) was horrified to discover his son was engaged to a Jew, and Ezra's family demanded assurances that William's Down's syndromewas not hereditary. Amidst this turmoil, "Blind Fireworks" was published by Gollancz, dedicated to "Giovanna" (Mary's full name was Giovanna Marie Thérèse Babette). In 1930 the couple were married at Oxford Registry Office, neither set of parents attending the ceremony. He was awarded a first-class degree in "literae humaniores", and had already gained an appointment as Assistant Lecturer in Classics at the University of Birmingham.
The newlyweds were found lodgings in Birmingham by
E. R. Doddsand his wife – Dodds was Professor of Greek (and later to be MacNeice's literary executor), and his wife Bet was a lecturer in the Department of English. The MacNeices lived in a former coachman's cottage in the grounds of a house in Selly Parkbelonging to another professor, Philip Sargant Florence. Birminghamwas a very different university (and city) to Oxford, MacNeice was not a natural lecturer, and he found it difficult to write poetry. He turned instead to a semi-autobiographical novel, "Roundabout Way", which was published in 1932 under the name of Louis Malone (as he feared a novel by an academic would not be favourably reviewed).
The local Classical Association included
George Augustus Auden, Professor of Public Health and father of W. H. Auden, and by 1932 MacNeice and Auden's Oxford acquaintance had turned into a close friendship. Auden knew many Marxists, and Blunt had also become a communist by this time, but MacNeice (although sympathetic to the left) was always sceptical of easy answers and "the armchair reformist". "The Strings are False" (written at the time of the Nazi-Soviet Pact) describes his wish for a change in society and even revolution, but also his intellectual opposition to Marxism and especially the glib communism embraced by many of his friends.
MacNeice started to write poetry again, and in January 1933 he and Auden led the first edition of
Geoffrey Grigson's magazine "New Verse". MacNeice also started sending poems to T. S. Eliotat around this time, and although Eliot did not feel that they merited Faber and Faberpublishing a volume of poems, several were published in Eliot's journal "The Criterion".
On the 15th of May 1934, Louis and Mary's son Daniel John MacNeice was born. In September of that year, MacNeice travelled to Dublin with Dodds (who had republican sympathies) and met
William Butler Yeats. Unsuccessful attempts at playwriting and another novel were followed in September 1935 by "Poems", the first of his collections for Faber and Faber. In November, Mary left MacNeice and their infant son for a Russian-American graduate student called Charles Katzmann. MacNeice engaged a nurse to look after Dan, and his sister and stepmother also helped on occasion. In early 1936, Blunt and MacNeice visited Spain shortly after the election of the Popular Front government. Auden and MacNeice travelled to Iceland in the summer of that year, which resulted in " Letters from Iceland", a collection of poems, letters (some in verse) and essays. In October MacNeice left Birmingham for a lecturing post in the Department of Greek at Bedford College for Women, part of the University of London.
MacNeice moved into Geoffrey Grigson's former flat in
Hampsteadwith Daniel and his nurse. His translation of Aeschylus's " Agamemnon" was published in late 1936, and produced by the Group Theatre (London). Shortly afterwards his divorce from Mary was finalised. They continued to write frequent affectionate letters to one another, although Mary married Katzmann shortly after the divorce, and MacNeice started an affair with Nancy Coldstream. Nancy was, like her husband Bill, a painter and a friend of Auden (who had introduced the couple to MacNeice while they were in Birmingham). MacNeice and Nancy visited the Hebridesin 1937, which resulted in a book written by MacNeice with illustrations by Nancy, "I Crossed the Minch".
August 1937 saw the appearance of "Letters from Iceland" (which had been finished by the two authors in MacNeice's London home the previous year), and towards the end of the year a play called "Out of the Picture" was published and produced by the Group Theatre (music was written for the production by
Benjamin Britten, as he had done previously for "Agamemnon"). In 1938, Faber and Faber published a second collection of poems, "The Earth Compels", the Oxford University Presspublished "Modern Poetry", and Nancy once again contributed illustrations to a book about London Zoo, called simply "Zoo".
As the year (and his relationship with Nancy) drew to a close, he started work on "Autumn Journal". By Christmas, Nancy was in love with
Stephen Spender's brother Michael (who she was later to marry), and at the end of the year MacNeice visited Barcelonashortly before the city fell to Francisco Franco. The poem was finished by February 1939, and published in May. It is widely viewed as MacNeice's masterpiece, recording his feelings as the Spanish civil warraged and the United Kingdomheaded towards war with Germany, as well as his personal concerns and reflections over the past decade.
During the Easter vacation that year, MacNeice made a brief lecture tour of various American universities, also meeting up with Mary and Charles Katzmann and giving a reading with Auden and
Christopher Isherwoodin New York (attended by John Berryman, and at which Auden met Chester Kallmanfor the first time). MacNeice also met the writer Eleanor Clarkin New York, and arranged to spend the next academic year on sabbatical so that he could be with her. A lectureship at Cornell Universitywas organised, and in December 1939 MacNeice sailed for America, leaving his son in Ireland. Cornell proved a success but the relationship with Eleanor did not, and MacNeice was back in London by the end of 1940. He worked as a freelance journalist (he had resigned from his lecturing position at Bedford College while in America) and was awaiting the publication of "Plant and Phantom", which was dedicated to Clark (the previous year, the Cuala Presshad published "The Last Ditch", a limited edition containing some poems which would appear in the new volume). In early 1941, MacNeice was employed by the BBC.
War and afterwards, 1941–1963
MacNeice's work for the BBC initially involved writing and producing
radioprogrammes intended to build support for the USA, and later Russia– cultural programmes emphasising links between the countries rather than outright propaganda. A critical work on W. B. Yeats (which he had been working on since the poet's death in 1939) was published early in 1941, as were "Plant and Phantom" and "Poems 1925–1940" (an American anthology). At the end of the year, MacNeice started a relationship with Hedli Anderson, and they were married in July 1942, three months after the death of his father. Brigid Corinna MacNeice (known by her second name like her parents, or as "Bimba") was born a year later. By the end of the war MacNeice had written well over sixty scripts for the BBC and a further collection of poems, "Springboard". The radio play " Christopher Columbus", produced in 1942 and later published as a book, featured music by William Walton, conducted by Adrian Boult, and starred Laurence Olivier. 1943's "He Had a Date" (loosely based on the life and death of MacNeice's friend Graham Shepard but also semi-autobiographical) was also published, as was "The Dark Tower" (1946, again with music by Britten). Dylan Thomasacted in some of MacNeice's plays during this period, and the two poets (both heavy drinkers) also became social companions.
In 1947, the BBC sent MacNeice to report on
Indian independence and partition, and he continued to produce plays for the corporation, including a six-part radio adaptation of Goethe's " Faust" in 1949. 1948's collection of poems, "Holes in the Sky", met with a less favourable reception than previous books. In 1950 he was given eighteen months' leave to become Director of the British Institute in Athens, run by the British Council. Patrick Leigh Fermorhad previously been Deputy Director of the Institute, and he and his wife became close friends of the MacNeices. "Ten Burnt Offerings", poems written in Greece, were broadcast by the BBC in 1951 and published the following year. The MacNeices returned to England in August 1951, and Dan (who had been at an English boarding school) left for America in early 1952 to stay with his mother, to avoid national service. Dan would return to England in 1953, but went to live permanently with his mother after a legal battle with MacNeice.
In 1953 MacNeice wrote "Autumn Sequel", a long autobiographical poem in
terza rima, which critics compared unfavourably with "Autumn Journal". The death of Dylan Thomas came partway through the writing of the poem, and MacNeice involved himself in memorials for the poet and attempts to raise money for his family. 1953 and 1954 brought lecture and performance tours of the USA (husband and wife would present an evening of song, monologue and poetry readings), and meetings with John Berryman(on the returning boat in 1953, and later in London) and Eleanor Clark (by now married to Robert Penn Warren). MacNeice travelled to Egyptin 1955 and Ghanain 1956 on lengthy assignments for the BBC. Another poorly received collection of poems, "Visitations", was published in 1957, and the MacNeices bought a holiday home on the Isle of Wight from J. B. Priestley(an acquaintance since MacNeice's arrival in London twenty years earlier). However, the marriage was starting to become strained. MacNeice was drinking increasingly heavily, and having more or less serious affairs with other women. At this time MacNeice became increasingly independent of spirit, spending time with other writers, including Dominic Behanwith whom he regularly drank to oblivion; the two men spent a particularly drunken night in the home of Cecil Woodham-Smith during a curious meeting in Ireland whilst Behan was working on assignment as a writer for Lifemagazine whilst MacNeice was on assignment with the BBC, during the trip which allegedly lasted some weeks neither writer managed to successfully file their copy.
MacNeice was awarded the CBE in the 1958 New Year's Honours list. A
South African trip in 1959 was followed by the start of his final relationship, with the actress Mary Wimbush, who had performed in his plays since the forties. Hedli asked MacNeice to leave the family home in late 1960. In early 1961, "Solstices" was published, and in the middle of the year MacNeice became a half-time employee at the BBC, leaving him six months a year to work on his own projects. By this time he was "living on alcohol", and eating very little, but still writing (including a commissioned work on astrology, which he viewed as "hack-work"). In August 1963 he went caving in Yorkshire to gather sound effects for his final radio play, "Persons from Porlock". Caught in a storm on the moors, he did not change out of his wet clothes until he was home in Hertfordshire. Bronchitisevolved into viral pneumonia, and he was admitted to hospital on the 27th of August, dying there on the 3rd of September. He was buried in Carrowdorechurchyard in County Down, with his mother. His final book of poems, "The Burning Perch", was published a few days after his funeral – Auden, who gave a reading at MacNeice's memorial service, described the poems of his last two years as "among his very best".
MacNeice has inspired many poets since his death, particularly those from the North of Ireland. There has been a movement to reclaim him as an Irish writer rather than a satellite of Auden (see, for example, K. Devine and A. J. Peacock, "Louis MacNeice and His Influence", ISBN 0-86140-391-6).
Michael Longleyhas edited two selections of his work, and Paul Muldoongives more space to MacNeice than to any other author in his "Faber Book of Contemporary Irish Poetry" (which covers the period from the death of W. B. Yeatsuntil 1986). Muldoon and Derek Mahonhave both written elegies for MacNeice, Mahon's coming after a pilgrimage to the poet's grave in the company of Longley and Seamus Heaneyin 1965. At the time of MacNeice's death, John Berryman described him as "one of my best friends", and wrote an elegy in "Dream Song #267".
* "Blind Fireworks" (1929, mainly considered by MacNeice to be juvenilia and excluded from the 1949 "Collected Poems")
* "Poems" (1935)
* "Letters from Iceland" (1937, with
W. H. Auden, poetry and prose)
* "The Earth Compels" (1938)
* "Autumn Journal" (1939)
* "The Last Ditch" (1940)
* "Plant and Phantom" (1941)
* "Springboard" (1944)
* "Holes in the Sky" (1948)
* "Collected Poems, 1925-1948" (1949)
* "Ten Burnt Offerings" (1952)
* "Autumn Sequel" (1954)
* "Visitations" (1957)
* "Solstices" (1961)
* "The Burning Perch" (1963)
* "Star-gazer" (1963)
* "Selected Poems" (1964, edited by W. H. Auden)
* "Collected Poems" (1966, edited by E. R. Dodds)
* "Selected Poems" (1988, edited by
* "The Agamemnon of Aeschylus" (1936] , translation)
* "Out of the Picture" (1937)
* "Christopher Columbus" (1944, radio)
* "He Had a Date" (1944, radio, not published separately)
* "The Dark Tower and other radio scripts" (1947)
Goethe's Faust" (1949, published 1951, a translation)
* " The Mad Islands"  "and The Administrator"  (1964, radio)
* "Persons from Porlock"  "and other plays for radio" (1969)
* "One for the Grave: a modern morality play"  (1968)
* "Selected Plays of Louis MacNeice", ed. Alan Heuser and Peter McDonald (1993)MacNeice also wrote several plays which were never produced, and many for the BBC which were never published.
* "Roundabout Way" (1932, as "Louis Malone")
* "The Sixpence That Rolled Away" (1956, for children)
* "I Crossed the Minch" (1938, travel)
* "Modern Poetry: a personal essay" (1938, criticism)
* "Zoo" (1938)
* "The Poetry of W. B. Yeats" (1941)
* "The Strings Are False" (1941, published 1965, autobiography)
* "Meet the US Army" (1943)
* "Astrology" (1964)
* "Varieties of Parable" (1965, criticism)
* "Selected Prose of Louis MacNeice", ed. Alan Heuser (1990)
* MacNeice, Louis. "Collected Poems", ed. by Peter McDonald.
Faber and Faber, 2007.
* Longley, Michael (Ed. and introduction) "Louis MacNeice: Selected Poems".
Faber and Faber. ISBN 0-571-15270-8; published in the United states by Wake Forest University Press.
* MacNeice, Louis. "The Strings are False".
Faber and Faber, 1965. ISBN 0-571-11832-1
* Stallworthy, Jon. "Louis MacNeice".
Faber and Faber, 1995. ISBN 0-571-17687-9
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Look at other dictionaries:
Louis MacNeice — [Louis MacNeice] (1907–63) a Northern Irish poet. His books of verse include Blind Fireworks (1929) and Autumn Journal (1939), but he is perhaps best known for his radio play The Dark Tower (1947) and his friendship with the poet W H … Useful english dictionary
Louis MacNeice — Frederick Louis MacNeice (* 12. September 1907 in Belfast; † 3. September 1963 in London) war ein nordirisch britischer Schriftsteller, der vor allem mit Lyrik, Essays und Hörspielen bekannt wurde. Inhaltsverzeichnis 1 Leben 2 Dichterisches… … Deutsch Wikipedia
Louis MacNeice — Frederick Louis MacNeice (Belfast, 12 septembre 1907 – Londres, 3 septembre 1963) est un poète et dramaturge aussi bien irlandais que britannique. Connu pour son respect des valeurs humanistes et son opposition à toute forme de totalitarisme, il… … Wikipédia en Français
Louis MacNeice — ➡ MacNeice * * * … Universalium
Frederick Louis MacNeice — (* 12. September 1907 in Belfast; † 3. September 1963 in London) war ein nordirisch britischer Dichter und Prosaautor. Inhaltsverzeichnis 1 Leben 2 Dichterisches Schaffen 3 Würdigung … Deutsch Wikipedia
Frederick Louis MacNeice — n. (1907 1963) Irish born English poet … English contemporary dictionary
Louis Mac Neice — Louis MacNeice Frederick Louis MacNeice (Belfast, 12 septembre 1907 – Londres, 3 septembre 1963) est un poète et dramaturge aussi bien irlandais que britannique. Connu pour son respect des valeurs humanistes et son opposition à toute forme de… … Wikipédia en Français
MacNeice — Louis MacNeice Frederick Louis MacNeice (Belfast, 12 septembre 1907 – Londres, 3 septembre 1963) est un poète et dramaturge aussi bien irlandais que britannique. Connu pour son respect des valeurs humanistes et son opposition à toute forme de… … Wikipédia en Français
MACNEICE (L.) — MACNEICE LOUIS (1907 1963) Né à Belfast, Louis MacNeice est l’un des membres, peut être le moins «populaire», du groupe des «poètes des années trente» ou «groupe d’Oxford», avec W. H. Auden, Stephen Spender et C. Day Lewis. Moins engagé à gauche … Encyclopédie Universelle
MacNeice — Frederick Louis MacNeice (* 12. September 1907 in Belfast; † 3. September 1963 in London) war ein nordirisch britischer Dichter und Prosaautor. Inhaltsverzeichnis 1 Leben 2 Dichterisches Schaffen 3 Würdigung … Deutsch Wikipedia