Louis MacNeice

Irish poet and playwright

Frederick Louis MacNeice (12 September 19073 September 1963) was a poet and playwright of Northern Irish birth. Though not a dogmatically political writer, he is often associated with his close friends, the left-wing thirties poets: W. H. Auden, Stephen Spender and C. Day Lewis.

Plaque at site of MacNeice's childhood home in Carrickfergus


  • In my own prejudice ... I would have of a poet ... whose worlds would not be too esoteric ... fond of talking ... capable of pity and laughter ... appreciative of women ... involved in personal relationships ... susceptible to physical impressions...
    • Qualities of a poet from Modern Poetry 1938.
  • It’s no go the Yogi-Man, it’s no go Blavatsky,
    All we want is a bank balance and a bit of skirt in a taxi.
    • "Bagpipe Music", line 9, from The Earth Compels (1938)
  • It’s no go my honey love, it’s no go my poppet;
    Work your hands from day to day, the winds will blow the profit.
    The glass is falling hour by hour, the glass will fall for ever,
    But if you break the bloody glass you won’t hold up the weather.
    • "Bagpipe Music", line 31
  • Some on commission, some for the love of learning,
    Some because they have nothing better to do
    Or because they hope these walls of books will deaden
    The drumming of the demon in their ears.
    • "The British Museum Reading Room", line 4, from Plant and Phantom (1941)
  • Though patriotism includes a sentimental, as it were a family, feeling for place, we can distinguish the ethical motive from the sentimental. At certain times in certain countries there has been a moral urgency to be patriotic when the actual or ideal policy of a man’s nation has been a sine qua non for his conscience. But to-day patriotism, in so far as it means subordination to a specifically national policy, is superannuated. This war, we assume, is not being fought-not by most of us-for any merely national end; we are fighting it, primarily and clearly, for our lives, and secondarily, and, alas! vaguely, for a new international order.
    • "Traveller's Return", in Horizon, February 1941, Reprinted in David Pierce Irish Writing in the Twentieth Century: A Reader. Cork University Press, 2000.
  • I am not yet born; O hear me.
    Let not the bloodsucking bat or the rat or the stoat or the clubfooted ghoul come near me.
  • I am not yet born; forgive me
    For the sins that in me the world shall commit, my words
    When they speak me, my thoughts when they think me,
    My treason engendered by traitors beyond me,
    My life when they murder by means of my
    Hands, my death when they live me.
    • "Prayer Before Birth", line 11
  • O early one morning I walked out like Agag,
    Early one morning to walk through the fire
    Dodging the pythons that leaked on the pavements
    With tinkle of glasses and tangle of wire.
    • "The Streets of Laredo", line 1, from Holes in the Sky (1948)
    • MacNeice’s poem, a grotesque vision of the London Blitz, is not to be confused with the cowboy ballad "The Streets of Laredo".
  • Then twangling their bibles with wrath in their nostrils
    From Bonehill Fields came Bunyan and Blake:
    "Laredo the golden is fallen, is fallen;
    Your flame shall not quench nor your thirst shall not slake."
    • "The Streets of Laredo", line 21
  • Politics: distrust all parties but consider capitalism must go.
    • MacNeice interview in Twentieth Century Authors, a biographical dictionary of modern literature, edited by Stanley J. Kunitz and Howard Haycraft; (Third Edition). New York: The H.W. Wilson Company (1950), p. 889.

Quotes about MacNeice

  • The difference between loneliness and mere solitariness, after all, is that the lonely sensibility wants to be otherwise. There is a reaching out that never quite touches. In MacNeice’s best work, the ingeniousness and inevitable failure of that reaching indicates the depth of the longing. He is a superb love poet, for instance, yet his love poems often foreground their own ephemerality, like ice sculptures in the summertime.
    • ̣̣̣̣̺ David Orr "Free Range", The New York Times (August 30, 2013)
    • From a review of Louis MacNeice Collected Poems, ed Peter McDonald (Faber, 2007 (UK); Wake Forest University Press (US), 2013)
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