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Louis MacNeice

Louis MacNeice (1907-1963) was a famous and respected Irish poet and playwright of the mid-twentieth century. Some of his best-known poems include 'Meeting Point' (1939) and 'Snow' (1935).

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Louis MacNeice

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Louis MacNeice (1907-1963) was a famous and respected Irish poet and playwright of the mid-twentieth century. Some of his best-known poems include 'Meeting Point' (1939) and 'Snow' (1935).

Below is a summary of MacNeice's biography and an exploration of his works. You will also find a selection of facts about the poet and quotes from his poems.

Louis MacNeice: biography

Read on to learn about MacNeice's biography.

Louis MacNeice: early life

Louis MacNeice was born Frederick Louis MacNeice on 12th September 1907 in Belfast, although both of his parents hailed from the west of Ireland. MacNeice's father was a Protestant bishop in the Church of Ireland. His mother struggled with her mental health, passing away from tuberculosis in 1914 when MacNeice was still a young child. This had a significant impact on him.

MacNeice's father remarried, and the MacNeice children were sent to boarding school in England. As MacNeice reached his teens, he began to change. He lost his Irish accent and began going by his middle name, Louis. He had previously always been known as Frederick.

Louis MacNeice: education and career

MacNeice began attending Oxford in 1926. By this time, he had already developed a deep love of literature. In Oxford, MacNeice started to move in important literary circles. Notably, he met and worked with the hugely influential poet W.H. Auden. While in Oxford, MacNeice also met his future wife, Mary Ezra. The couple married in 1930, despite their parents' collective disapproval because of their conflicting religious backgrounds.

In 1929, MacNeice had two significant publications. He had multiple poems published in the popular, Oxford Poetry collection and also published his own collection entitled Blind Fireworks. After this marriage to Mary Ezra, the couple moved to Birmingham where MacNeice worked as a lecturer. However, he disliked the profession and struggled during this time. In 1932, he published a novel, Roundabout Way, which proved to be a disappointment. However, his next poetry collection, Poems (1935), was much more sophisticated and successful, solidifying him as an influential poet of the 1930s.

MacNeice's personal life took a turn for the worse in 1936 when Mary Ezra left both him and their now three-year-old son for an American man. This proved to be a challenging time for MacNeice, and he spent some time holidaying in Iceland with W.H. Auden. This led to their collaborative travel book, Letters from Iceland, in 1937, which contained essays, letters, and poems. MacNeice's next two volumes of poetry came soon after with The Earth Compels in 1938 and Autumn Journal in 1939. He was now known as a bright and innovative young poet with a great deal to say.

In the late 1930s, MacNeice travelled to America and spent some time lecturing at Cornell University. He continued writing while there. Due to the Second World War, he returned to Britain in the early 1940s. MacNeice could not join the army because of health issues, so he took a job at the BBC instead to help the war effort. MacNeice worked as a scriptwriter and producer, staying in this job for the majority of his life.

MacNeice's poetic style matured as he entered the 1940s. He published collections such as The Last Ditch (1940) and Prayer Before Birth (1944). Around this time, MacNeice remarried the actress and singer Hedli Anderson.

However, by the 1950s, MacNeice's professional and private lives began to suffer. Despite his continued publishing of poetic collections, many critics now saw his work as outdated. He had also started having various affairs and drinking heavily. A positive event in this decade for MacNeice was when he received a CBE as recognition for his work in 1958.

A CBE is an award given by the British monarch to a citizen in recognition of their work in public services, charity, or the arts. It stands for Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.

Louis MacNeice: death

While on a work trip in 1963, MacNeice was caught in a severe storm. Because of this, he developed pneumonia and was admitted to the hospital. MacNeice passed away from his illness on 3rd September 1963 aged 55. He was remembered fondly by his close friend W.H. Auden at his funeral.

Louis MacNeice: books

Let's now look at some of MacNeice's best-known works.

Louis MacNeice: poetry collections

Louis MacNeice published extensively throughout his life, with many of these publications being poetry collections.

Autumn Journal

One of MacNeice's best-known collections is Autumn Journal, published in 1939. It is technically one long poem, split into twenty-four sections. Autumn Journal is an autobiographical work, recording Louis MacNeice's life in 1938 when he was writing the poem. MacNeice brings in many issues that he often struggled with, like his complicated relationship with his Irishness and his failed marriage to Mary Ezra. However, MacNeice also acknowledged relevant political events in Autumn Journal. He was acutely aware of the political climate in the late 1930s regarding the alarming rise of Nazism. The collection sometimes even references Hitler's own words. MacNeice shows how unavoidable politics was at this time.

The Last Ditch

The Last Ditch (1940) was published by Cuala Press, an Irish publishing company. This choice reflected the themes of the collection. The Last Ditch is perhaps MacNeice's most extensive investigation of his complex relationship with Ireland. One of the first poems in the collection is 'Dublin', an exploration of the city and MacNeice's thoughts on it. Although he makes it clear that it is not his home, MacNeice still feels drawn to Dublin and is fascinated by it. The Last Ditch also contains several poems that revolve around the themes of love and romance, as these were relevant to MacNeice's personal life at the time.

Louis MacNeice: most famous poem

While MacNeice had several successful and well-known poems, 'Meeting Point' (1939) is perhaps his most famous. It is an eight-stanza poem written in iambic tetrameter.

Iambic tetrameter is when a poem contains four iambic feet per line. Each iambic foot has one unstressed syllable and one stressed syllable.

'Meeting Point' centres around a couple sitting in a coffee shop. However, it is much more complex than this. The narrator details that it feels as if time has stopped for him and his partner. They are suspended in their own world, separate from the mundane and normal life around them. MacNeice uses the devices of repetition and alliteration to achieve this effect.

As the poem progresses, it becomes clear that there may be more distance between the couple than initially apparent to readers. 'Meeting Point' is written in the past tense. The narrator is looking back on a beautiful moment from a past relationship with nostalgia. However, he holds no ill will towards this woman with the tone of 'Meeting Point' being often fond.

Louis MacNeice: facts

Let's now look at some facts about MacNeice's life and work.

  • As a young child, MacNeice spent some time living in the town of Carrickfergus, in County Antrim.
  • MacNeice met his first wife, Mary Ezra, because she was the stepdaughter of the Oxford Classics professor.
  • MacNeice wrote his first poem at the age of seven.
  • As well as being a poet, MacNeice was also a playwright.
  • In 1954, MacNeice published Autumn Sequel: A Rhetorical Poem, a much less successful sequel to Autumn Journal.

Louis MacNeice: quotes

We will now look at some key quotes from MacNeice's poems.

QuoteLocationExplanation
'Time was away and somewhere else,There were two glasses and two chairsAnd two people with the one pulse''Meeting Point', ll. 1-3These are the opening lines of 'Meeting Point'. MacNeice points out that time does not exist for this couple; they are isolated in their own world. The two are so connected that they share one pulse.
'This never was my town,I was not born or bredNor schooled here and she will notHave me alive or deadBut yet she holds my mindWith her seedy elegance,''Dublin', ll. 14-19.Here, MacNeice explores his relationship with Dublin, and Ireland more broadly. Although it was not his birthplace and he did not spend much time there, MacNeice feels a connection to Dublin as the capital city of Ireland.
'A handbag, a pair of stockings of Paris Sand—I loved her long.I loved her between the lines and against the clock,Not until deathBut till life did us part I loved her with paper moneyAnd with whisky on the breath.'Autumn Journal, p. 11.As Autumn Journal is a semi-autobiographical poem, this section revolves around MacNeice's romantic life. He describes his ex-wife, Mary Ezra, and the love he held for her. MacNeice also acknowledges that she has now gone as their marriage did not last.
'World is crazier and more of it than we think,Incorrigibly plural. I peel and portionA tangerine and spit the pips and feelThe drunkenness of things being various.'Snow, ll. 5-8.These lines come from MacNeice's 1935 poem, Snow. They explore existence, reality, and how complex these concepts are. The poem uses a simple winter scene to investigate the world humans live in.

Louis MacNeice - Key takeaways

  • Louis MacNeice was a critically successful Irish poet of the mid-twentieth century.
  • Two of his poetry collections include Autumn Journal (1939) and The Last Ditch (1940).
  • MacNeice's most famous poem is 'Meeting Point' (1939).
  • MacNeice was close to and worked with renowned poet W.H. Auden.
  • Louis MacNeice lost popularity near the end of his life, with his works garnering much less positive reviews.

Frequently Asked Questions about Louis MacNeice

No, MacNeice was an Irish poet.

MacNeice is buried in Co. Down in Northern Ireland.

'Snow' was written in 1935.

'The Hebrides' describes peat.

'Meeting Point' is about a couple so wrapped up in each other that they feel as though time is suspended.

Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

When was 'Meeting Point' written?

What metre is 'Meeting Point' in?

How does the couple in 'Meeting Point' regard time?

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