I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Betwixt

Terence Brown
Louis MacNeice: In A Between World, by Christopher J Fauske, Irish Academic Press, 256 pp, €22.50, ISBN: 978-1911024095 In 1995, Jon Stallworthy’s biography of the poet Louis MacNeice appeared to generally favourable reviews. It was recognised as an urbane, courteous study of a poet who had never quite escaped a reputation for playing second fiddle to WH Auden. For this reader, however, it did not manage to grasp how turbulent had been the life from which the poet’s marvellous poems had sprung. Since then, David Fitzpatrick’s richly detailed life of the poet’s Church of Ireland bishop father has supplied us with knowledge about how the family background had roots in the experience of sectarianism, while also enforcing an awareness of MacNeice senior’s standing as an eminent Irish public figure. In 2010, Jonathan Allison’s edition of MacNeice’s letters was published, which contained some of the poet’s passionate correspondence with women with whom he had had relationships. Both these volumes are germane to this new work on MacNeice for Fauske explores in his book how the poet and radio dramatist was significantly influenced by his father’s communitarian Christian values, while his personal life was dogged by misfortune in love. Which is to say that though Fauske has not written a new biography his book has a close biographical focus. Its nine chapters in fact comprise a series of individual essays which situate MacNeice in the various contexts in which he worked. Each pays due attention to biographical matter in illuminating ways. Fauske’s overall argument about MacNeice is that his career was a matter of negotiating between conflicting realities; for had not the poet himself declared in his poem “Carickfergus”: “I was born between the mountain and the gantries”? His oft-anthologised poem “Snow” had ended with the gnomic observation “There is more than glass between the snow and the huge roses.” Later in mid-life he would write of “days running into each other, but oh the distance between!” The state of betweenness for MacNeice, according to Fauske, involved national and political issues, between Belfast and Dublin, Ireland North and South, Ireland and England, Europe and America, peace and war (MacNeice chose London over neutral Ireland and a then non-combatant United States, lest he miss history). Fauske devotes chapter three of his book to MacNeice the critic, whose published reflections on the art of poetry in books such as Modern Poetry A Personal Essay, The Poetry…

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