So, our greatest contemporary poet dead and the fiftieth anniversary today (September 3rd) of the death of the second, no the third … well one of the first division chaps anyway, Louis MacNeice.
Born in Belfast, mother a Cleshan from Ballymacrony, father a minister (of the other sort), and on his way to a bishop. Carrickfergus, school in pretty Sherborne in Dorset, then Marlborough, where a few hard lessons about hierarchy and power were taught. Betjeman and Blunt (the latter finding him “totally, irredeemably heterosexual”). Oxford, Auden, Spender, Day-Lewis, Marxism, the whole gang christened “MacSpaunday”; Mac, though “progressive”, was not so convinced or ready to be convinced about the benefits of the Revolution as Spaunday. A bit of Spain. Then, like Orwell, a decent war, in the BBC, on the propaganda front. A few wives, many, many more girlfriends. A few friends. Dylan Thomas, Dominic Behan. Not in every respect perhaps the best friends to have. Basins of drink. And then some more. The last wife chucked him out. The poetry kept coming, though the bitches of reviewers didn’t always like it. Dead at fifty-five. Nearly made fifty-six. Another nine days. Buried in Carrowdore on the Ards peninsula. Longley, Mahon and Heaney went there to stare and wonder. Wonder what? Thane of Cawdor? King hereafter? MacNeice’s best poem, they say, was Autumn Journal, but it’s long. This one, with its tremendously exhilarating pessimism, is short and is often anthologised. You can, if you like, find it read by MacNeice. I wouldn’t bother. The posh bloody Oxford accent ruins it. It should be read by Mark McManus.
It’s no go the merrygoround, it’s no go the rickshaw,
All we want is a limousine and a ticket for the peepshow.
Their knickers are made of crêpe-de-chine, their shoes are made of python,
Their halls are lined with tiger rugs and their walls with heads of bison.
John MacDonald found a corpse, put it under the sofa,
Waited till it came to life and hit it with a poker,
Sold its eyes for souvenirs, sold its blood for whiskey,
Kept its bones for dumb-bells to use when he was fifty.
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.
Annie MacDougall went to milk, caught her foot in the heather,
Woke to hear a dance record playing of Old Vienna.
It’s no go your maidenheads, it’s no go your culture,
All we want is a Dunlop tyre and the devil mend the puncture.
The Laird o’ Phelps spent Hogmanay declaring he was sober,
Counted his feet to prove the fact and found he had one foot over.
Mrs Carmichael had her fifth, looked at the job with repulsion,
Said to the midwife ‘Take it away; I’m through with overproduction.’
It’s no go the gossip column, it’s no go the Ceilidh,
All we want is a mother’s help and a sugar-stick for the baby
Willie Murray cut his thumb, couldn’t count the damage,
Took the hide of an Ayrshire cow and used it for a bandage.
His brother caught three hundred cran when the seas were lavish,
Threw the bleeders back in the sea and went upon the parish.
It’s no go the Herring Board, it’s no go the Bible,
All we want is a packet of fags when our hands are idle.
It’s no go the picture palace, it’s no go the stadium,
It’s no go the country cot with a pot of pink geraniums,
It’s no go the Government grants, it’s no go the elections,
Sit on your arse for fifty years and hang your hat on a pension.
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.