Thursday, 28 February 2013

Sunshine, with occasional poetry

Today, at my workstation in the market research centre, I paused for the briefest instant between 'phone calls (praying to whatever deity regulates the fates of survey-takers that my supervisor would be oblivious to my momentary inattention and that her formidable incentive instrument would not speak its harsh language to my person) to notice that it was sunny.  Furthermore, a dim recollection pierced my work-fogged brain that it had been un-raining, in a sunny sort of manner, all day.

This, of course, led me to consider my favourite poem about sunlight, by the under-celebrated Louis MacNeice, which runs thus:

The Sunlight on the Garden

The sunlight on the garden
Hardens and grows cold,
We cannot cage the minute
Within its nets of gold,
When all is told
We cannot beg for pardon.

Our freedom as free lances
Advances towards its end;
The earth compels, upon it
Sonnets and birds descend;
And soon, my friend,
We shall have no time for dances.

The sky was good for flying
Defying the church bells
And every evil iron
Siren and what it tells:
The earth compels,
We are dying, Egypt, dying

And not expecting pardon,
Hardened in heart anew,
But glad to have sat under
Thunder and rain with you,
And grateful too
For sunlight on the garden

I won't go all close-reading on you; well, perhaps just a little. To say, for example, how the anodyne, almost twee first line is shocked out of its complacency by the bitter second.  The very concept of light 'hardening' is brilliant and (in the older sense) terrible, both a superb metaphor to describe the ossification of pleasant, innocent memories and an indication that the sunlight under discussion is, infact, remembered rather than literally present. Then there is the broadening out of this idea into a vision that we cannot stay the hand of time or judgement - we cannot 'beg for pardon.' Not to mention the simple but daring and unusual device of rhyming the terminal and original words of the first two pairs of lines in each verse, and the elegantly seamless reference to Antony and Cleopatra. Nor the ending of the poem, which balances the bleak discussion of mortality and impermanence with a human and humanistic glimpse of redemption.

It's quite good, isn't it?

Louis MacNeice, as the hooded youths of modern urban environs would have it, he the man.

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