Friday, 16 November 2012

Louis MacNiece "Snow"

Louis MacNiece's philosophical short poem, "Snow," is a celebration of the energy and plurality of the world of nature.

Louis MacNiece (1907-1953) was an Irish poet, born in Belfast, writing at the time of the thirties' poets, W.H. Auden, Stephen Spender and C. Day Lewis.

The contrast in the poem, Snow is between with wild, cold, uncontrolled natural world outside and the warm, safe flowery interior. Each of these worlds contains huge complexity.

This deeply philosophical poem questions the nature of reality, suggesting that nothing is as it appears; that everything is more than it appears.

“World is suddener” in the last line of the first stanza shows us that the world is not a pre-determined, inanimate object, but a living organism with its own will to exist and to effect change in an inspiring way. The energy that is in all living things cannot be suppressed; it erupts and increases and does it own thing because it is a part of nature. Things are manifestations of spirit and the energy that arises from them is invincible and ongoing, for example: “Incorrigibly plural” and “I peel and portion a tangerine and spit the pips.”

The poet reveals a sense of wonder in the comparisons between things, for example the juxtaposition between the snow and pink roses.

The Nature of Things in Themselves

The last line of the second verse: “…the drunkenness of things being various,” makes us question exactly what makes things specifically themselves, while the third line of the last stanza observes: “On the tongue, on the ears, the eyes, in the palms of one’s hands.” This suggests we should not rely only upon the most obvious means of responding to sensations, but that we should become more aware, and accept that, as explained in the last line of the poem: “There is more than glass between the snow and the huge roses.“

The poem is written without rhyme, except in lines 10 and 12. The use of free verse allows MacNiece a rich vocabulary, unrestricted by rules. Alliteration occurs in “spawning snow” and “fire flames,” and again in “peel and portion” as well as assonance: “spit the pips.”

In the last verse there is also a subjective element in the manner in which MacNiece describes the world as “more spiteful and gay than one supposes,” and here, he is surely thinking about the whole world of nature. Emotions, spitefulness, gaiety, are as much of our world as any other part of it.

In his Autumn Journal, published in 1939, he says: “Poetry in my opinion must be honest before anything else. I refuse to be “objective” or clear-cut at the cost of honesty.”

  • MacNiece, Louis, The Collected Poems of Louis MacNiece, Faber & Faber, 1966
Originally published by Suite.101 on December 19, 2010.

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