Suspended in a moving night
The face in the reflected train
Looks at first sight as self-assured
As your own face—But look again:
Windows between you and the world
Keep out the cold, keep out the fright;
Then why does your reflection seem
So lonely in the moving night?
Museums offer us, running from among the buses,
A centrally heated refuge, parquet floors and sarcophaguses,
Into whose tall fake porches we hurry without a sound
Like a beetle under a brick that lies, useless, on the ground.
Warmed and cajoled by the silence the cowed cypher revives,
Mirrors himself in the cases of pots, paces himself by marble lives,
Makes believe it was he that was the glory that was Rome,
Soft on his cheek the nimbus of other people’s martyrdom,
And then returns to the street, his mind an arena where sprawls
Any number of consumptive Keatses and dying Gauls.
Having bitten on life like a sharp apple
Or, playing it like a fish, been happy,
Having felt with fingers that the sky is blue,
What have we after that to look forward to?
Not the twilight of the gods but a precise dawn
Of sallow and grey bricks, and newsboys crying war.
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.
The Sunlight on the Garden is perhaps my single most favorite poem, first heard on Garrison Keillor’s “The Writer’s Almanac” several years ago.
In fact, I just composed an entry this morning (for posting later this week) that makes use of that poem. Again. I post it at least once a year.
It’s a great, melancholy piece of work.
And another thing: it’s nearly impossible to find an anthology of MacNiece’s work. I haven’t actually checked Amazon, I’ll admit, but I can’t find one in the Portland area.
There are probably a dozen of his poems scattered around the web, though. Maybe more. I once compiled all I could find for a never-published weblog entry.
Amazon has a volume of selected works (in that Faber&Faber series with the patterned covers with a pencil sketch of the author, they’re generally pretty good), but the Collected is priced at $116 so I wonder if it’s not out of print pretty much everywhere.
You are welcome to borrow my copy — purchased from the U Qld library when they inexplicably ditched it — of his Collected Poems. Just email me a snailmail address and I’ll post it to you, you can post it back when you’re done photocopying, oops, I mean reading it.
There are also copies at http://www.alibris.com for not much, e.g. $12.25 for that Faber & Faber “Selected Poems” book, among others.