Magical MacNeice

BBC Northern Ireland recently ran a lovely series of tributes to the life and work of Irish poet Louis MacNeice. Fortunately I was able to attend three of the events and to hear tributes and readings from MacNeice afficionados such as Poet Michael Longley and Professor Edna Longley. As a confirmed MacNeice fan already, these happenings were a tremendous treat. My love for this poet’s work was triggered by the poem ‘The Sunlight on the Garden’, written in 1937.  Although referring to the tension in Europe during the build up to war, the symbolism and sentiment of the poem is just as relevant today. The poem talks about the transience of pleasure and happiness, of life in fact. Yet it also celebrates togetherness, weathering the storm and at least having some ‘sunlight on the garden’. There is a zen-like feeling in the line ‘we cannot cage the minute’ but we can be IN it. I find the poem moving and ultimately uplifting. I hope you find something in it too.

The Sunlight on the Garden by

Louis MacNeiceimage of hedgerow with gossamer lit up by early morning winter sun

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.image of sunlight on gossamer and leaf

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.


Louis MacNeice, Selected Poems, edited by Michael Longley, 2nd edition (2007: 38)

publisher: faber and faber

Original Images by Roberta McDonnell


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