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39. Louis MacNeice: The Burning Perch

Peter McDonald


Subject Literature » Twentieth Century and Contemporary Literature

Key-Topics poetry

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405113618.2003.00040.x


Extract

The Burning Perch was published in 1963, a matter of weeks after Louis MacNeice's death at the age of fifty-five. It was an early death, and at the time of writing this volume MacNeice can have had little notion that it would be his last; indeed, the poems were composed during a period when the writer was making a new start in his working and private lives, having moved away from London and on to a part-time contract with the BBC (where his long and prolific career as a radio writer and producer had begun in 1942), and having established a successful relationship following the collapse of his second marriage. For all that, The Burning Perch is a dark book, full of the kinds of foreboding and anxiety that seem to belie the biographical new start from which it emerges; MacNeice himself recognized as much in the volume's dedicatory lines, where the contents are summarized as ‘nightmare and cinders’, and his partner Mary is asked to ‘Forgive what I give you’. Ironically, perhaps, it is this last and posthumous collection of poems which has come to be seen as one of MacNeice's strongest volumes, and, in terms of its influence on later poets, his most original and influential book. At the time of his death MacNeice was a known and respected, but no longer a widely celebrated poet. Like other members of his generation, including W. H. Auden, he was often read as a survivor of the 1930s; ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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