The sunday poem
Published 07/11/2010 | 05:00
In the 1930s, the day-to-day world in which most people by then lived began to make its appearance in poetry for the first time.
There had been glimpses of it in the 1890s, and in the 1920s it had supplanted nature as far as the visual aspect of poetry was concerned -- though in Eliot it was often seen through a veil of metaphor. Louis MacNeice saw it partly with the eyes and with the excitement of an Irish provincial. It was not so much that he put it in his poetry as that he found his poetry in it and this was a great discovery. This extract is from a poem about Birmingham, where MacNeice then lived, in his first volume.
The lunch hour: the shops empty, shopgirls' faces relax
Diaphanous as green glass, empty as old almanacs
As incoherent with ticketed gewgaws tiered behind their heads
As the Burne-Jones windows in St Philip's broken by crawling leads;
Insipid colour, patches of emotion, Saturday thrills
(This theatre is sprayed with 'June') -- the gutter take our old playbills,
Next week-end it is likely in the heart's funfair we shall pull
Strong enough on the handle to get back our money; or at any rate
it is possible.
On shining lines the trams like vast sarcophagi move
Into the sky, plum after sunset, merging to duck's egg, barred with mauve
Zeppelin clouds, and Pentecost-like the cars' headlights bud
Out from sideroads and the traffic signals, creme-de-menthe or bull's blood,
Tell one to stop, the engine gently breathing, or to go on
To where the like black pipes of organs in the frayed and fading zone
Of the West the factory chimneys on sullen sentry will all night wait
To call, in the harsh morning, sleep-stupid faces through the daily gate.