Denis Donoghue writes about Louis MacNeice, and the thrusting of Shakespeare into touch

  • Selected Literary Criticism of Louis MacNeice edited by Alan Heuser
    Oxford, 279 pp, £19.50, March 1987, ISBN 0 19 818573 1

This is the first of two volumes in which Alan Heuser is making a selection of Louis MacNeice’s occasional writings. The first is mainly his reviews of Classical and modern literature; the second will bring together his fugitive pieces on philosophy, history, travel and autobiography. The currently renewed interest in MacNeice arises from two considerations: one, that he deserves better than to be regarded as merely one of Auden’s acolytes; two, that he may be seen as precursor to the young poets in Northern Ireland who have been making a stir, if not a Renaissance, since 1968. The first reason is cogent. MacNeice’s work didn’t issue from Auden’s overcoat; it is time to remove it from the simplifications of literary history and acknowledge that he had his own voice. The second reason is dubious. I agree with Thomas Kinsella’s view, in his Introduction to The New Oxford Book of Irish Verse (1986), that a ‘Northern Ireland Renaissance’ is ‘largely a journalistic entity’. Seamus Heaney, Derek Mahon, John Montague, Paul Muldoon, Seamus Deane, Michael Longley and their colleagues are from the North, and they are poets: but they are individual poets, not a school. They are not even two rival schools, though some of them have started fabricating a split, presumably in the hope of establishing that there are real forces at war.

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