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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: June 2012

11 - Louis MacNeice and the Second World War


For Louis MacNeice, as for so many, 1939 was a year of journeyings. Hitler's invasion of the Sudetenland and the feeble response of the international community, as well as the involvement of the great powers in the Spanish Civil War and the horrors of Kristalnacht, had alerted the world to the imminence of a major conflagration in Europe. So last holidays abroad were enjoyed before once again the lights would go out all over the Con­tinent, and hurried exiles were arranged as individuals and families sought sanctuary in regions and countries which might escape the nightmare to come. Urgent messages were carried from country to country in the hope that the disaster might be averted. It was, in Cyril Connolly's words, ‘Closing time in the gardens of the west’. For many writers, accustomed to easy travel in a decade in which air as well as railway transport had made the crossing of international borders a natural thing, the prospect of being unable to enjoy such freedom was a fact which began to concentrate their minds in precise ways. Ezra Pound travelled in 1939 to his native United States in a vain attempt to influence governmental economic policy but chose to return to Italy to the tragic fate which awaited him there. Francis Stuart would wait a year before, in 1940, his dark angel would take him to Berlin and a complicity with the regime there that none of his subsequent writings nor the special pleadings of his apologists have quite been able to expunge.

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MacNeice, L., The Strings Are False (London: Faber and Faber, 1965), p. 212
McDonald, P., Louis MacNeice: The Poet in His Contexts (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991), p. 97
Dodds, E. R., Missing Persons (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977), p. 39
MacNeice, L., ‘The Way We Live Now’, in Heuser, A. (ed.), Selected Prose of Louis MacNeice (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990), p. 82
Dodds, E. R. (ed.), The Collected Poems of Louis MacNeice (London: Faber and Faber, 1966), p. 165
MacNeice, L., -The Last Ditch (Dublin: Cuala Press, 1940), p. 7
McKinnon, W. T., Apollo's Blended Dream (London: Oxford University Press, 1971), p. 32
MacNeice, L., The Poetry of W.B. Yeats (London: Oxford University Press, 1941), p. 1