Louis MacNeice

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Frederick Louis MacNeice (pseudonym Louis Malone ; born September 12, 1907 in Belfast , † September 3, 1963 in London ) was a Northern Irish-British writer who was best known for poetry , essays and radio plays .


Louis Macneice Plaque, Carrickfergus

Louis MacNeice was the youngest of three children from the marriage of John Frederick MacNeice and Elizabeth MacNeice, b. Clesham. Both parents came from the west of Ireland ( Connemara ). His father was a pastor (and later a bishop ) of the Protestant Anglican Church of Ireland . Louis spent his early childhood in Carrickfergus , a seaside town near Belfast. These years were overshadowed by the illness and the early death of his mother in 1913.

MacNeice's grave in Carrowdore

Although the (at that time not yet territorially divided, but already politically and denominationally torn) Ireland made a strong and essential reference in his literary work, despite his origins MacNeice can only be described as a (northern) Irish poet to a limited extent. With a few longer interruptions (e.g. USA 1940) he spent most of his life in England. At the age of ten he began his education at English boarding schools (Sherborne, Marlborough), which he at Merton College of Oxford University continued where he graduated in classical philology graduated with honors. He then continued his academic career as a lecturer at the University of Birmingham (1930-1936) and at Bedford College , London.

He owes his career primarily to the Greekist Eric Robertson Dodds , who later taught in Oxford, who advocated the employment of the just 23-year-old, who was still waiting for his graduation certificate from Oxford, as an assistant lecturer in Birmingham. The lifelong friendship with Dodds is also documented in the fact that he published MacNeice's autobiography in 1965 , which the poet was unable to complete himself due to his unexpected death.

From 1941 to 1961 MacNeice worked for the BBC , for which he wrote and directed numerous radio plays. Of his own radio plays, Christopher Columbus (1944) and above all The Dark Tower (1946, music by Benjamin Britten ) are still valued today.


MacNeice began writing poetry at an early age ; his first volume, Blind Fireworks , was published in 1929 when he was still a student. The poems that he wrote in the following decade have much in common with those of the other young, left-wing poets of the Auden generation such as WH Auden , Stephen Spender , Christopher Isherwood or Cecil Day Lewis .

MacNeice, however, had a distant, far more undogmatic relationship to politics and the ruling ideologies of the time. This attitude can be seen very well in The Earth Compels (1938) and above all in his long poem Autumn Journal (1939), a lyrical-didactic “diary” that is skeptical and elegiac in tone with England and Ireland, their society, the Spanish Civil War , the Munich Agreement and the impending war with Germany . The volume combines the subjective and the factual, the lyrical and the style of the report to convey a picture of the epoch .

During and after the war, MacNeice continued to write and publish without first being able to match the poetic quality of his pre-war works. It was not until the end of the 50s that he developed a new style: tighter, more concentrated, sometimes almost surrealistic, characterized by pessism, irony and humor . In late works such as Visitations (1957) and The Burning Perch (1963) he managed to describe the serious and the gloomy with ease and elegance.

MacNeice died of pneumonia in 1963 after descending into a Yorkshire cave to record sound effects for his radio play Persons from Porlock . He is buried in Carrowdore, County Down .


For many years, overshadowed by his poet friend Auden, MacNeice now arouses increasing interest, especially among the younger generation of Northern Irish poets (e.g. Edna and Michael Longley , Seamus Heaney , Derek Mahon or Paul Muldoon ), who had a predecessor or in MacNeice even see a role model. The growing joy and preoccupation with MacNeice's poetry worldwide was finally reflected in a 2019 publication in German-speaking countries, the first translation in book length. The work, which includes 60 poems from all creative phases of MacNeice's life, met with a positive response: especially in the detailed review by the poet Timo Brandt on the poetry platform "Signatures". Here Brandt u. a. An introduction to MacNeice's poetry: "But it is important to me that the readers are prepared: MacNeice's poetry has many wondrous and exciting things in store, but is also sometimes cryptic and permeated by illustrious, cynical-frivolous, morbid and funny motifs and tones that are not always easy to hear. " Until 2019, it was still ironic in MacNeice's reception in Germany that Astrology (1964, German 1965) was the only one to present his least literary work in full translation into German. With the new translation, those days are finally over. Now German-speaking readers who read little or no lyric poetry in English can decide for themselves how MacNeice agrees with the great poets * among his contemporaries: With Plath, Auden, Dylan Thomas, Robert Frost or WBYeats. Because it is Paul Muldoon, in his essay in the essay volume "Incorrigbly Plural" (2012), who builds the direct comparison between the poems of MacNeice and the poems of Frost and Yeats.

Works (selection)


  • Henry Holland and Jonis Hartmann (translators): Unteachable plural: Poems from English. ELIF Verlag, Nettetal, 2019. With an afterword by the translators. ISBN 978-3-946989-15-8
  • Peter McDonald (Ed.): Louis MacNeice: Collected Poems (2007) ISBN 978-0-571-21574-4
  • Michael Longley (Ed.): Louis MacNeice: Selected Poems. (1988) ISBN 978-1-930630-41-3
Radio plays
  • Alan Heuser (Ed.): The Selected Plays (1994)
  • Modern Poetry: A Personal Essay (1938)
  • The Poetry of WB Yeats (1941)
  • Varieties of Parable (1965)
  • Goethe's Faust. Parts I and II . Abridged version, translated by Louis MacNeice and EL Stahl (1951)
  • The Strings Are False: An Unfinished Autobiography (1965)
  • Letters from Iceland (1937) together with WH Auden, a collection of poems, letters and off-site source material.


  • Christopher Armitage and Neil Clark: A Bibliography of the Works of Louis MacNeice. Kaye & Ward, London 1973.
  • Collected poems. Ed. ER Dodds, London 1966.
  • DB Moore: The Poetry of Louis MacNeice. Leicester University Press, Leicester 1972.
  • Terence Brown: Louis MacNeice: Skeptical Vision. Barnes & Noble, New York 1975.
  • P. McDonald: Louis MacNeice: The Poet in his Contexts. Oxford 1991.
  • K. Devine (Ed.): Louis MacNeice and His Influence. Gerrards Cross, 1998.
  • Edna Longley: Louis MacNeice: A Study. 1988.
  • Jon Stallworthy: Louis MacNeice. 1996.

Web links

Commons : Louis MacNeice  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Der Literatur-Brockhaus: in eight volumes / Volume 5, ed. by Werner Habicht, Wolf-Dieter Lange and the Brockhaus editorial team, Leipzig / Vienna / Zurich / Mannheim, 1995.
  2. Eric Robertson Dodds : Missing Persons. To Autobiography. Oxford Clarendon Press, 1977 (ND 2000), pp. 114-123.
  3. ^ Louis MacNeice: The Strings are False. Autobiography. Faber and Faber, 1965.
  4. ^ Louis MacNeice: Unteachable plural - signatures. Retrieved March 12, 2020 .
  5. ^ Louis MacNeice: Unteachable plural - signatures. Retrieved March 12, 2020 .
  6. astrology of MacNeice - ZVAB. Retrieved March 12, 2020 .
  7. ^ Muldoon, Paul: "The Perning Birch: Yeats, Frost, MacNeice" . In: Fran Brearton and Edna Longley (Eds.): Incorrigibly Plural: Louis MacNeice and His Legacy . Carcanet, Manchester 2012, ISBN 978-1-84777-113-1 , pp. 320 .
  8. ^ Carcanet Press - Incorrigibly Plural. Retrieved March 14, 2020 .