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MACNEICE, Louis


The Strand

White Tintoretto clouds beneath my naked feet,

This mirror of wet sand imputes a lasting mood

To island truancies; my steps repeat


Someone's who now has left such strands for good

Carrying his boots and paddling like a child,

A square black figure whom the horizon understood —


My father. Who for all his responsibly compiled

Account books of a devout, precise routine

Kept something in him solitary and wild,


So loved the Western sea and no tree's green

Fulfilled him like these contours of Slievemore

Menaun and Croaghaun and the bogs between.


Sixty-odd years behind him and twelve before,

Eyeing the flange of steel in the turning belt of brine

It was sixteen years ago he walked this shore


And the mirror caught his shape which catches mine

But then as now the floor-mop of the foam

Blotted the bright reflections — and no sign


Remains of face or feet when visitors have gone home.


Wolves

I do not want to be reflective any more

Envying and despising unreflective things

Finding pathos in dogs and undeveloped handwriting

And young girls doing their hair and all the castles of sand

Flushed by the children’s bedtime, level with the shore.

The tide comes in and goes out again, I do not want

To be always stressing either its flux or its permanence,

I do not want to be a tragic or philosophic chorus

But to keep my eye only on the nearer future

And after that let the sea flow over us.

Come then all of you, come closer, form a circle,

Join hands and make believe that joined

Hands will keep away the wolves of water

Who howl along our coast. And be it assumed

That no one hears them among the talk and laughter.


Bagpipe Music


It's no go the merrygoround, it's no go the rickshaw,

All we want is a limousine and a ticket for the peepshow.

Their knickers are made of crepe-de-chine, their shoes are made of python,

Their halls are lined with tiger rugs and their walls with head of bison.


John MacDonald found a corpse, put it under the sofa,

Waited till it came to life and hit it with a poker,

Sold its eyes for souvenirs, sold its blood for whiskey,

Kept its bones for dumbbells to use when he was fifty.


It's no go the Yogi-man, it's no go Blavatsky,

All we want is a bank balance and a bit of skirt in a taxi.


Annie MacDougall went to milk, caught her foot in the heather,

Woke to hear a dance record playing of Old Vienna.

It's no go your maidenheads, it's no go your culture,

All we want is a Dunlop tire and the devil mend the puncture.


The Laird o' Phelps spent Hogmanay declaring he was sober,

Counted his feet to prove the fact and found he had one foot over.

Mrs. Carmichael had her fifth, looked at the job with repulsion,

Said to the midwife "Take it away; I'm through with overproduction."


It's no go the gossip column, it's no go the Ceilidh,

All we want is a mother's help and a sugar-stick for the baby.


Willie Murray cut his thumb, couldn't count the damage,

Took the hide of an Ayrshire cow and used it for a bandage.

His brother caught three hundred cran when the seas were lavish,

Threw the bleeders back in the sea and went upon the parish.


It's no go the Herring Board, it's no go the Bible,

All we want is a packet of fags when our hands are idle.


It's no go the picture palace, it's no go the stadium,

It's no go the country cot with a pot of pink geraniums,

It's no go the Government grants, it's no go the elections,

Sit on your arse for fifty years and hang your hat on a pension.


It's no go my honey love, it's no go my poppet;

Work your hands from day to day, the winds will blow the profit.

The glass is falling hour by hour, the glass will fall forever,

But if you break the bloody glass you won't hold up the weather.



Prayer Before Birth


I am not yet born; O hear me.

Let not the bloodsucking bat or the rat or the stoat or the

club-footed ghoul come near me.


I am not yet born, console me.

I fear that the human race may with tall walls wall me,

with strong drugs dope me, with wise lies lure me,

on black racks rack me, in blood-baths roll me.


I am not yet born; provide me

With water to dandle me, grass to grow for me, trees to talk

to me, sky to sing to me, birds and a white light

in the back of my mind to guide me.


I am not yet born; forgive me

For the sins that in me the world shall commit, my words

when they speak me, my thoughts when they think me,

my treason engendered by traitors beyond me,

my life when they murder by means of my

hands, my death when they live me.


I am not yet born; rehearse me

In the parts I must play and the cues I must take when

old men lecture me, bureaucrats hector me, mountains

frown at me, lovers laugh at me, the white

waves call me to folly and the desert calls

me to doom and the beggar refuses

my gift and my children curse me.


I am not yet born; O hear me,

Let not the man who is beast or who thinks he is God

come near me.


I am not yet born; O fill me

With strength against those who would freeze my

humanity, would dragoon me into a lethal automaton,

would make me a cog in a machine, a thing with

one face, a thing, and against all those

who would dissipate my entirety, would

blow me like thistledown hither and

thither or hither and thither

like water held in the

hands would spill me.


Let them not make me a stone and let them not spill me.

Otherwise kill me.