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Louis MacNeice

Jon Stallworthy
Date Published
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T S Eliot called Louis MacNeice ‘a poet of genius’, a poet’s poet, one ‘whose virtuosity can be fully appreciated only by other poets’. As his publisher, however, Eliot knew that MacNeice’s work could speak to a much larger public. His Autumn Journal, published in May 1939, went through five printings during the war years, and it was to become one of the definitive poems of the 1930s.

‘I would have a poet,’ wrote MacNeice, ‘able-bodied, fond of talking, a reader of the newspapers, capable of pity and laughter, informed in economics, appreciative of women, involved in personal relationships, actively interested in politics, susceptible to physical impressions.’ Knowing himself to be all of those things, modesty and a desire to demystify his calling led him to make no mention of the one all-important characteristic that distinguishes a poet: a mastery of the music and magic of language.

MacNeice’s mother died when he was seven, and Jon Stallworthy shows how his imagination transmuted her ghostly presence, and the powerful presence of his father, into an elemental opposition structuring most of what he would write – from anguished indictments of his native Ireland to poignant love poems. Drawing on the testimony of MacNeice’s family, friends and lovers, and his extensive correspondence, Stallworthy has produced a remarkable portrait of a poet of rare energy and integrity who was also a brilliant scholar, critic, autobiographer, playwright and translator.

‘Jon Stallworthy’s Louis MacNeice is the indispensable guide to the poetry and is written with great verve, generosity and brilliance. A moving and eloquent account of the life of the poet, as well as a superb analysis of the relationship between the life and the work, this is surely one of the great literary biographies of our time.’
Jonathan Allison, editor of The Selected Letters of Louis MacNeice


Jon Stallworthy is Professor Emeritus of English at the University of Oxford, and a Fellow of the British Academy and the Royal Society of Literature. He has published many volumes of poetry, and several biographies and works of literary criticism. His biography of Wilfred Owen won the Duff Cooper Memorial Prize, the W H Smith Literary Award, and the E…

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