Louis MacNeice

(1907—1963) writer

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British poet. He was created a CBE in 1958.

MacNeice was born in Belfast, where his father (later a bishop) was rector of Holy Trinity church. His mother's death (1914) cast a shadow on his childhood, but he was happy at Sherborne preparatory school and later at Marlborough (1921–26), where he made several lifelong friends, among them John Betjeman. At Merton College, Oxford, his friends included the poets Auden, Spender, and C. Day Lewis (1904–72). He also enjoyed academic success and published his first poetic collection, Blind Fireworks (1929). In the same year he married and took up a lectureship in classics at Birmingham, where he wrote Eclogue for Christmas (1933) and Poems (1935). After his wife left him (1935) he took a post as lecturer in Greek at Bedford College, London. But before this he had travelled to Spain and with Auden to Iceland, an experience they recounted in Letters from Iceland (1937). In London MacNeice became increasingly interested in left-wing politics, but he continued to write poetry – The Earth Compels (1938) and Autumn Journal (1939) – as well as several prose works.

In 1941, after a period of restlessness involving visits to Spain and the USA, MacNeice joined the BBC, where he remained for twenty happy and productive years. He wrote a critical study of Yeats (1941), radio drama, notably the fantasy The Dark Tower (1947), inspired by World War II, and several more volumes of poetry. He also married again (1942). Collected Poems 1925–1948 appeared in 1949. During the 1950s MacNeice's work caused him to travel all over the world and his poetry appeared less regularly: Ten Burnt Offerings (1952), Autumn Sequel (1954), and Visitations (1957). In 1960 he and his second wife parted. The following year MacNeice resigned from the BBC to concentrate on his own work, the first fruits of this being Solstices (1961). In summer 1963 while supervising the sound engineers making a BBC programme called Persons from Porlock, he caught a chill working underground and died from viral pneumonia. His autobiography, The Strings Are False, was published in 1965.

Subjects: Literature.

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