The Poetry of ‘Italicization’: Acts of Perception in Louis MacNeice’s ‘Snow’ and ‘Train to Dublin’


Birmingham Snow Hill Station (1957), by Ben Brooksbank [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The poems of Louis MacNeice are commonly remembered for their engagement with the turbulent politics of the 1930s. However,  Nao Igarashi argues that MacNeice should be celebrated not just for his political opinions but for the acute sensitivity of his writing. Look afresh at this important author through this free article in our Postgraduate English journal.

The poetical achievement of Louis MacNeice is generally associated with the social and political context of the thirties. Many of his poems indeed show his exceptional insight into contemporary issues. At the same time, MacNeice’s sensitivity about acts of perception underlies his poetry and poetics. ‘Snow’ and ‘Train to Dublin’ present the process by which the poet’s perception in his experience is fused with his thoughts. Since these poems develop the poet’s view of the world and of life, they can be called philosophical or meditative. However, his interest does not lie in abstraction for its own sake but to the degree that it fuses with his response to the concrete objects.

In ‘Snow’, the speaker, who finds a vivid contrast between snow and roses, conveys his sense impressions through the seemingly realistic descriptions. This adherence to his perception generates rich poetical expressions. The poem itself proves the poet’s verbal and imaginative power to reconstruct the scene, but the last line seems to implicitly demythologise this notion. It accords with MacNeice’s view that a poet is an ordinary man, who has a slightly more acute sensibility to things than others.

In ‘Train to Dublin’, the interaction of experience and thoughts is seen in that of the rhyme created between the poet’s perception of the train’s rhythm or sound and the act of thinking itself. The difference from ‘Snow’ is that the speaker has a particular addressee. The conversational mode of speaking is parallel with poetic devices such as the use of enjambments. The celebration of ‘incidental things’ in the poem indicates the speaker’s recognition of the momentariness of the perceived objects and the act of perceiving and writing.

These two poems represent MacNeice’s attempt to present the poet’s acts of poetic perception as both individual and available to others.

This article is available to download free in issue 34 of our open access Postgraduate English journal, where you’ll also find a complete archive of research dating back to 2000. The Call for Papers for the next issue is out now.

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