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Studies on Louis MacNeice

Jacqueline Genet
Wynne Hellegouarc’h

The story of the house that Louis built*

Hedli MacNeice

Texte intégral

  • * Ref. to the nursery rhyme, "The house that Jack built".

1It was a handsome house with thick walls. The windows on the west side looked towards Connemara, Mayo and the Sea. Those to the south scanned Dorset, The Downs and Marlborough — the windows to the north overlooked Iceland and those to the east, India.

2The front door was wide and always open.

3The Antichamber was full of people coming and going, administrators, doctors, dentists, critics, power men and smooth business agents, the everyday encounter who would say if asked that Louis was shy, arrogant, cold, polite, unapproachable, they didn’t really know him, they would say...

4The second chamber had a strong door opening into a big Room with a Bar against which Louis would lean watching the door for the unexpected and exciting. Those that entered had always something to offer, journalists with travellers’ tales of distant wars, poets, actors, those who talked "shop" be it of radio, music or mountain climbing. Louis would talk but more often listen, sometimes he would draw a small note book from his breast pocket and write a word or two or else jot down a small sum of money lent for a drink, or again he would pull his handkerchief out and make a knot in the corner, a reminder for something to be done. These handkerchieves still with their knots would be reverently washed and ironed by his maid. The next door was locked to all but a few. This room had shabby furniture, comfortable chairs and an open fire — books everywhere, for in this room, with these few friends Louis felt at ease, safe from the unexpected blow or the verbal knife in the back. There he worked, to these few people he gave all his affection and loyalty. Beyond this room there was a very small one, just space for two: himself and a Welsh poet Dylan Thomas or an Irish W. R. Rodgers. With them he would, manuscripts in hand, discuss the making of poetry, but only with them. Beyond was a passage leading to a chamber whose ceiling was a glass dome through which stars could be seen. There Louis would be alone with God, or as he called them the Great Presences, Greek or Roman, or again Dante, Donne, Spenser and the Elizabethans, and closer, to Yeats, Eliot and Auden.

5Perhaps humbly through them, he would measure his own achievement.

6Upstairs there were two rooms, the first, rather bare, received the casual lady encounter or the tentative relationship of short duration.

7The second room contained paintings, flowers, a grand piano and was elegantly furnished — there, the five ladies of his life lingered, some more than others. The first, a young girl "with whom I shared an idyll five years long". Through her he finally escaped from the Anglican church, background of his father. The next four all had worlds of their very own, a painter, a writer, a singer to whom he was married for eighteen years and a talented actress.

8Over the lintel of that door was written Love, Loyalty, Loneliness and Disillusion.

9On September 3rd 1963, with the words "Am I supposed to be dying?", he quietly closed the door of the house he had built.


* Ref. to the nursery rhyme, "The house that Jack built".

© Presses universitaires de Caen, 1988

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