Derek Mahon

Spice of Life

Collected Poems

By

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It was Philip Larkin who said, in an obituary notice, that MacNeice could have written the words of ‘These Foolish Things’. To many people he’s still a poet of London and New York in the 1930s, worldly, suave and ironical. His poetry of the time was a cinematic one of city lights and cocktail bars, his philosophy an aesthetic of shining surfaces, ‘the sunlight on the garden’, ‘the dazzle on the sea’. The Irish light in his head was a metaphor for the variety of human experience and personality. His pleasure in things became, in his social poetry, a pleasure in people. His work enacted a struggle between darkness and light. The darkness derived from a psychiatric disorder in his mother which proved incurable; from a sheltered childhood in ‘darkest Ulster’, and an ambiguous fear of solitude: at school in England his fellows ‘could never breathe my darkness’. The light, by contrast, was prismatic. Variety being the spice of life, he set himself to champion variety and oppose homogeneity; his poetic joie de vivre had its source in a breaking wave.

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