Reading: Wolves by Louis Macneice

Louis MacNeice (1907-1963) was a modern British poet who had studied philosophy. He caught pneumonia while inspecting a mine shaft for its sound quality – what a way to go. Here is ‘wolves’:

I do not want to be reflective any more
Envying and despising unreflective things
Finding pathos in dogs and undeveloped handwriting
And young girls doing their hair and all the castles of sand
Flushed by the children’s bedtime, level with the shore.

The tide comes in and goes out again, I do not want
To be always stressing either its flux or its permanence,
I do not want to be a tragic or philosophic chorus
But to keep my eye only on the nearer future
And after that let the sea flow over us.

Come then all of you, come closer, form a circle,
Join hands and make believe that joined
Hands will keep away the wolves of water
Who howl along our coast. And be it assumed
That no one hears them among the talk and laughter.

Most philosophers know this feeling (MacNeice also penned a somewhat boring poem called I am what I am about self-identity). The things he finds pathos in stand for spontaneous. And of course the sand castles that are created for an afternoon and disintegrate when the children go to sleep.

He continues about the tide with a neither-nor attitude toward intellectual speculation. In poetry, this usually leads to an obsessive concentration on the objects themselves, a phenomenological poetry. MacNeice is different: He sees the way out of the predicament of reflectiveness in the near future and how we can cuddle up, cooperate, and ‘make believe’ that it will keeps the wolves of water at bay, the wolves that stand, I believe, for our Heideggerian Angst, and our ‘talk and laughter’ (das Gerede) is what muffles the crushing caffeinated reflective thought of death.

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