Categories
Literature Poetry Psychoanalysis

“Autumn Journal” revisited this Spring

For here and now the new valkyries ride

The Spanish constellations

As over the Plaza Cataluña

Orion lolls on his side;

Droning over from Majorca

To maim or blind or kill

The bearers of the living will,

The stubborn heirs of freedom

Whose matter-of-fact faith and courage shame

Our niggling equivocations-

We who play for safety,

A safety only in name.

Whereas these people contain truth, whatever

Their nominal façade.

Listen: a whirr, a challenge, an aubade-

It is the cock crowing in Barcelona.

Sleep, my body, sleep, my ghost,

Sleep, my parents and grand-parents,

And all those I have loved most:

One man’s coffin is another’s cradle.

Sleep, my past and all my sins,

In distant snow or dried roses

Under the moon for night’s cocoon will open

When day begins.

These lines from MacNeice’s poem written in 1938 sadly seem apposite today. The lines refer to the bombing of Barcelona when fascists killed some 1300 people. They also refer to his response which is to seek solace in sleep. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bombing_of_Barcelona

For a fascinating discussion of MacNeice’s work take a listen to https://www.lrb.co.uk/podcasts-and-videos/podcasts/close-readings/on-louis-macneice

Now, of course the Spanish Civil War was a totally different situation from the current situation from the Russian invasion of Ukraine. However, the melancholy tone of Autumn Journal resonates with my personal feelings about current events. Firstly, weapons have become vastly more destructive and in a few days the casualties and destruction have become enormous and sadly mch more about to be revealed. In both conflicts, ethnic and religous belief would appear to be active. Although mercenaries and International Brigades are involved the ideological factors such as a belief in Marxism are radically different in form.

The cock which crowed in respect to Barcelona is an Easter image relating to betrayal. Just as with Covid the current response by politicians to the current crisis is totally underwhelming and indicates too how domestic and isolationist narratives have obscured a wider view as to how to resolve or even contain this conflict.

So this melancholia pervades from 80 or more years ago-

Our niggling equivocations

We who play for safety,

A safety only in name