my favorite non-love poem...
In his poem 'snow,' Louis MacNeice captures the dichotomy of life: the mind-blowing complexity and simple everyday-ness, that is transcribed whilst retaining an unwritten quality. There is no plodding, weighted sensation or boring narrative tone- it seems fluid, life-like, experienced first-hand. Fresh images explode, followed by familiarities, triggered memories of how a tangerine tastes, what it feels like to "spit the pips (7)."
One way in which this velocity is accomplished is seen in the first five words, which convey both a past tense and speed: "The room was suddenly rich," the adverb 'suddenly' creating an intensity, as well as the feeling that it's too early for such a word- perhaps we've missed something. There is no laborious introduction to the state of the room beforehand- we only know that it "was suddenly rich," but with what? As if there is not time enough to explain such a silly detail, the poem moves on: "...and the great bay-window was/Spawning snow and pink roses against it." there is an ambiguity in the word 'it,' as the snow and pink roses could be spawned against the room or, more logically, against the "great bay-window," though it is also the origin of the 'spawning.' The word itself, spawning, is active and life-giving- one has the image of a spider egg bursting open, the new life hitting a windshield- "soundlessly collateral (3)."
The combination of 'soundlessly' with 'collateral'-silently damaged, destructed... and it works, because both snow and roses are soft, and the image of a whirlwind of snow and pink roses crashing into a huge window, then seeing bruised pink petals on the ground- 'collateral damage.'Then, the rhythmic rhyme of 'collateral and incompatible' slows the reader down to a steady beat as it rolls off the tongue.
In the second stanza, the succession of "and's" moves the eye along: "I peel and portion/a tangerine and spit the pips and feel (6,7)" as the aliteration of 'peel and portion' pleases the ear with its comforting repetition (following 'incompatible'). A staccato sound then follows with 'spit the pips' which you trip-skip past, enjoying the rhythm of it, the enunciation forced upon your lips, the snap of the tongue of 'spit.' The next real movement felt is in stanza three, lines 11 and 12: "On the tongue on the eyes on the ears in the palm's of one's hands." Imagine the nouns being emphasized, hit on the third beat like a steady bass drum, the "on the's" a symbal softly brushed. The next line contrasts nicely with a prose-like "There is more than glass between the snow and the huge/roses." that draws your attention to the words, not the rhythm, to the mysterious air about the phrase.
The last line nicely brings the first line round: "The room was suddenly rich and the great bay-window was/spawning snow and pink roses against it (1-2)" - "There is more than glass between the snow and the huge roses (13-14)." This seeming contradiction between the two couples with the commonality of snow, roses and glass. What it produces is a sense of dislocation in the reader, who most probably goes back to the first line with some confusion as to how the glass is between them. Of course, there is a double-meaning to the last line, perhaps consciously implying that there is more connecting snow and 'huge roses' than their shared origin of glass ('the great bay-window'). Overall, this all lends a very 'magical realism' touch to the poem, in its implausibly yet vividly described details.
A few other writing techniques lend this same taste of fantasy combined with normality. By using 'world' without the expected 'the' before it: "World is crazier and more of it than we think," "World is suddener than we fancy it" questions our rules, our inner referee who corrects grammar and spelling mishaps. It opens us, the reader, to accepting the whole situation created in this poem, to accepting it for what it is and not trying to put it in a framework that we are comfortable with. The use of 'we' creates a welcoming mood, expansive, understanding. but then the singular "I peel and portion/a tangerine" zooms us away from the universal, down to this person, performing an unspectacular duty of eating a tangerine- and though the taste and texture is left out, the devourment is implied as the pips are then 'spit'). Finally, my personal favorite: "I peel and portion... and feel/the drunkenness of things being various (6-8)." It strikes a known chord, of feeling how crazy and sudden life is, how infinitely variable, like a snowflake, and it seems logical that eating a tangerine might cause one to feel drunk, dizzy at the thought of how much 'world' is.
"And the fire flames with a bubbling sound for world/Is more than spiteful and gay than one supposes (9-12)." Fire bubbles? Again, that sense of preconceptions being swept aside, the nature of bay-windows and fire reinvented, all in an attempt to recreate, recapture the insane richness of world. The colourful images- pink roses against white snow, tangerine orange, pale pips, the polychromality of flames, the soft flesh of tongue, the sparkle of eyes, the shapely ears and open hands...
"The drunkenness of things being various."