The Space Between: Literature and Culture 1914-1945

“A lonely impulse of delight”?: Louis MacNeice’s Dialogue With Yeats’s "Airman"

Michael A. Moir, Jr.
Georgia Southwestern State University


W.B. Yeats famously commemorated Robert Gregory, the only child of his friend and patron Lady Augusta Gregory, in "An Irish Airman Foresees his Death." In this short poem, Yeats transforms the younger Gregory into a Nietzschean ubermensch whose actions among the clouds are the fulfillment of a personal quest for self-actualization. The poetic trope of the airman survives in the British poetry of the 1930s, particularly in the left-wing circle that gathered around W.H. Auden, but turns sour by the beginning of the Second World War. While Auden’s airmen are initially similar to Yeats’s in that they celebrate the power and freedom of the helmeted flyer, the figure is transformed in the work of Louis MacNeice, particularly during the Blitz. While Yeats and Auden wrote from the perspective of the airman himself, often using the figure as a metaphor for the poet’s devotion to the loftiest aesthetic goals, MacNeice rarely places himself in the airman’s position but instead writes from among those on the ground who are often victimized by these ubermenschen. MacNeice’s work situates the artist as part of the common mass of humanity, not as a separate and superior entity who has managed to escape the limitations placed on others.

Keywords  MacNeice / Yeats / Thirties / Airman / Auden

In 1918, W.B. Yeats wrote two poems about Major Robert Gregory, the only son of his friend and patron Lady Augusta Gregory. Major Gregory was killed by friendly fire in Italy in 1916 when his plane was accidentally shot down by Italian forces (Foster 117). The first of these poems, “In Memory of Major Robert Gregory,” published in The Wild Swans at Coole (1919), is a conventional elegy and celebrates Gregory as an exemplary member of the Ascendancy class—indeed, Yeats goes so far as to call him “Our Sidney and our perfect man,” whose exceptional talents should have made him one of the great men of his age (Yeats line 47). The second poem, “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death,” is the stranger of the two: it is a first-person account of Gregory’s thoughts as he flies to his appointment with destiny. The oddest thing about the poem is the Irish airman’s lack of passion for cause, country, or anything external to himself. His reasons for seeking death in the sky are entirely personal. In this poem, Yeats inaugurates a convention that would be taken up largely unchanged by young left-wing poets in the 1930s, but Louis MacNeice revised this trope in the years during and after the Blitz. In poems written during World War II, MacNeice critiques the flying superman model and presents a vulnerable alternative airman. While the Yeatsian airman uses technology to fly above the earth in pursuit of self-actualization, never touching down to associate with those below him, MacNeice’s flying men always return to the ground, demonstrating an engagement with rather than a separation from society. In MacNeice’s hands, the lone Nietzschean superman Yeats celebrated as a projection of the strength of individual consciousness is gradually replaced by the ordinary citizen. This citizen takes to the air and comes crashing down to be reintegrated into the common mass of humanity, suggesting that MacNeice reconceives the heroic in light of the experience of common threat during the Blitz. MacNeice produced his airman poems while living under constant danger from aerial bombardment, not from a safe vantage point away from the front or in peacetime. In his Blitz-era airman poems, MacNeice argues that when all are threatened, personal transcendence is a vanity that no one can afford and our only defenses against senseless destruction are collaboration and community integration.

Yeats’s poem “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death” largely ignores the broader context of the First World War and focuses solely on the airman himself. The airman in Yeats’s poem is not motivated by patriotism or civic duty; rather, he takes to the air for a kind of personal pleasure that ignores concerns of king and country:

                        Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
                        Nor public men, nor cheering crowds,
                        A lonely impulse of delight
                        Drove to this tumult in the clouds. (lines 9-13)

The airman takes flight to achieve a personal goal—“a lonely impulse”—rather than to benefit his fellow citizens, envisioned as indistinct “crowds” or aspects of a sociopolitical concept (“law” or “duty”). Any resemblance to the real Robert Gregory is purely coincidental: as R.F. Foster writes, Gregory “seems to have fully supported the war effort, joining the Royal Flying Corps with alacrity early in the ‘An Irish Airman Foresees his Death,’ [Yeats] would posit Gregory’s commitment to fighting as purely existential, and even attribute to him an alienation from empire for which there is little evidence” (118-9). Yeats strips the actual Gregory, a young man with whom he never really got along, out of the poem and replaces him with a superman more interested in self-actualization than in fighting for the king’s shilling.

There are echoes of Nietzsche’s Übermenschen in the poem, which celebrates the airman’s essential narcissism. In Thus Spake Zarathustra, Nietzsche writes of the egoism of the higher man:

Your very virtue wants that you do nothing “for” and “in order” and “because.” You shall plug up your ears against these false little words. “For the neighbor” is only the virtue of the little people: there one says “birds of a feather” and “one hand washes the other.” They have neither the right nor the strength for your egoism. In your egoism, you creators, is the caution and providence of the pregnant. What no one has yet laid eyes on, the fruit: that your whole love shelters and saves and nourishes. Where your whole is, with your child, there is also your whole virtue. Your work, your will, that is your “neighbor”: do not let yourselves be gulled with false values! (Nietzsche 291)

Making Gregory’s death among the clouds into an existential victory—one that, moreover, the younger man apparently chooses—is a means of dealing with the apparently senseless demise of a man for whom Yeats had little use in life. Like the conventional “In Memory of Major Robert Gregory,” “Airman” makes Gregory into an exemplar, though in this case the implications are darker. Valentine Cunningham argues that Yeats “yearned explicitly in language derived from Friedrich Nietzsche for the style, status, and power of the Übermensch,” as many of his late poems celebrate “aristocratic, lofty rulers [who] come out of their Great Houses and on to the streets, Musso-muscularly to ‘hammer down’ the disagreeable mob and restore fullness of Nietzschean supremacy and spirituality ‘up there at the top’” (189). Thus, Cunningham reads “An Irish Airman Foresees his Death” as an early attempt “to invest the sense of flying disasters, dangers, and failures—the risks of authority—with intensely romantic appeal” (189). For Yeats, an ideal Robert Gregory is more useful than the man himself, both ideologically and artistically.
Construed in this way, the airman figures as a metaphor for the artist in that his function is to pursue an idiosyncratic personal vision, whatever the cost. This conception of the artist’s role is defined by Edward Mendelson in Early Auden as “vatic”: the vatic poet, unlike his opposite, the “civil” poet, “praises the unique powers of heroic individuality and longs for a past when heroism was unconstrained. Its freedom from conventional form is one manifestation of its wish; romantic Royalism, like the vague fascist sympathies of modernism, is another” (xix). Many of the young left-wing poets who clustered around W.H. Auden in the 1930s would use this image for similar ends; though their politics might be red (or, at the very least, pink), their work tended to follow Yeats toward the vatic rather than the building and reinforcing of large-scale communal ties that is the domain of civil poetry. When their representations of the airman were social in nature, they usually celebrated members of a small, elite coterie of artistic friends rather than the community at large.
Virginia Woolf noted this tendency towards clique formation among young British left-wing writers of the 1930s and attributed it to the relative instability of the post-First World War world in which they had grown up. In her essay “The Leaning Tower,” first delivered as a lecture to the Workers’ Educational Association of Brighton in 1940, Woolf described middle-class writers as “tower-dwellers” who observed human society from a fixed point elevated some distance above the crowd. The First World War had swept away several elements of the old European political order and undermined others, leaving Auden and his friends and collaborators sitting atop a “leaning tower.” Technological change in the early twentieth century brought war closer to home for the average person; Woolf notes that “Scott never saw the sailors drowning at Trafalgar; Jane Austen never heard the cannon roar at Waterloo. Neither of them heard Napoleon’s voice as we hear Hitler’s voice as we sit at home of an evening” (Woolf 164). Indeed, in addition to the radio, the airplane was one of the key inventions that made the thrill and danger of warfare real for civilians and kept Britain more closely connected with the Continent: “We turn on the wireless; we hear an airman telling us how this very afternoon he shot down a raider; his machine caught fire; he plunged into the sea; the light turned green and then black; he rose to the top and was rescued by a trawler” (Woolf 164). This particular combination of technologies—radio and aircraft—allowed audiences listening at home to follow developments in the war in real time. While this development may have kept the public better informed, it also generated a greater sense of unease in the public at large. Having the war brought home was a mixed blessing.

Übermenschen and Truly Strong Men: Airmen of the Auden Circle

The brewing conflict between the Left and the Right in Europe, in the absence of any official hostilities between nations, may also have provided some of the impetus for the Auden Circle’s approach to the figure of the airman, as well as a desire for symbols of transcendent heroism—and what could be more transcendent than a soldier who literally moves above the clouds? As Samuel Hynes notes, the Left and the Right focused on using art less to create communities than to mythologize themselves and their heroes:

…the rise of European Fascism had created a climate in which heroism was possible in life, and was therefore also possible in art…The Fascists were consciously mythologizing their own party leaders and martyrs, and at the same time the left was making heroes of imprisoned German communists, Viennese socialists, and Spanish revolutionaries. But it was more than a matter of political propaganda, it was a change in the way men thought about action, and in the way they wrote about it. (150)

The spectacle of the man in the air is inherently heroic; indeed, contemporary politicians have sometimes had recourse to it, though often with unintended bathetic results, as in George W. Bush’s infamous ‘Mission Accomplished’ landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln in 2003. Adolf Hitler made a similarly grand entrance at the beginning of the Nürnberg Parteitag in 1934, in what Keith Williams describes as “the acme of hyperreal spectacles between the wars...this involved building a literal castle in the air, then reproducing it for the vicarious participation of millions by the state-of-the-art resources of Nazi broadcasting and Leni Riefenstahl’s film Triumph des Willens…” (20). The Left had its own airborne hero in the young Italian poet Lauro de Bosis, who died in a quixotic attempt to drop anti-Fascist leaflets on Rome from a privately chartered airplane. Each end of the political spectrum adapted the figure to their own purposes: there were both fascist and socialist/communist supermen in the air.

C. Day Lewis’s long poem, The Magnetic Mountain (1933), exemplifies this kind of myth-making on the left. It carries the 1930s fixation on the power of a small group of friends to change the world to new heights of absurdity; Day Lewis even turns Auden into a bird-man who is too mighty to walk upon the earth:

                        Look west, Wystan, lone flyer, birdman, my bully boy!
                        Plague of locusts, creeping barrage, has left earth bare:
                        Suckling and centenarian are up in air,
                        No wing-room for Wystan, no joke for kestrel joy. (lines 450-4)

Auden the kestrel cannot fly in the space shared by ordinary people (the “locusts”); the poet-hero requires the rarified air near the top of the magnetic mountain. “Gain altitude, Auden, then let the base beware!” continues Day Lewis, allowing the word base to resonate as a noun for the collective and an adjective indicating impurity or vulgarity (line 462). Despite Day Lewis’s avowed Marxism, the journey up the mountain is only for a select group of those who can fly—pure, chaste, hawk-men like his friends Auden and Rex Warner. As Hynes notes, ‘...the young men who will seek [The Magnetic Mountain]...will be heroes, of course, self-sacrificing and dedicated; and they will be comrades…and two of them will be named ‘Wystan’ and ‘Rex’” (121). The quest is vatic in nature, by definition not for everyone.

The celebration of Auden is not in itself unusual, as the writers who gathered around Auden frequently name-checked one another in the creation of what Louis MacNeice called the “myths of themselves” (LC 35). Auden, as the one-time leader of a poetic clique at Oxford, often epitomized the characteristics of the superman for his circle of admirers. His uneasy fusion of Marxism and Freudian psychoanalysis led his friends to idolatry, according to Hynes:

To Day Lewis, Auden must have seemed, as he did to most members of his generation, a man of certainty who had solved his problems, private and public, poetic and political, simply by thinking about them. And the style was the man, so that its authority, which was immense, lay not simply in its originality, but also in its decisiveness. (119)

Auden is, for certain poets of his generation, the Truly Strong Man who has everything figured out and fears nothing. Though his peers tended to oversimplify Auden’s ideas in lionizing him, Auden’s earliest airman poems typically project this image.1 For example, in “Consider this and in our time” (1930), the airman’s defining attribute is his panoptic gaze:

                        Consider this and in our time
                        As the hawk sees it or the helmeted airman:
                        The clouds rift suddenly—look there
                        At cigarette-end smouldering on a border
                        At the first garden party of the year (lines 1-5).

Auden compares the airman “helmeted” for battle with a bird of prey, as Day Lewis does in imagining Auden as a kestrel. The airman, whose vision takes in all below him, remains above even the wealthy, fashionable party-goers, a watcher but not a participant. Like an Übermensch, it would be beneath the Truly Strong Man to involve himself in the trivial affairs of his earthbound inferiors.

Auden tempers this vision somewhat in “Journal of an Airman,” the second part of The Orators (1932). The titular Airman is not, like Day Lewis’s Wystan or the “helmeted airman” of “Consider this and in our time,” the Truly Strong Man, but his opposite, the so-called Truly Weak Man. This “central ’thirties character,” as Hynes describes him, is “the introspective neurotic that most young intellectuals take themselves to be” : he is an insecure, nervous young man serving an unnamed power whose purpose is to battle the Enemy, who exists only as an oppositional construct, defined through negation (Hynes 127). The Airman begins as the agent of forces greater than himself. As the poem develops, however, so does the Airman. He develops a concern for his own history and the management of his neuroses, particularly in tracing his true descent from the Uncle who was executed for treason. When he dreams of his uncle’s picture, under which appears the words “I HAVE CROSSED IT” (Auden 93), the Airman himself crosses the threshold of understanding. The enemy can only be defeated through self-mastery, indeed, through self-immolation. As he prepares to crash his plane across the border, the Airman is the picture of calm:

                        Pulses and reflexes, normal.
                        Barometric reading, 30.6.
                        Mean temperature, 34ºF.
                        Fair. Some cumulus cloud at 10,000 feet. Wind easterly
                           and moderate.
                        Hands in perfect order. (Auden 94)

The trembling, nervous hands that have plagued the Airman throughout the “Journal” are now “in perfect order”; through discipline and understanding, he has learned to master himself. Michael O’Neill and Gareth Reeves explain this image with reference to remarks Auden makes about the character of Hamlet in The Enchafèd Flood, in which Auden calls Hamlet “the first example in literature of the suffering Romantic Avenger Hero who cannot exist without his grievance” (qtd. in O’Neill and Reeves 92). For O’Neill and Reeves, this passage sheds light on the Airman, who is “the romantic hero who comes to a recognition, which is his moment of crisis and fulfillment, that the Enemy is himself. But the recognition does not lead to…self-congratulatory complacency…it leads to suicide” (92). The Airman’s suicide, however, is his victory. Self-destruction is self-actualization.

By the end of the decade, Auden seems to have lost faith in this version of the airman. It may be instructive for us to compare the last stanza of “Musée des Beaux Arts,” in which Auden describes Brueghel’s Icarus, to earlier conceptions of the airman:

                        In Brueghel’s Icarus, for instance, how everything turns away
                        Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
                        Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
                        But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
                        As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
                        Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
                        Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
                        Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on. (lines 15-22)

In Auden’s post-Spanish Civil War mentality, the strivings of the artist have little to no effect on public life. The ordinary people figured in the painting—the ploughman and the sailors—show little interest in or understanding of the disaster they witness. While this perspective could be read to indict the failure of ordinary people who do not understand or appreciate the vatic poet, it is more likely the image represents the pointlessness of the vatic poet’s “amazing” flight. Icarus did not fly for the ploughman or the merchant sailor but for himself, and one cannot blame the public for not recognizing his significance. It is significant as well that Auden does not choose Daedalus, the successful aeronaut, but his son, Icarus, whose pride and curiosity took him too close to the sun. Here is a warning to those who would attempt to “slip the surly bonds of earth” (Magee line 1) like the airmen of the early 1930s. Self-involved struggles lead only to meaningless self-destruction. Icarus is no airman but a boy too immature to handle the responsibility of wings and childishly narcissistic about the importance of his flight. In this poem, Auden treats the poet’s vatic phase as juvenile, one that he has outgrown. Auden confirms the abandonment of the airman figure in the first stanza of “In Memory of W.B. Yeats,” when the speaker explains that “the airports were almost deserted” (line 2). With the death of the great modern celebrant of the heroic, the airman as Übermensch is rendered irrelevant. Hynes regards this poem as an elegy not just for the dead poet but also for the decade of the 1930s and for Auden’s English past:

Auden and Isherwood arrived in New York on 26 January 1939. The same day Barcelona fell, and with its fall the last hope of the Spanish Loyalists ended. Two days later there was another kind of ending—the death of Yeats. Auden must have begun at once to write his great elegy, “In Memory of W.B. Yeats,” in which he made these three endings merge into one vast human defeat: the old poet dead, the young poet in retreat from his lost causes, the city conquered seen as a single historical occasion, the end of the ’thirties. (349)

In Hynes’s reading, the end of the 1930s, the death of Yeats, and emigration to America mark Auden’s abandonment of a consciously heroic sensibility. As Auden retreats from the battle over the political future of Europe, he abandons the principle of the heroic represented by the airman.

MacNeice’s Airmen of World War II

            It is telling that Auden shifts from the perspective of the “helmeted airman” to that of the witnesses of his fall. In both “Musée des Beaux Arts” and “In Memory of W.B. Yeats,” Auden indicates that the Yeatsian image, formed in the crucible of the First World War, is no longer relevant. Auden’s friend and contemporary Louis MacNeice, who showed less interest in airmen than his contemporaries prior to 1939, first addresses the idea of the airman from a wholly different perspective—that of the victims of the violence the airman perpetrates. The airman is not, in MacNeice’s use of the figure, merely irrelevant but an actual menace to society. In Part VII of Autumn Journal, MacNeice describes the destruction of a grove of trees in a London park to make way for anti-aircraft artillery:2

               They are cutting down the trees on Primrose Hill.
            The wood is white like the roast flesh of chicken,
               Each tree falling like a closing fan;
            No more looking at the view from seats beneath the branches,
               Everything is going to plan;
            They want the crest of this hill for anti-aircraft,
               The guns will take the view
            And searchlights probe the heavens for bacilli
               With narrow wands of blue. (CP lines 501-9)

MacNeice introduces a theme that is persistent in his work: the destruction of pastoral idylls or places of private ease in order to nurture or defend social values. This theme is expressed perhaps most clearly in the series of eclogues he wrote in the mid-1930s, but here the preparations for war offer a new twist. In a poem like “An Eclogue for Christmas,” the borders of pastoral space are threatened by urbanization and industrialization, and it is by no means obvious that the life of the rural speaker (“B”) in the poem is preferable to that of his urban counterpart (“A”). In Autumn Journal, however, there is a palpable sense of loss as men cut down the trees on Primrose Hill to make way for searchlights and anti-aircraft guns. The threat requires the community to damage locations devoted to communal pleasures to defend against an airborne threat, which is more concrete and deadly than the break-up of rural estates that B laments in “Eclogue for Christmas.” The simile MacNeice employs in comparing the felled trees to “the flesh of roast chicken” illustrates the fears of the entire populace and the nature of the danger posed by the airman, while the reference to a popular picnic food also encapsulates the community people must give up in wartime. MacNeice responds to the situation the way an ordinary, sensitive individual would: as Edna Longley argues in Poetry in the Wars, “…in Autumn Journal MacNeice does not assume the Yeatsian character of the artist or ‘solitary soul’ as tragic hero. He inhabits—whether as citizen, common man, Everyman or individual—what he says Yeats avoids, ‘flux, the sphere of the realist proper’” (83). Unless we give up our simple public enjoyments, like trees and scenic views and summer picnics, these airborne supermen will roast us all.

MacNeice’s relationship with Yeats and his work is complex in that he clearly values Yeats’s work and takes it seriously while also maintaining a certain ironic distance in his appraisals of Yeats.1 Jon Stallworthy describes MacNeice’s first meeting with the elder poet, arranged by his Birmingham University colleague, mentor, and eventual literary executor, E.R. Dodds, in 1934:

The Professor [Dodds] took his young colleague to tea with W.B. Yeats in Rathfarnham. The elegant lecturer [MacNeice] was struck by the elegance of the Archpoet in his “smooth light suit and a just sufficiently crooked bow tie ”. MacNeice was also struck by Yeats’s hierophantic manner, though disappointed that his conversation was not about poetry but the phases of the moon and spiritualism. He spoke of the spirits then guiding his wife’s automatic writing. (161-2)

Stallworthy’s account of the meeting highlights the conflict between Yeats’s belief in a transcendent reality over and beyond everyday experience and MacNeice’s essential skepticism. MacNeice’s abandonment of his adolescent aestheticism follows a similar trajectory; while he is attracted to glimmering surfaces, like Yeats’s tasteful and appropriately poetic sartorial choices, he is put off by the arcane philosophies that often attach themselves to the aesthete.

MacNeice was most engaged with Yeats’s work when he was most troubled by questions of responsibility and commitment. After Yeats’s death in 1939, MacNeice went on holiday in Ireland with his friend Ernst Stahl and did research for the book on Yeats he was writing; at the same time, MacNeice gathered inspiration for the poetic sequence that would become “The Closing Album.” When England declared war on Germany, MacNeice became suspicious about “the respite from total mobilization which Ireland offered,” as Clair Wills writes (75). Drinking with Irish colleagues in the Palace Bar in Dublin, MacNeice was struck by the parochialism of their conversation:

Their banter, if MacNeice is to be believed, stubbornly asserted the fact that the war was none of their concern, reveling in mock pedantry about willfully recondite and local issues—yet, in doing so, insisting defiantly on the value of Ireland’s cultural patrimony. It is a picture of Dublin’s drinking culture that was confirmed by many throughout the war years…the drinkers in the Palace Bar are escapists, blind to the impending catastrophe. But at the same time they are waging war—one-minded partisans—in their case a war for the primacy of Irish culture, which seems to preclude any acknowledgment of a world beyond Ireland, or even beyond Dublin. (75-76)

Already suspicious of escapism and solipsism, MacNeice’s vision of Ireland in the war years hardened into a kind of idyll sustained by sacrifices made in neighboring countries. As he writes in “Neutrality” (1944), “…to the west off your own shores the mackerel / Are fat—on the flesh of your kin” (CP lines 15-16). This biting critique of artistic and cultural self-regard—and, by extension, of the vatic poetic tendency—also made its way into MacNeice’s airman poems.

Like many of his contemporaries, MacNeice briefly considered exile at the beginning of the World War II, though it wasn’t long before he returned to Britain. In 1940 he left England to take up a teaching position at Cornell and to pursue a relationship with the American novelist Eleanor Clark. During this period he continued work on his study of Yeats and refined his own poetic values. In 1938, MacNeice had written his description of the ideal contemporary poet in Modern Poetry: A Personal Essay: “I would have a poet able-bodied, fond of talking, a reader of newspapers, capable of pity and laughter, informed in economics, appreciative of women, actively interested in politics, susceptible to physical impressions” (198). Richard Danson Brown notes that “MacNeice’s poet…is someone palpably plugged into the ‘real’ world, whose attributes include a zest for living, alongside intellectual curiosity” (11). MacNeice’s poet is decidedly not an escapist or an aesthete; the most important thing remains engagement with the wider world.

Later in the same year MacNeice, along with his friends Auden and Christopher Isherwood, was called to the mat for abandoning England in her time of need. This accusation seems to have stung MacNeice, and he returned to London at the end of the year. In the process he informed Bet Dodds that he had come to a new phase in his poetry through his work on Yeats and his time away from England:

Talking about work I am writing a new kind of poetry (very slight so far but will gain body, I hope) & will send you some soon, if you don’t mind, to dispense to papers as you do Wystan’s. Am also (this sounds terribly like Wystan too but it’s all right) formulating a new attitude, the basic principle of which is that Freedom means Getting Into things and not getting Out Of them; also, one must make things that are not oneself—e.g. works of art, even personal relationships—which must be dry & not damp; as sticking cloves into an orange makes a pomander, = something NEW. Because it seems high time neither to be passive to flux nor to substitute for it, Marxist-like, a mere algebra of captions (Letters 380-381).

The new poems MacNeice was working on, which appeared in Plant and Phantom (1941) and Springboard (1944), continued in the vein of Autumn Journal in that they favored the perspective of the man on the ground over that of the man in the sky. In these poems, MacNeice represents the airman as disengaged, destructive, self-involved, and, in some cases, irrational. In short, the very qualities Yeats and the early Auden find admirable are dangerous and inhuman. MacNeice’s letter indicates that he sees the poet as a participant in the life and events of his times, and that his work should be shaped by his reactions to events and his relationships with other people. MacNeice’s poet is not a solitary genius, but an individual plugged into a network.

MacNeice’s The Poetry of W.B. Yeats (1940) also argues against isolationist aestheticism, but MacNeice tempers some of the claims he made in Modern Poetry. The distinction he drew in the earlier book between the ordinary man and the mystic, for example, comes in for revision:

In Modern Poetry I also denied that the poet is properly a mystic and argued that the poetic is normal human activity. I still hold that the poet is a distinct species from the mystic, but I should still like to correct the emphasis here…Mysticism, in the narrow sense, implies a specific experience which is foreign to most poets and most men, but on the other hand it represents an instinct which is a human sine qua non. Both the poet and the ‘ordinary man’ are mystics incidentally and there is a mystical sanction or motivation for all their activities which are not purely utilitarian... (MacNeice, Poetry of W.B. Yeats 15-16)

MacNeice changes mysticism from a renunciation of ordinary life to pursue esoteric wisdom to the kind of pleasure or transport experienced when taking part in those everyday activities which do not have an immediate use value. For MacNeice, even these occasional mystical experiences must be connected to real life and real experience: “We have to remember that poetry is a compromise, or even a series of compromises. The poet’s approach is personal; he does not aim at an objective, scientific truth. But at the same time he is not a solipsist. Poetry is not a mere reflection or mere imitation of life but it has an essential relationship to life” (Poetry of W.B. Yeats 29). The key word in this passage is “compromise”—exactly what a superman, wrapped in a cloak of his own superiority, above morality, above ordinary sensation, above national feeling or compassion for his neighbors, cannot do. Yeats’s airman, though he is a fantasy, does as he pleases in seeking his own annihilation in the sky. To Yeats’s “Irish Airman,” death merely completes the breaking of his ties to the earth and to lesser humans, much as for Auden’s Airman death is a means to self-mastery. Neither of these figures compromises in his quest for self-actualization. But the very space in which these characters exist is a form of compromise, says MacNeice, for the personal sensations of the poet must be in some way communicable to readers in a way that a purely private experience is not.

This line of reasoning responds to Auden’s argument for the defense in an article he published in Partisan Review in 1939, “The Public v. the Late Mr. William Butler Yeats.” In the second half of the essay, Auden writes that the source of poetic inspiration is “excitement”:

Every individual is from time to time excited emotionally and intellectually by his social and material environment. In certain individuals this excitement produces verbal structures which we call poems; if such a verbal structure creates an excitement in the reader, we call it a good poem. Poetic talent, in fact, is the power to make personal excitement socially available. Poets, i.e. persons with poetic talent, stop writing good poetry when they stop reacting to the world they live in. The nature of that reaction, whether it be positive or negative, matters very little; what is essential is that the reaction should genuinely exist. (392)

For Auden, the wellspring of the poet’s “excitement” does not matter; it is essentially personal. In this formulation, readers act as receptors for the poet’s enthusiasms, whether “positive” or “negative.” Indeed, the reader’s only role in the creation of the poem is as a kind of imagined audience. MacNeice’s use of the word “compromise,” however, suggests that poets should meet readers halfway rather than inflict private passions on them. The world the poet describes should be, for MacNeice, a shared world, one in which poets and readers recognize their own concerns.

This is a clear point of departure from Yeats in MacNeice’s thinking; Yeats, as MacNeice reads him, does not build the necessary bridges between poet and readers, instead projecting ego-fantasies of power through figures like the Irish Airman. MacNeice’s analysis of “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death” attributes Yeats’s portrayal of Major Gregory to the influence of J.M. Synge, who had “strengthened his old admiration for the Irish peasantry but under a new aspect…It was Synge who brought home to him their brute vitality…from the time of meeting Synge Yeats’s poetry shows far more recognition of physical man” (Poetry of W.B. Yeats 47). In “Irish Airman,” MacNeice argues, Yeats marries the sheer physicality of the peasant to the detached sensibility of the aristocratic aesthete:

The ‘lonely impulse of delight’ had been for the early Yeats the differentia of the artist; now he sees it in the world of instinctive creatures, especially in men of action, and is at times inclined to admit that in the artist this impulse is handicapped because the artist knows too much, thinks too much…At the same time inevitably, the instinctive man, the sensual man, the sportsman, the adventurer, are turned by Yeats into myths. The Fisherman, in the poem of that name, is a product of wishful thinking, an intellectual’s projection, a non-intellectual hero. (Poetry of W.B. Yeats 111)

The Irish Airman resembles other figures in Yeats’s poetry of the same period because he is a man who acts without thought, without desire, without companionship. Yeats’s superior man, MacNeice argues, acts not only according to his own lights, but according to animal instinct. He has no rational motives for his behavior, nor does he seem to need any. He is strong, aloof, and unconstrained by social mores.

One of the most problematic aspects of this figure for MacNeice is arguably its rootlessness, an aspect that troubles MacNeice’s poetry during and after the war. Emily Bloom applies a line from Autumn Sequel (1954), in which the speaker is promised by an acquaintance that he will become an “air-borne bard,” to MacNeice’s attempt to work out the relationship between the artist and broader community early in his tenure at the BBC:

When MacNeice describes the ‘air-borne bard’ in Autumn Sequel he reveals tensions between the modernist quest for the new, the Homeric ideal of an oral literary past, and the reality of tangled bureaucratic institutions. There is an inherent paradox in the idea of a bard who is air-borne: if bardic tradition entails rootedness in a local community and an embodied speaker situated in space, then the very nature of the bard should check this gravity-defying flight. (Bloom 5)

The paradox of the “air-borne bard” lies in the notion of the bard as the voice of a collective and the desire of the airman to rise above his context for an omniscient, panoptic view. As noted above, though, MacNeice was firm in his lifelong belief that poetry was rooted in our everyday sensory lives and shared experiences. These forces would always pull the ‘air-borne bard’ back down to Earth. And as bitterly as Autumn Sequel bemoans the everyday bureaucratic nonsense MacNeice encountered at the BBC, writing radio features helped him find his voice as a genuine civic poet, dispersed outwards over the airwaves rather than descending on a terrified public from above. The radio poet, or ‘air-borne bard,’ positions himself in the middle of collective, his words reaching outwards from the center, rather than down from above his public.

The poetry that MacNeice produced in the early war years demonstrates just how dangerous he thought Yeats’s instinctual supermen were and how much more desirable the public-spirited, self-sacrificing, ordinary person is. Given that the Nazis, who celebrated Nietzsche in much the way Yeats and his immediate followers did, were in the process of imprisoning and executing those who did not meet their definition of racial purity and were actively bombing Britain from the air, it is unsurprising that MacNeice’s wartime poems give us cause to fear the solitary airman, whose disregard for the public good and self-indulgent instinct for violence makes him an agent of methodical slaughter. The thoughtlessness of the Irish airman is transformed into a capacity for mindless destruction. This figure is represented in two poems in Springboard as a troll; like Yeats’s man of action, the eponymous “Trolls” of the first of these poems (which, we are told in a note beneath the title, was “[w]ritten after an air-raid, April 1941” [MacNeice, CP 217]) are mindless agents of destruction, raining death from above; once again, MacNeice places readers on the ground in the midst of the bombardment rather than in the air. The poem was written at a time when the destruction of buildings was a dominant theme in MacNeice’s work, both in his London Letters for Selden Rodman’s Common Sense and BBC scripts about historically significant bombed buildings (Stallworthy 295). The poem’s origins lie in the poet’s engagement with both a British public enduring a German bombing campaign and an American public the BBC hoped would support U.S. intervention in Europe.

The London Letters MacNeice wrote around the same time he was working on “The Trolls” focus on the survival of the Londoner on the street and the response of the populace to German bombardment. Even as the Luftwaffe destroys entire neighborhoods, flashes of beauty and humor remain, as MacNeice chronicles in this excerpt from the first London Letter, “Blackouts, Bureaucracy, and Courage,” dated February 1941:

Every district in London has been damaged by bombs, the damage has been wonderfully indiscriminate, but is far outbalanced (this ought to be underlined) by what has not been seriously damaged or what has already been repaired. Bloomsbury has suffered heavily and it is sad to see those grey brick Georgian houses in ruins but it cannot be much help to the Germans. When Virginia Woolf’s apartment was disemboweled, left open to the air, I am told that for several days paintings by Duncan Grant (the rising star of the twenties) remained hanging on the remaining walls through the London drizzle and the blitzes that followed. (Selected Prose 102)

MacNeice’s focus here is not so much on destruction as it is on survival. That which remains is more important than that which is lost. Later on in the same essay, MacNeice describes the debris of one of Sir Christopher Wren’s Restoration-era churches, badly damaged in an air raid:

The church of St Clement Danes in the Strand, one of Wren’s elegances in Portland stone, looks none the worse for having had its windows blown out; outside it in the churchyard, just beyond the apse, a statue of Dr Johnson still stands among the debris, unconcerned and pawky, with an open book in his left hand, looking up Fleet Street. (Selected Prose 102)

In both of these passages, art is not created by the superman in the air; rather, art is what survives his assault. Locations representing human institutions may be destroyed or weakened—for example, intellectual salons like the Bloomsbury Group or the Church of England—but the products of human creative genius endure. Duncan Grant’s paintings and the writings of Samuel Johnson, MacNeice argues, withstand the bombardment. Both of the artists MacNeice singles out here worked in a social milieu. Both were creatures of the coterie, not solitary flyers. Work that is produced with communal values in mind, MacNeice seems to argue, resists the temporary depredations of individualist supermen.

Further, MacNeice celebrates connection in a broader sense than contemporaries like Day Lewis, who tend to reserve their praise for their own circle of friends and acquaintances. Ian Whittington argues that MacNeice’s preference for a cooperative, community-based idea of communication grew out of his work for the BBC:

‘Collaboration’ is…a useful term in the present context because it carries the positive sense of working together for a mutually beneficial output. It is a particularly radio-centric term; assembling a broadcast demands the cooperation of dozens, if not hundreds, of individuals, from the engineers responsible for maintaining and extending infrastructure to the producers who transform scripts into programmes and actors and musicians whose performances give audible shape to words and notes…MacNeice and his collaborators used large-scale radio productions to allegorise the process of collective labour for collective gain through features like Christopher Columbus. (16-17)

Broadcasting work, which requires a large number of people working together to create a successful performance, became the model for MacNeice’s socially engaged 1940s. While MacNeice had always been suspicious of attempts to retreat into elitist aestheticism, his job writing radio scripts reaffirmed for him the value of a collective.

Not so the German bombers whom MacNeice transforms into “The Trolls,” as they lack not only motivation and personality, but the capacity for rational thought. Their actions are entirely instinctual; we are told that “they don’t know what they’re doing” (line 6):

                        In the misty night humming to themselves like morons
                        They ramble and rumble over the roof-tops, stumble and
                           shamble from pile to pillar,
                        In clodhopping boots that crunch the stars
                        And a blank smirk on their faces…(CP lines 1-4)

The airman/Übermensch, taken to his logical extreme, revels in destruction for its own sake. These “no-good gods” who “think to / Be rid forever of the voice of men” exterminate their supposed inferiors (CP lines 48-49). These alleged higher men do not ignore the little people as Nietzsche suggested; rather, they wipe them out. They are self-contained and self-involved, “humming to themselves” as they wreak havoc. Their inability to communicate indicates inhumanity; the only sounds they are capable of making, as Edna Longley notes in Louis MacNeice: A Study, “escalate the relation between propaganda and apocalypse into a bombardment of meaningless noise” (88). The trolls “ramble and rumble,” and “stumble and shamble”: their movements and noises are clumsy and uncontrolled, very unlike the poised airmen of earlier in the century, transitioning from Yeats’s Irish Airman into murderous trolls by way of Auden’s hapless Icarus. Like these earlier airmen, the Nazi pilots MacNeice describes in the poem lack community spirit, but they also lack intellect, language, and sensibilities that make them superior, or even ordinarily, human. In other words, the Übermensch in the air is not a human being at all but a purely destructive force.

Free to indulge their destructive instincts, Yeats’s airmen, taken to their twisted extreme in MacNeice’s wartime poems, become Nazi pilots who are the equivalent of dimwitted schoolyard bullies. They stomp on human beings and destroy cultural institutions as part of a twisted children’s game, complete with nursery-rhyme refrain:

            Skittle-alley horseplay, congurgitation…they don’t know what
                  they are doing,
            All they can do is stutter and lurch, riding their hobby,
            Their hobnails into our bodies, into our brains, into the domed
            Heads where the organ music lingers:
            Pretty Polly won’t die yet. (CP lines 6-10)

The refrain comes from a traditional English ballad in which a young man lures his lover into the woods and murders her. The repetition in the first three stanzas of “Pretty Polly won’t die yet” suggests not only the misogynist elements of the trollish airmen but also the endurance of English culture in the face of the bombing, an assertion similar to those in MacNeice’s 1941 London Letter. The trolls behave here like demented children; their planes turn into hobby horses, and the repetition of the syllable “hob” in the following line (“hobnails”) connects children’s play, in which imagination and instinct are often paramount, with adult violence. The “hobnails” of the trolls’ boots, for example, smash not only the bodies of the people but also “the domed / Heads where the organ music lingers.” This image describes a church but also calls to mind a bishop’s mitre, uniting architecture with the minds that carry culture forward. Beyond ideas of good and evil, religious faith, or social responsibility, the trolls gleefully smash the traditional arbiter of moral authority. The immaturity of Auden’s naïve and inconsequential Icarus reaches its limit with devastating consequences for the ploughman and the merchant sailor.

The second half of the poem defies the triumph of meaninglessness represented by the trolls. The trolls may be gleefully tearing up human civilization—“gurgling and tramping, licking their thumbs before they / Turn the pages over, tear them out, they / Wish it away…” (CP lines 15-7)—but they do not understand what death means to their apparently helpless victims:

            Swings on the poles of death
            And the latitude and longitude of life
            Are fixed by death, and the value
            Of every organism, act and moment
            Is, thanks to death, unique. (CP lines 34-9)

Although “fixed” with the precision of map coordinates, death in this poem is neither an end nor a means of self-mastery as it was for the airmen of Yeats and Auden. The Londoners suffering under the Blitz have not chosen the manner of their deaths, but their knowledge of the certainty of death gives meaning to every moment of life. The collective achieves “unique” individuality rather than collapsing into the “base” imagined by Day Lewis; MacNeice reverses the positions of the airman and the crowd. Peter McDonald connects this poem to a definition of death MacNeice advanced in an unpublished essay, “Broken Windows or Thinking Aloud,” probably written sometime in 1941:

The definition of death as ‘the opposite of decay; a stimulus, a necessary horizon’, works in ‘The Trolls’ as a way of assigning value to moments of time as well as to individual actions. A clear corollary of this is the celebration of the individual himself; uniqueness is finally the only answer to the trolls’ negation. The actual results of this in poetry, however, did not always strike a balance between the uniqueness of individuality and the reality of the external, destructive pressure of war. (McDonald 119)

In the final sentence, McDonald refers to other poems from Springboard like “The Casualty” and “The Kingdom,” which paint portraits of individual lives affected—or ended—by the “destructive pressure of war.” One wonders, though, whether the “balance” between individuality and negation of personality that McDonald notes is absent from the volume would actually improve its contents. In many ways, the volume argues for the importance of individual lives in the face of mass mechanized destruction. MacNeice’s method for encouraging resistance shows places and the individual faces shattered by war.

In the companion poem to “The Trolls,” “Troll’s Courtship,” the narrative perspective looks over the shoulder and into the damaged mind of the building-crushing, body-bruising troll. The aeronaut troll’s apparent strength arises in fact from weakness:

            I am a lonely troll after my gala night;
            I have knocked down houses and stamped my feet on the people’s
            I have trundled round the sky with the executioner’s cart
            And dropped my bait for corpses, watched them bite,
            But I am a lonely Troll—nothing in the end comes right. (CP lines 1-5)

The troll lashes out because he is alienated, not because he is beyond human concerns like compassion and community; the troll is “lonely” like Yeats’s airman, but instead of “delight” in the skies he finds only “nothing.” He destroys because he can find no place in a community. The troll’s detachment is the result not of superior intellect or ability, but of stupidity: “I cannot accurately conceive / Any ideal, even ideal Death, / My curses and my boasts are merely a waste of breath” (CP lines 11-13). The troll in the air is essentially a cipher, empty of ideas and incapable of thought because he has no fulfilling human relationships. The “courtship” in the title is of the mother figure the troll has never known—“Nostalgia for the breasts that never gave nor could / Give milk or even warmth has desolated me…” (CP lines 21-2). The troll’s inner landscape is a wasteland, “desolated” because he has never been loved or cared for, yet he still somehow remembers someone who was supposed to do so. In the end, it seems that airborne destructive capacity is the result of parental neglect. The airman is a defective child whose human affections were never properly nurtured. Again we see the freedom from human ties celebrated by Yeats’s Irish Airman and the pathetic fumbling of Auden’s lonely, neglected Icarus reinterpreted as machinic inhuman monsters in light of a sustained bombardment by all-too-real airmen.


A different kind of airman, more directly connected to the ideals of the aesthete, was also working his way into MacNeice’s poetry. When “Stylite,” which concerns a figure quite different from the rampaging trolls of the Springboard poems, appears in Plant and Phantom, the poem critiques the utopian impulses inherent in some of his contemporaries’ paeans to the man in the air. The Stylites were Christian ascetics in the early Byzantine Empire who demonstrated their contempt for the things of this world by literally living ‘above’ them—that is, they spent their days practicing mortification of the flesh while sitting on top of pillars. That MacNeice would satirize the notion of the saint who floats above the earth is not surprising; he was always more skeptical about the messianic power of an individual or a philosophy than many of his more overtly Marxist peers. The ascetic on his pillar becomes an image of the “differentiated” artist MacNeice refers to in The Poetry of W.B. Yeats, hobbled by his desire to remain apart from the crowd:

                        The saint on the pillar stands,
                        The pillar is alone,
                        He has stood so long
                        That he himself is stone;
                        Only his eyes
                        Range across the sand
                        Where no one ever comes
                        And the world is banned. (CP lines 1-8)

The panoptic gaze of Auden’s “helmeted airman” becomes “only...eyes,” a disembodied gaze over a desert where “the world is banned.” A new superman on a pillar joins the saint in the third and final stanza and challenges his asceticism. His counterpart eschews asceticism and disinterest:

                        A young man opposite
                        Stands in the blue,
                        A white Greek god,
                        Confident, with curled
                        Hair above the groin
                        And his eyes on the world. (CP lines 17-24)

The newcomer still stands above and thus outside the concerns of the everyday, but there are still important differences: his youth and his overt sexual energy, and the more engaged nature of his gaze—not to mention the fact that a god is more powerful than a saint. Robyn Marsack argues that the poem “personifies the opposition of Christian and Hellenic culture. The petrified...saint, with his consciousness of guilt and his determination to exclude the world, at the moment of instinctive reaction—in the face of death—has to recognize physical beauty, sensuality, and worldliness in the form of the young Greek god” (66). While we do see the stylite waking up to sensuality in the face of death, I think it is instructive to look at this poem in terms of MacNeice’s reading of Yeats and the airman; the renunciate—the saint on his pillar—is the “art for art’s sake” artist, while the young Greek god is the “man of action” following his instincts. We do not know to what ends, good or ill, his watching will lead, but it seems clear that for this energetic, powerful figure, his pillar is a site of engagement rather than escape.
            We see a different—and arguably more humane—interpretation of the stylite/airman in “The Springboard,” in which the man above the crowd is a Truly Weak Man who stands on high, about to come down. From the first stanza, the speaker positions the man on the springboard as a potential sacrifice, not a world-denying hermit. Unlike the Nietzschean airmen in Yeats, Day Lewis, and Auden, this man is afraid:

                        He never made the dive—not while I watched.
                        High above London, naked in the night
                        Perched on a board. I peered up through the bars
                        Made by his fear and mine but it was more than fright
                        That kept him crucified among the budding stars. (CP lines 1-5)

The man in the sky is “crucified” by his unbelief, despite knowing that “circumstances called for sacrifice” (line 7). He teeters on the edge of oblivion, wondering whether or not he is capable of making the ultimate sacrifice—once again, a very un-Nietzschean position, as the higher man is not expected to come back down to earth to help his neighbor up the mountain. The figure on the board does not even necessarily believe in the efficacy of his action:

                        If it would mend the world, that would be worth while
                        But he, quite rightly, long ago had ceased to believe
                        In any Utopia or in Peace-upon-Earth;
                        His friends would find in his death neither ransom nor reprieve
                        But only a grain of faith—for what it was worth. (CP lines 11-15)

The diver’s (in)action is meant to give strength and hope to others; this is a man who is “dying for the people” (line 20), not flying to his death in pursuit of freedom and sensual pleasure like Yeats’ airman, nor doing so in order to achieve self-mastery like Auden’s. MacNeice’s Truly Weak Man remains so, but comes back to Earth naked, without the typical protective gear of the airman, for the sake of other people. It is not only the sacrifice itself, but the nature of this sacrifice, that matters. The diver is an ‘airman’—that is, a potential superbeing—who neither disengages from the people in pursuit of a personal vision, like the Irish Airman or the stylite on his pillar, nor simply drops out of the sky, obscure and ignored, like Auden’s Icarus. Rather, he makes a conscious choice to leap from his high perch for the good of all, and is witnessed doing so (and thanked for it) by the spectators on the ground. This is, after all, a world and a war in which all are endangered: as Anna Teekell writes, MacNeice’s war poems work by “…collapsing the simple oppositions of self/other and friend/enemy into a poetics of the wartime guilt that inhabits the minds of even pacifists and neutrals, suggesting that in a world war, no soul is an island…” (95). There is no room in MacNeice’s poetics for simple isolationism.

Of the various incarnations of airmen discussed, the frozen diver resembles most closely Auden’s Icarus, captured before hurtling toward Earth to certain death. For Icarus, this moment is anticipated triumph; for the diver, it is “fear” and “more than fright.” Yet the death of Icarus in “Musée des Beaux Arts” is meaningless; no one is helped or hurt by it, and those who are in a position to witness it either do not or do not understand what they see—they simply go on about their own lives, blissfully unaware of the airman’s tragedy. The man on the springboard, on the other hand, is immediately recognizable as vulnerable in his nakedness, suspended in the air as a public spectacle, his death for the sake of the community a foregone conclusion. This vulnerability illustrates the distinction between MacNeice’s use of the airman trope, shaped by the invasion of Britain by air and by MacNeice’s experience of collaborative radio work in the BBC, and that of his contemporaries and predecessors. MacNeice typically regards the people on the ground as more important than the man in the air, even when he views the airman sympathetically, as in “The Springboard.” If the airman comes as an enemy, the people on the ground are ready to defy him, if not with anti-aircraft guns, then with cultural achievements. If he comes as a friend or an ally, then his purpose is to scatter his own atoms among them to save them from terror and despair. MacNeice’s airman cannot “mend the world” on his own; he lacks that capacity. He can only sacrifice himself so that those who witness his fall will be inspired to remake it themselves.

1. The idea of the “Truly Strong Man” is a contested topic in Auden criticism, and one that Auden himself changed his mind about at various points in his career. In her essay on Auden’s early career for the Oxford Online Handbook of Literature, Abbie Garrington argues that at this stage in his development, Auden’s exemplar for this trope is T.E. Lawrence, whom Auden argued had overcome his weakness to discover his strength in the unity of reason and action (12). Since this is the definition that informs the “Journal of an Airman” section of The Orators, this is what I take the term to mean for the purposes of the present essay.
2. All poems by Louis MacNeice appear in the Collected Poems, abbreviated CP in the text.

Works Cited

Auden, W.H. The English Auden: Poems, Essays, and Dramatic Writings, 1927-1939. Edited by Edward Mendelson, Random House, 1977.
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Cunningham, Valentine. British Writers of the Thirties. Oxford UP, 1988.

Danson Brown, Richard. Louis MacNeice and the Poetry of the 1930s. Northcote House, 2009.

Foster, R.F. W.B. Yeats: A Life Vol. II: The Arch-Poet. Oxford UP, 2003.

Garrington, Abbie. “Early Auden.” The Oxford Online Handbook to Literature, Oxford UP, March 2016, Accessed 4 May 2022.

Hynes, Samuel. The Auden Generation: Literature and Politics in England in the 1930s. Viking, 1977.

Lewis, C. Day. The Complete Poems. Stanford UP, 1992.

Longley, Edna. Louis MacNeice: A Study. Faber, 1988.

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MacNeice, Louis. Collected Poems. Edited by Peter McDonald, Faber, 2007.

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Marsack, Robyn. The Cave of Making. Clarendon, 1982.

McDonald, Peter. Louis MacNeice: The Poet in his Contexts.Clarendon, 1990.

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Stallworthy, Jon. Louis MacNeice. Faber, 1995.

Teekell, Anna. Emergency Writing: Irish Literature, Neutrality, and the Second World War. Northwestern UP, 2018.

Whittington, Ian. Writing the Radio War: Literature, Politics, and the BBC, 1939-1945.
            Edinburgh UP, 2018.

Williams, Keith. British Writers and the Media, 1930-1945. St. Martin’s, 1996.
Wills, Clair. That Neutral Island: A Cultural History of Ireland in the Second World War. Faber,

Woolf, Virginia. “The Leaning Tower.” Collected Essays, Vol. II. Harcourt, 1967, pp. 162-181.

Yeats, William Butler. Collected Works Vol. I: The Poems. Scribner, 1997.

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