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Louis Macneice (Frederick Louis Macneice) Biography

(1907–63), (Frederick Louis Macneice), Christopher Columbus, The Dark Tower, Blind Fire-works, Poems

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British poet, born in Belfast, educated at Merton College, Oxford, where he began friendships with W. H. Auden and Stephen Spender. After lecturing at the University of Birmingham and London University from 1930 to 1940, he was a writer and producer with the BBC from 1941 until his death. Among the many plays for radio he produced were a number of his own works, of which Christopher Columbus (1944) and The Dark Tower (1947) are considered classics of the genre. Blind Fire-works (1929), his first volume of poetry, appeared in his final year at Oxford. Although the social concern in his verse of the 1930s is apparent, it lacks the doctrinaire political tone occasionally encountered in the work of Auden, Spender, and C. Day Lewis, with whom he was closely associated. His collections of the period include Poems (1935), The Earth Compels (1938), containing some of his most memorable love poems, and Autumn Journal (1938), a topical meditation on events leading up to the Munich crisis. His numerous later collections of verse include Spring-board (1944), Holes in the Sky (1948), Visitations (1957), and The Burning Perch (1963). Collected Poems, edited by E. R. Dodds, appeared in 1966. Both his lyric poetry and his more discursive verse are characterized by what Geoffrey Grigson termed the ‘certainty and peculiarity and delicacy of his rhythms’. His work often has an idiosyncratic lightness of touch allowing imagery of unusual vividness to border on fantasy without diminishing an underlying seriousness. His Belfast origins and the presence in his work of Irish themes and tones have latterly identified him as a precursor of the Ulster poets (see Ulster poetry) who emerged in the mid-1960s. Among his many other publications are Letters from Iceland (1937), his entertaining collaboration with Auden; the autobiographical The Strings Are False (1965); and The Poetry of W. B. Yeats (1941), the best-known of his critical works. There is a definitive biography, Louis MacNeice (1995) by Jon Stallworthy.

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