London Rain – Louis MacNeice

This year many of the the poets visited in our U3A (University of Third Age) sessions have had some connection with religious ministry. When you come to think about it it is not surprising. Ministers are thought-full people – don’t you think!

Louis MacNeice was no exception. His father was a Protestant minister who later became a bishop of the Anglican Church of Ireland. Below is Louis MacNeice’s poem ‘London Rain’, written at a time of conflict in Europe. He wrestles with thoughts on God as he looks out late at night on the rain. Sharing my comments which are shown in italics after each stanza.

 London Rain

The rain of London pimples
The ebony street with white
And the neon lamps of London
Stain the canals of night
And the park becomes a jungle
In the alchemy of night.

London night-time rain … I love that word pimples and the catch of light in the pimple from the street lamps … ebony = rich dark black wood … giving a little gloss to the dark … and there is a whole new mapping of the streets … as in a chemical reaction …the light staining, leaving it’s mark

My wishes turn to violent
Horses black as coal–
The randy mares of fancy,
The stallions of the soul–
Eager to take the fences
That fence about my soul.

This looks like dissatisfaction on where he is in life … in terms of violent horses … he wants to break free … and this may be a spiritual unrest when we look at later stanzas

Across the countless chimneys
The horses ride and across
The country to the channel
Where warning beacons toss,
To a place where God and No-God
Play at pitch and toss.

Well his thoughts travel across the channel to the war and this occupies his mind … God and No-God (the Good and the Bad) playing pitch and toss = a game of skill and chance

Whichever wins I am happy
For God will give me bliss
But No-God will absolve me
From all I do amiss
And I need not suffer conscience
If the world was made amiss.

He is talking about the God/No-God battle going on in his mind. If there is a God – everything will be OK and if No-God then it doesn’t matter about all the conscience problems … these are his on-going thoughts as he watches the rain … his logic…dare I say late-night logic!

Under God we can reckon
On pardon when we fall
But if we are under No-God
Nothing will matter at all,
Adultery and murder
Will count for nothing at all.

Expounding his thoughts from the previous stanza … bad behaviour will not matter … no accountability… and under God we will be absolved of all our missdemeanours.

So reinforced by logic
As having nothing to lose
My lust goes riding horseback
To ravish where I choose,
To burgle all the turrets
Of beauty as I choose.

So his logic suggests to him that this horse can ride amuck with no consequence … taking the No-God ride so to speak … and using this to justify any course of action

But now the rain gives over
Its dance upon the town,
Logic and lust together
Come dimly tumbling down,
And neither God nor No-God
Is either up or down.

It looks as though it has stopped raining for a while … and in sync. with this his God/No-God thinking seems to fall away too … well it is late night and he is a little confused

The argument was wilful,
The alternatives untrue,
We need no metaphysics
To sanction what we do
Or to muffle us in comfort
From what we did not do.

The argument was very wilful = headstrong … and indeed ‘we need no metaphysics = abstract thinking’ … and in his case no ‘God/No-God’ thoughts to work out what we should be doing or to justify our actions. (I might add that those that shout God is on our side are often using God to justify their ungodly actions.)

Whether the living river
Began in bog or lake,
The world is what was given,
The world is what we make.
And we only can discover
Life in the life we make.

Bog and lake are references to his Irish / English heritage. For me this is the key stanza … it is up to us to make what we will of the world, of this gift … and we can only discover how we should live in living life. In a sense it is up to us – our responsibility to create our own God (and if we do happen to believe in an external God then perhaps our understanding of God may come clearer). Focus on the gift of the present, the here and now…don’t worry about what is happening overseas!

So let the water sizzle
Upon the gleaming slates,
There will be sunshine after
When the rain abates
And rain returning duly
When the sun abates.

Well, rain and sun one will follow the other in an endless cycle (good and bad) – that is the way of the world and we have to accept it – (hopefully life improves over time!)

My wishes now come homeward,
Their gallopings in vain,
Logic and lust are quiet,
And again it starts to rain;
Falling asleep I listen
To the falling London rain.

His mind is now back on where he is … in his room looking out on the falling rain … the logic/lust distraction of thought in vain … and the wild horses that took his thoughts away at the beginning of the poem bring him home again … he notices it has started to rain again … falling rain and enough thinking for one night falls asleep… let’s hope he has pleasant dreams!

(The rhyming scheme is a b c b d b – with a repeat end word in lines four and six of each stanza).

2 thoughts on “London Rain – Louis MacNeice

  1. Reblogged this on penwithlit and commented:
    I very much like the poetry of MacNeice and return to it often. I like poems about the rain as well notably the stunning “A Description of a London Shower” by Jonathan Swift.

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