Sunlight on the Garden – Louis MacNeice – Analysis

Sunlight on the Garden
The sunlight on the garden
Hardens and grows cold,
We cannot cage the minute
Within its nets of gold;
When all is told
We cannot beg for pardon.
Our freedom as free lances
Advances towards its end;
The earth compels, upon it
Sonnets and birds descend;
And soon, my friend,
We shall have no time for dances.
The sky was good for flying
Defying the church bells
And every evil iron
Siren and what it tells:
The earth compels,
We are dying, Egypt, dying
And not expecting pardon,
Hardened in heart anew,
But glad to have sat under
Thunder and rain with you,
And grateful too
For sunlight on the garden.
Louis MacNeice (1907 – 1963)

The title – The Sunlight on the Garden – this creates an image in the mind and as soon as you have read the poem an association develops. As the poem is familiar immediate thoughts come to mind. But independently, I do like the image of garden and sunlight and how the garden is brought into prominence by the highlight of the sun. And if we mull over these words and what they conjure in the mind we can think of a garden scene and whether there is an unforgettable event prominent in our own personal thoughts. It is the key image that flows through the poem with repetition of text in the first and last lines. The poem explores a somewhat emotional journey as one specific instance is considered over time.

S1 … sad grief, loss … and that there can be no return to an event that happened … where perhaps choice was involved … where actions could have been different … maybe inappropriate behaviour, a wish that he had done differently … behaviour that cannot now be pardoned … at the same time a golden moment that has held personal value over the years.

S2 … time takes us quickly to an end … the world produces sonnets and birds … the created world, the product of man … and the natural world, both have beauty associations … but more important no time for dances … no time to be close together … a distinct feeling that there is a lamentation on a relationship

S3 … written in 1936 … the situation across the channel a little dark … flying, different birds are now involved, – blue sky shadows of evil iron = warplanes, and sirens suggests warning of air raids … we are dying … becoming history … Egypt symbolises history … his grief marries into the sad foreboding of war and the fact that life is changing not for the better

S4 … we are hardened by life experience … no pardon needed, if that was possible and now an acceptance, a thankyou … the end of reflection on personal experience … for being with someone very special … even if there has been thunder and rain … for sunlight on the garden … a repetition of title and the first line of the first stanza … glad for the golden moment … not troubled … and life can resume with the removal of this mind-shadow perhaps

The poem addresses those critical events in life when we wish we had made different choices. Events that we still hold on too, and perhaps find hard to accept even after many years.

On Wikipedia – Louis MacNeice – Wikipedia

Details on structure and poetic technique from Wikipedia …

The Sunlight on the Garden is a poem of four stanzas, each of six lines. It is a highly formal poem, and has been much admired as an example of MacNeice’s poetic technique. All the lines are loose three-beat lines or trimeters, except for the fifth line of each stanza, which is a dimeter. The rhyme scheme is ABCBBA. The A rhyme in the first stanza (“garden/pardon”) returns in the final stanza, but with the words reversed (“pardon/garden”). In addition to end rhyme, MacNeice makes use of internal rhyme, rhyming the end of the first line with the beginning of the second line (“lances/Advances”) and the end of the third line with the beginning of the fourth line (“under/Thunder”). George MacBeth comments that the rhyme scheme “has the effect of dovetailing the lines together and producing a constant sense of echo emphasising the lingering, fading quality of the joys of life which the poem is talking about.”[8]

2 thoughts on “Sunlight on the Garden – Louis MacNeice – Analysis

  1. Reblogged this on penwithlit and commented:
    I love this poem and MacNeice is a favourite poet. His radio plays and programmes on the BBC should be rebroadcasted. His political attitude remains honest and has stood the test of time.

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