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Garden of Swords

Dreamed 1937 by Louis MacNeice

Shortly after seeing the film of Dr. Mabuse, I had the following dream.

I had been invited to a houseparty. The party was given on a little peninsula in a marshy lagoon at the end of nowhere; the other side of the lagoon was invisible. The peninsula consisted of a long-neglected garden in the centre of which was a knoll on top of which was a house. This house was a skeleton; the boards of the walls and floors had gone, there remained only the structural beams and the staircase. There were many people--everyone I knew--being social in the garden, but I, having arrived late, went straight through them up to the house where I unpacked my suitcase and laid out my spongebag and brush and comb and (I think) some books upon the floor, i.e. upon the ground. Then instead of joining the other guests, I went up the staircase and picked my way over the joists which had supported the upper floor (I have always liked climbing over ruined houses).

While I was perched up there it happened. The alarm. Like sirens or bells but you could not hear it, it was more like the shiver on a pond when a breeze comes on it out of nothing. At once the people in the garden began flooding down towards the entrance in the narrow neck of the peninsula, like beasts fleeing from a forest fire. For They were coming. I hurriedly climbed down, ran after my friends who were by now nearly all at the entrance. The sky was getting darker and the air itself denser and breathing like an animal asleep.

But as I caught them up I remembered my suitcase, I knew it was unimportant, what was of vital, of final importance was escape. All the same I went back up the knoll to the house, collected my belongings, put them in my suitcase, and carried it down the garden which by now was empty of people.

I found myself walking along an overgrown path and in the flower borders on either side there was growing, instead of flowers, a regular row of swords planted with the point up as regularly as tulips, curving shining swords. I hurried on to the neck of the peninsula and there was a wall of rough stones, in it a little Gothic gateway such as you find in Victorian rookeries. In this gateway there stood a soldier in khaki with a fixed bayonet. I stopped in front of him. He remained fixed with a fixed bayonet. A terrifying imbecile cackle made me look behind and there at my left shoulder stood Dr. Mabuse from the film, cackling and leering; he had a great bush of orange-red hair.

On sight of him I awoke.


Nineteen thirty-eight was like my dream of the skeleton house. The alarm came in the autumn. Perched on the very joists I scrambled down quickly, began shrieking for solidarity. The terror that seized London during the Munich crisis was that dumb, chattering terror of beasts in a forest fire. In Piccadilly Circus at midnight hand after hand shot out as if from robots, grabbed the Extra Editions. The intelligentsia sat in the Cafe Royal moaning about their careers--there would be no more picture shows, no more publishing of books, no more (and how Marx would have laughed) free speech...

Then Chamberlain signed on the line and we all relapsed... Newsreels featured the life of Chamberlain--the Man of Peace after 2,000 years.

--Louis MacNeice


--Chris Wayan

LISTS AND LINKS: nightmares - blades - predictive dreams - war - politics - compare to Jung's Premonitions of World War 1 - Was Hitler really as mad as Mabuse? - MacNeice in 1940 has a crazier dream of the war as a ship-race toward Pylons

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