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Pylons

Dreamed Jan. 1940 by Louis MacNeice
from Louis MacNeice's unfinished autobiography/journal, The Strings Are False, posthumously published 1965.

BEFORE

For five months I had been tormented by the ethical problems of the war [in September Hitler invaded Poland]. In Ireland most people said to me "What is it to you?" while many of my friends in England took the line it was just power politics. Why [defend] Poland of all places? And then there was [England's exploitation of] India. I had decided, however, that any choice now was a choice of evils and that it was clear which was the lesser.

But it is hard to risk your life for a Lesser Evil on the off-chance of some entirely problematical betterment for most likely a mere minority in a dubious and dirty future. I felt that I was not justified in supporting the war verbally unless I were prepared to suffer from it in the way that the unprivileged must suffer. But I was not yet prepared to do this, so I had made use of certain of my privileges to escape for a little to America. I had an especial reason for wanting to return to America, but apart from that I thought I could think things out there, get myself clear before I went back into the maelstrom. Clarification--it may be too much to demand of most people but a writer must demand it of himself.

On the day we landed in New York [the man from] Winnipeg had put an extra load of brilliantine on his hair and the refugees were crowding the deck to watch the towers of Manhattan--a cluster of mad aspirations, a weight of concrete plumped on the lid of Europe to keep the bad dreams down. Only the Catalan [a refugee from the Spanish Civil War] said to me: 'That is not my idea of a city.' There was ice around the quays, the air was sharp on the nose, the sky was a candid blue like the eyes of a frigid woman. I went down the gangway to meet a nine months' longing....

THE DREAM

My second night on shore I found myself again on a steamer. Who had enjoyed so much and believed in so little, who with pinpricks of malice and minutiae of wit and spasms of song had manoeuvred my way to a certain reputation and a comfortable income, I found myself riding to my doom on a steamer that was running amok. Among other steamers that were running amok--the machines at last taking over, the skippers and pilots and engineers ignored--in a boiling yellow incredible sea out of which great pylons stood up like hazards. The steamers were all converging, bound to collide, but it looked as if first we should strike on a pylon.

Digital sketch by Chris Wayan of a dream by Louis MacNeice: runaway steamships on a golden sea, smashing into pylons.
At the last split second our boat swerved clear but I was flung high in the air, caught an upper bar of the pylon, hung there like an ape above the cauldron, was still hanging on when I woke; and I woke exhilarated, happy.



LISTS AND LINKS: political dreams - war - fascism - cities - towers - ships - oops - crash! - flying - dream humor - King Kong - joy - a weirder ship on a Lemon Sea - 3 years earlier, MacNeice dreams of the coming war in Garden of Swords

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