Thursday, August 26, 2010

Connections: ed ed - photograph - poem - poet - astrology book

Sometimes it's downright spooky, the way one thing leads to another. I occasionally wander into Flickr, my husband is a regular contributor there and has pointed me towards a couple of interesting pals of his. One of these, screen-name "ed ed" puts up his own wonderful photographs, always cleverly titled, occasionally with added text from books or poetry. (Link to ed ed's Flickr) Not long ago he posted a photograph he titled "sunlight on the garden" with, below it, a few lines from a poem by Louis MacNeice. I wasn't familiar with this poet and scholar of Irish/Northern Irish background, a contemporary and friend of W.H. Auden and Stephen Spender. This was soon remedied by reading everything of his available on-line. Much appealed to me.

My search threw up something quite surprising. Louis MacNeice also wrote a book on astrology - its title simply Astrology, published in 1964, after the author's untimely death in his fifties. The book was reportedly written on commisson and regarded by him as "a hack-job". Hmmm, never mind. Unless he had studied the subject in depth I suppose Mr MacNeice would have relied on earlier authors for material, though as a Greek scholar he would have had some background and perhaps an interest in the topic. I found a copy of Astrology on Ebay for $1 - wonders never cease! It's a hardbacked edition in excellent, almost new condition, only missing the dust jacket shown above. I quoted from it in yesterday's post.

I haven't had time to investigate all of the book yet, it arrived just before we left on our trip to Colorado. What I've read so far tells me enough to realise that it's a lot more than a "hack job". A writer of MacNeice's standing and scholarship would never write to the standard of what is usually considered a "hack job" - of that I feel sure.

An interesting point with regard to yesterday's post on Zodiac Sign Virgo: Louis MacNeice had Sun, Mercury, Venus conjoined in that sign!

Louis MacNeice was born on 12 September 1907 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He is described in one article from the Irish Times as being "by some accounts, at least, so remote and elusive that he might be conjured out of beer froth and cigarette smoke"; "shy and standoffish"; "morose"; "with, but not strictly of, the company"; "talkative when drunk". He's said to have drifted into alcoholism eventually. His death at age 56, though, was the result of viral pneumonia following a drenching received on the Yorkshire Moors, where he had been recording sound effects in a cave for his radio play.

A quick peek at his 12 noon chart then (click on it to enlarge):

Sun, Mercury and Venus conjoined in Virgo, one of the signs ruled by Mercury, the writer's planet. My husband's eldest daughter has the same birthday in a much later year, of course, and has the same 3 planets in Virgo + a couple more - she has been in the newspaper business for most of her career. In MacNeice's chart Saturn opposes the Virgo cluster from Pisces. Perhaps this opposition reflects his reputation for being rather unsociable - not "one of the crowd". In tarot Saturn connects to The Hermit card - kind of speaks for itself!

MacNeice in a nutshell from Columbia Encyclopedia at Answers:
Educated in England, he became a classical scholar and teacher and later was a producer for the British Broadcasting Corporation. In the 1930s MacNeice allied himself with a group of poets of social protest led by W. H. Auden. His later poetry, expressing the futility of modern life, retains the sparkling wit, ironical flatness of statement, and colloquial tone of his earlier verse. His volumes of poetry include Poems, 1925-1940 (1940), Springboard (1945), Holes in the Sky (1948), Ten Burnt Offerings (1952), and Solstices (1961). He also rendered poetic translations of Aeschylus' Agamemnon (1936) and Goethe's Faust (1951).
Many of his poems are written in a minimalist, lack of frills style, with a sharp insight into the human condition - something I always admire. He writes in simple, direct fashion, but there is subtlety just under the surface. For instance, this middle verse of his poem titled Snow. So simple yet so creatively descriptive!
World is crazier and more of it than we think,
Incorrigibly plural. I peel and portion
A tangerine and spit the pips and feel
The drunkenness of things being various.
"The drunkenness of things being various".......wonderful!

One of his poems, perhaps inspired by his book Astrology?


Forty-two years ago (to me if to no one else
The number is of some interest) it was a brilliant starry night
And the westward train was empty and had no corridors
So darting from side to side I could catch the unwonted sight
Of those almost intolerably bright
Holes, punched in the sky, which excited me partly because
Of their Latin names and partly because I had read in textbooks
How very far off they were, it seemed their light
Had left them (some at least) long years before I was.

And this remembering now I mark that what
Light was leaving some of them at least then,
Forty-two years ago, will never arrive
In time for me to catch it, which light when
It does get here may find that there is not
Anyone left alive
To run from side to side in a late night train
Admiring it and adding noughts in vain.

–Louis MacNeice,1963

I wonder is the "42" mentioned in the poem is the same "42" used by Douglas Adams to be the answer to "life, the universe and everything"?


Gian Paul said...

42 years: Half the time Uranus needs to make a full circle around the sun. Or the time he needs to oppose the position he held in any person's horoscope. Mid-life-crisis tends to be around then...

Twilight said...

Gian Paul ~~~ True! I wonder if that was in the mind of Louis MacNeice, after doing research in depth that was needed for his Astrology book.

I doubt that Douglas Adams had astrology in mind though, I seem to recall that he was something of a skeptic in that department. But he had such a zany mind that it's hard to be sure.