“The Cyclist” is my favorite Louis MacNeice poem. It has no political content, nor topical relevance, nor contemporary references. It is timeless, and evocative of timelessness. That’s why I saved it for the last.
By Louis MacNeice
Freewheeling down the escarpment past the unpassing horse
Blazoned in chalk the wind he causes in passing
Cools the sweat of his neck, making him one with the sky,
In the heat of the handlebars he grasps the summer
Being a boy and to-day a parenthesis
Between the horizon’s brackets; the main sentence
Is to be picked up later but these five minutes
Are all to-day and summer. The dragonfly
Rises without take-off, horizontal,
Underlining itself in a sliver of peacock light.
And glaring, glaring white
The horse on the down moves within his brackets,
The grass boils with grasshoppers, a pebble
Scutters from under the wheel and all this country
Is spattered white with boys riding their heat-wave,
Feet on a narrow plank and hair thrown back
And a surf of dust beneath them. Summer, summer —
They chase it with butterfly nets or strike it into the deep
In a little red ball or gulp it lathered with cream
Or drink it through closed eyelids; until the bell
Left-right-left gives his forgotten sentence
And reaching the valley the boy must pedal again
Left-right-left but meanwhile
For ten seconds more can move as the horse in the chalk
Moves unbeginningly calmly
Calmly regardless of tenses and final clauses
Calmly unendingly moves.
These have been my personal selections from MacNeice’s poems. If you want to read more, there seem to a few copies of the Selected Poems and the Collected Poems available on Amazon.
Not all of his work has aged well; plenty of the poems are windy and tedious. However, there are some interesting pieces that I have left out, and also much to interest the classicist. MacNeice has a better claim to fame than many of his cohort whose works have remained in print.