Autumn Journal

Louis MacNeice

Autumn Journal by Louis MacNeice is a famous piece of work in Irish literature.

MacNeice writes about the period between August and December in 1938, when Ireland had many men fighting in the Spanish Civil War.

Autumn Journal was voted as one of Ireland’s 100 favourite poems in a vote by readers of the Irish Times in 1999.

Autumn Journal by Louis MacNeice

Autumn Journal

September has come and I wake
And I think with joy how whatever, now or in future,
the system
Nothing whatever can take
The people away, there will always be people
For friends or for lovers though perhaps
The conditions of love will be changed and its vices
And affection not lapse
To narrow possessiveness, jealousy founded on vanity.
September has come, it is hers
Whose vitality leaps in the autumn,
Whose nature prefers
Trees without leaves and a fire in the fire-place;
So I give her this month and the next
Though the whole of my year should be hers who has
rendered already
So many of its days intolerable or perplexed
But so many more so happy;
Who has left a scent on my life and left my walls
Dancing over and over with her shadow,
Whose hair is twined in all my waterfalls
And all of London littered with remembered kisses.
So I am glad
That life contains her with her moods and moments
More shifting and more transient than I had
Yet thought of as being integral to beauty;
Whose mind is like the wind on a sea of wheat,
Whose eyes are candour,
And assurance in her feet
Like a homing pigeon never by doubt diverted.
To whom I send my thanks
That the air has become shot silk, the streets are music,
And that the ranks
Of men are ranks of men, no more of cyphers.
So that if now alone
I must pursue this life, it will not be only
A drag from numbered stone to numbered stone
But a ladder of angels, river turning tidal.
Off-hand, at times hysterical, abrupt,
You are one I shall always remember,
Whom cant can never corrupt
Nor argument disinherit.
Frivolous, always in a hurry, forgetting the address,
Frowning too often, taking enormous notice
Of hats and backchat – how could I assess
The thing that makes you different?
You whom I remember glad or tired,
Smiling in drink or scintillating anger,
Inoppurtunely desired
On boats, on trains, on roads when walking.
Sometimes untidy, often elegant,
So easily hurt, so readily responsive,
To whom a trifle could be an irritant
Or could be balm and manna.
Whose words would tumble over each other and pelt
From pure excitement,
Whose fingers curl and melt
When you were friendly.
I shall remember you in bed with bright
Eyes or in a cafe stirring coffee
Abstractedly and on your plate the white
Smoking stub your lips had touched with crimson.
And I shall remember how your words could hurt
Because they were so honest
And even your lies were able to assert
Integrity of purpose.
And it is on the strength of knowing you
I reckon generous feeling more important
Than the mere deliberating what to do
When neither the pros nor cons affect the pulses.
And though I have suffered from your special strength
Who never flatter for points not fake responses,
I should be proud if I could evolve at length
An equal thrust and pattern.

Autumn Journal by Louis MacNeice. Image copyright Ireland Calling

Ireland’s 100 favourite poems