IMG_0410When I came across this poem it immediately struck me. One of my facebook friends said it is one of his favourite poems and I can see why. It is full of emotion and alluringly vague at the same time.

The sunlight on the garden
Hardens and grows cold,
We cannot cage the minute
Within its nets of gold;
When all is told
We cannot beg for pardon.

Our freedom as free lances
Advances towards its end;
The earth compels, upon it
Sonnets and birds descend;
And soon, my friend,
We shall have no time for dances.

The sky was good for flying
Defying the church bells
And every evil iron
Siren and what it tells:
The earth compels,
We are dying, Egypt, dying

And not expecting pardon,
Hardened in heart anew,
But glad to have sat under
Thunder and rain with you,
And grateful too
For sunlight on the garden.

The sunlight is presented as something transient; it cannot be caught. It represents a beautiful moment. The light grows cold, it dies, with a certain kind of inevitability. The speaker tries to catch the minute but he cannot. Almost paradoxically, he also feels trapped within time. He says that ‘our freedom as free lances advances towards its end’. The words ‘lances’ and ‘advances’ give the poem a military feel, as if there is a group of soldiers marching towards their inevitable death. This is strengthened by the reference to Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra in the third stanza: ‘we are dying, Egypt’. Time drags him along towards an end he cannot escape.

The speaker therefore starts commemorating the time when ‘the sky was good for flying’. Slowly, he starts accepting the end of the sunlight and instead of protesting against it he is grateful. It is only in this last stanza that the true nature of the poem clearly shows: it is a love poem. This poem was written while MacNeice recovered from a divorce and it is often seen as a reflection on that. In the first stanza he sounds bitter and laments that he cannot hold on to their relationship, but in the last stanza he seems to have accepted what happened and he expresses his gratitude for the time he has spent with his wife.

Why is it so striking?

Even before trying to analyse this poem I found it very powerful. Not only because of its subject matter, but also because of its tone and the strong feelings it conveys. According to T.S. Eliot (an amazing poet himself) “genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood”. We do not need to understand every word MacNeice wrote to understand the emotions behind it. His text is appealing in its almost musical use of both end rhyme and internal rhyme. Moreover, his poems are often seen as being both very personal and provokingly universal. ‘The Sunlight on the Garden’ may express his or your feelings, but it can also be paralleled with people’s anxiety over the political situation in England at the time. All of these components together make the poem as striking as it is.


Louis MacNeice (1907-1963)

MacNeice was an Irish poet. He was known as ‘Freddie’ until his teens, when he decided to go by his middle name. In 1928 he married Mary Ezra, but she left him seven years later. He was a close friend of W.H. Auden and exchanged letters with T.S. Eliot. His poetry was very popular during his life-time. His audience appreciated his relaxed, but socially and emotionally aware style.

Fun fact: he telegraphed his father that he was engaged to soften the news that he had been arrested for drunkenness.

Source: Wikipedia


4 thoughts on “Poem | The Sunlight on the Garden by Louis MacNeice

  1. I have gone through a few of your posts and I find that your blog is interesting and well written. Just have to leave a comment to let you know. Have a wonderful new week!! Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

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