Friday, 7 August 2009

No Time to Stop and Stare

More World War 2 posters with sound advice here.

On the other hand, we should be grateful that Louis MacNeice paid no attention to these conventional wisdoms. Coming out of his house to watch a bombardment at 4am one morning, he found his neighbour already spectating with 'a connoisseur's detachment'. This is the scene which MacNeice describes:

'There was a violent crackling and hissing from the fire downhill, and a rich autumn smell of burning wood. And beyond my house the sky was a backcloth for opera or ballet, a sumptuous Oriental orange-print mottled with bursts of black and rolling like water so as sometimes to bury the moon — a half-moon that looked very clean and metallic in this welter of colour.'

MacNeice concludes that the fire is 'very beautiful', 'infinite' in its variety, and capable of 'subtleties never attained by any Impressionist painter.' No wonder people stood and stared.

Update: For the benefit of those of you who have arrived here looking for W. H. Davies's 'Leisure', here it is.


  1. "It is, we believe, / Idle to hope that the simple stirrup-pump / Will extinguish hell." It's amusing, for comparison's sake, that the only relevant Henry Reed anecdote I have is of him sheltering in a public lav with Conroy Maddox, during the Birmingham Blitz.

    Thanks for pointing to the posters and exhibition! I can't resist a link to the Keep Calm and Carry On Flickr pool, which is filled with different-sounding advice.

  2. The Welsh poet Lynette Roberts, regarded now as masterful World War II poet, describes her war as viewed in the village of Llanybri near the more famous home of Dylan Thomas. This is "Swansea Raid" from Village Dialect.
    "The night is clear, spacious, a himmel blue, and the stars minute pinpricks. The elbow-drone of jerries burden the sky and our sailing planes tack in and out with their fine metallic hum.
    Oh! look how lovely she is caught in those lights! Oh!
    From our high village on the Towy we can see straight down the South Wales Coast. Every searchlight goes up, a glade of magnesium waning to a distant hill which we know to be Swansea.
    Swansea's sure to be bad; look at those flares like a swarm of orange bees.
    They fade and others return. A collyrium sky, chemically washed CuDH2. A blasting flash impels Swansea to riot! higher, absurdly higher, the sulphuric clouds roll with their stench of ore, we breathe naphthalene air, the pillars of smoke writhe and the astringent sky lies pale at her sides. A Jerry overhead drops two flares; the cows returning to their sheds wear hides of cyanite blue, their eyes GLINTING OPALS! We, alarmed, stand puce beneath another flare, our blood distilled, cylindricals of glass. The raiders scatter, then return and form a piratic ring within our shores. High explosives splash up blue, white, and green. We know all copper compounds are poisonous, we know also where they are.
    Bleached, Rosie turns to fetch in the cows. I lonely, return to my hearth, there is a quiet clayfire with blue flames rising that would bring solace to any heart."
    See also her long five-part poem Gods with Stainless Ears.