The Strings are False: An Unfinished Autobiography

John Kerrigan writes:

Dodds suggests that he did not complete and publish The Strings Are False because it opened up his childhood in ways that would have been painful to his father and stepmother. It was one thing to set out the externals, as he had done in ‘Carrickfergus’ – ‘I was born in Belfast between the mountain and the gantries/To the hooting of lost sirens and the clang of trams’ – but another to excavate the trauma of his mother’s illness and death. What MacNeice could not make explicit in prose was worked out, however, in the poem ‘Autobiography’. The subject drew out of MacNeice something of the spare intensity of the later lyrics. Yet it also looks back to Yeats, about whom MacNeice was writing a book. Against the tenets of the 1930s, Yeats showed that poetry need not be fluid and documentary to be true to life. ‘The writer who despises form,’ MacNeice would later argue, ‘must still formalise even in selecting his material. To despise “form” will not bring him nearer reality but may very easily take him further from it.’

(LRB 7 February 2008)

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