Twelfth Night by Louis MacNeice

Louis MacNeice

Louis MacNeice

We all know the line “For now the time of gifts is gone” but are we familiar with the full poem? Louis MacNeice wrote Twelfth Night shortly after the end of World War 2. It is one of a group in which MacNeice records the loosening of the social bonds that bound British citizens, and the armed forces in particular, during the war.

Twelfth Night by Louis MacNeice

Snow-happy hicks of a boy’s world –
O crunch of bull’s-eyes in the mouth,
O crunch of frost beneath the foot –
If time would only remain furled
In white, and thaw were not for certain
And snow would but stay put, stay put!

When the pillar-box wore a white bonnet –
O harmony of roof and hedge,
O parity of sight and thought –
And each flake had your number on it
And lives were round for not a number
But equalled nought, but equalled nought!

But now the sphinx must change her shape –
O track that reappears through slush,
O broken riddle, burst grenade –
And lives must be pulled out like tape
To measure something not themselves,
Things not given but made, but made.

For now the time of gifts is gone –
O boys that grow, O snows that melt,
O bathos that the years must fill –
Here is dull earth to build upon
Undecorated; we have reached
Twelfth Night or what you will … you will.


2 thoughts on “Twelfth Night by Louis MacNeice

  1. dhammatranslate

    Thank you for that little tidbit. I started on In Tearing Haste sometime ago, but fearful of its joys coming to their inevitable end…put it aside to savour in small, far apart, doses. One of which has now surely come. Thank you again.

  2. Paul Kelly

    The working title “A Time of Gifts” was suggested to Paddy by his friend Sir Aymer Maxwell, brother of Gavin (Ring of Bright Water)Maxwell. Paddy used to stay at Aymer’s Greek retreat in Euboea whilst his own house was built in Kardamyli. More can be read of this on page 227 in the hardback edition of “Dashing for the Post”.


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