Snow. Louis MacNeice.

Snow. Louis MacNeice. Various collections 1940-1960s approx. Poetry, 1965 approx.

A friend has sent me a subscription to The New Criterion, a periodical containing educated diatribes on art and other subjects from a right-of-center perspective. John F Kennedy, for example, is according to an article in the current issue incorrectly remembered primarily for having championed civil rights, and his assassination was at the time (and continues to be) ascribed to bigotry, hatred, violence, and other right-wing nightmares in spite of the fact that Lee Harvey Oswald was a communist and probably acting out of concern over Kennedy’s pressing forward the Cold War against Russia (his wife was Russian) and over Cuba (he was a card-carrying admirer of Castro).

But of course Kennedy was doing a variety of things. The left may have won the marketing contest over his assassination, but the right might have had at least as strong an argument. And even to contemplate the contest is to give in to the platonic-driven and for that matter democratic idea that the majority rules under the sway of ideas, the simpler the better.

So Lewis MacNeice’s poem Snow came to my caffeine-enhanced mind this morning

The room was suddenly rich and the great bay-window was
Spawning snow and pink roses against it
Soundlessly collateral and incompatible:
World is suddener than we fancy it.

World is crazier and more of it than we think,
Incorrigibly plural. I peel and portion
A tangerine and spit the pips and feel
The drunkenness of things being various.

And the fire flames with a bubbling sound for world
Is more spiteful and gay than one supposes –
On the tongue on the eyes on the ears in the palms of one’s hands –
There is more than glass between the snow and the huge roses.

The reference seemed to me at first to be mixed up: the glass wouldn’t have been between the snow and roses, picturing an early fall snowstorm with pieces of late pink roses on a climbing hybrid tea outside falling against the window along with big conflated snowflakes, maybe in a bit of a wind. But the roses could as easily be in a vase inside, close enough to the window to touch it. And that makes the metaphor work.

The glass is our precious constructed point of view as we describe, see, hear, and handle “world”. I shouldn’t belabour the point being made here but of course I will.  The devil is in the detail, but so are the angels.  Generalities we assume and live by, not laziness or greed, are the devil’s machine. No generalization is worth a damn, including this one.

Take world as it comes, but don’t forget that without generalities we’d face an infinitely more devastating wind than the one blowing pretty things against MacNeice’s window two generations ago. 9.2

About John Sloan

John Sloan is a senior academic physician in the Department of Family Practice at the University of British Columbia, and has spent most of his 30 years' practice caring for the frail elderly in Vancouver. He is the author of "A Bitter Pill: How the Medical System is Failing the Elderly", published in 2009 by Greystone Books. His innovative primary care practice for the frail elderly has been adopted by Vancouver Coastal Health and is expanding. Dr. Sloan lectures throughout North America on care of the elderly.
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