September has come & I wake to questions about my favourite poem

September has come and one Twitter exchange this afternoon has made me consider poetry. Which I rarely do. Still, Megan from Writers’ Greenhouse posted a link to Autumn Journal by Louis Macneice today – my favourite poem.

Why is it my favourite? Well, I love it because I was born in September and my nature prefers trees without leaves and a fire in the fireplace. And pulling on jumpers and knee high boots and foraging for conkers and making jam and kicking leaves and eating plum crumble and custard. Autumn’s a lovely season. And I love it because the poem talks about a real woman, one with complications and contradictions who isn’t afraid to voice opinions and do what she wants. She feels real to me, the subject of the poem. I know nothing about MacNeice. I just love this.

So Megan (I use first names like we’re old friends – to be clear, I’ve bought some seed packets from her (review here) and we follow each other on Twitter. It’s a cyber relationship) tweeted that she was still trying to decide whether saying someone’s mind was like “the wind on a sea of wheat” was a compliment or not. Of course it is! I thought. How could it be otherwise?

It’s funny how one person’s understanding of a thing which is open to interpretation can make you start to question your own thinking. Should I take it as a compliment? Should I look for more?

I don’t read much poetry. I certainly haven’t seriously analysed any since A level English Lit. I skipped the poetry in AS Byatt’s Possession.  I find it hard to fit in – where do you read it? Why do you read it? I can’t see myself curling up with a book of poems on a quiet evening. And I’ll be honest, despite this being my favourite poem, I find it hard to get the rhythm going for the first few lines and tend to skip them too. Should you choose, you may want to dismiss my thoughts, I know I would.

Leaving aside the mixed metaphor (which someone else pointed out and with which I have no problem) what is it trying to say? I’ve always considered it to mean her thoughts were a breath of fresh air, a ruffling of what was otherwise a mass consensus. I like the visual, a ripple across a beige sea of wheat. I’d consider that a compliment. I suppose it’s debatable whether others consider stirring in that way to be a good thing. Having often ruffled people the wrong way, I have to say that it is or plunge myself into a pit of self-doubt and despair.

Of course that’s just if you think it’s a gentle breeze. It could be a harsher wind, a destructive wind, something contrary for the sake of it. Except that I don’t think that would fit with the rest of the poem. He admires her. He likes the way she thinks, despite being challenged by her sometimes. He can never shake her, her hair is twined in all his waterfalls. She’s blunt, she’s sometimes rude, she doesn’t necessarily think before she speaks, she’s ruled by the heart – “It is on the strength of knowing you/ I reckon generous feeling more important/ Than the mere deliberating what to do,” It’s essentially, to me at least, a hymn to blunt speaking. In a world that still tells women to shut up how great is that?

It’s not clear that the relationship is a positive ongoing one. “So that if now alone I must pursue this life,” says MacNeice, he will remember her. She has made his life more colourful. It’s the greatest compliment I could be paid. Whether my thinking is erratic, non original and occasionally blunt, it at least brightened someone’s life.

I welcome alternative views. No,  really, I do.


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