Week 305: Cradle Song for Eleanor, by Louis MacNeice

This poem actually forms part of a collection published in 1941, but for me it evokes, in the way that MacNeice does better than anyone, even Auden, the claustrophobic, angst-laden feel of the nineteen-thirties, that uneasy sense of impending doom, like a shadow waiting at the end of the corridor. Which does not stop it also being a beautiful love lyric.

Cradle Song for Eleanor

Sleep, my darling, sleep;
The pity of it all
Is all we compass if
We watch disaster fall.
Put off your twenty-odd
Encumbered years and creep
Into the only heaven
The robbers’ cave of sleep.

The wild grass will whisper,
Lights of passing cars
Will streak across your dreams
And fumble at the stars;
Life will tap on the window
Only too soon again,
Life will have her answer –
Do not ask her when.

When the winsome bubble
Shivers, when the bough
Breaks, will be the moment
But not here or now.
Sleep and, asleep, forget
The watchers on the wall
Awake all night who know
The pity of it all.

Louis MacNeice


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