Louis MacNeice Poems
Love as Presented by Brian Friel and Louis MacNiece
This essay will examine the scene in which Maire and Yolland finally kiss from Brian Friel’s play “Translations” and the poem “Meeting Point” by Louis MacNeice to discuss how both authors present love as something which transcends universal boundaries: in Friel it transcends the boundaries of language and words; and in MacNeice, it transcends the boundaries of time and space. The transcendence is therefore more human in Friel, and more physical in MacNeice. Both writers use repetition to present their ideas. In Friel, the repetition is light-hearted and connects the characters Maire and Yolland, despite their failure to communicate in any conventional sense. In MacNeice, the repetition interrupts the flow of time, suggesting that love has suspended its relentless passage.
The repetition in the scene from “Translations” initially creates a painful, circular linguistic pattern, showing the characters’ plight to be trapped in a state of uncommunicative and inconsequential dialogue. Characters repeat themselves (“Earth…Earth”, “George…George”) and they repeat each other’s phrases (“O my God…O my God”, “Say anything at all. I love the sound of your speech…Say anything at all. I love the sound of your speech”). Whilst this repetition highlights their plight, it also emphasises the fact that it is a shared plight, with dramatic irony making the repetition even more overt for the audience who are aware of the fact of repetition whilst the characters are not. They share the same misfortune, and, we see, the same emotions (“the futility of it…the futility of it”). The endless repetition is funny in English, but unnoticed for the characters, which blends humour with the tragic fact that whilst these two characters love each other they are unable to communicate their feelings in any conventional way due to the constrains of language.
However, they do not need to communicate in any conventional way: their feelings are communicated despite the fact that the words carry no literal meaning to their recipient. Both characters remark that they “love the sound” of the other’s “speech”, and merely hearing each other talk makes them both “smile”. Indeed, even though they cannot understand each other, they claim to “know” what they’re “saying”. In fact, the one instant of the scene where the words carry only literal meaning, when Maire speaks “as if English were her language”, leads to “misunderstanding” and the characters’ moving “away” from each other, instead of “closer” as before. This provides a visual representation of the characters becoming “closer” through an understood deeper meaning and moving “away” when only speaking literally. Friel has shown how love is able to transcend the boundaries of language and words to allow two people to communicate their love in a language neither can understand.
MacNeice also employs repetition in his poem, but instead of evoking a plight of inability to communicate, it represents a transcendence of conventional perceptions of time. Time is usually linear, a relentless process of change. But in MacNeice’s poem, the structure of time does not flow in one linear progression, but is made up of many circular cycles. Each stanza is 5 lines long, with the 5th line an exact repetition of the 1st. As well as intra-stanza repetition there is also inter-stanza repetition, with the refrain of “Time was away” at the poem’s beginning, middle and end. Indeed, it is this refrain of “Time was away” which spells out the poem’s message that love can transcend time, and it is repeated with a difference in the last stanza: instead of “Time was away and somewhere else”, it is “Time was away and she was here”, thus explaining why Time is absent. The meeting of loves “stops” time, and the repetition throughout the poem evidences this.
The poem suggests that love does not only transcend time, but space too. The natural imagery of the “stream…flowing through heather” and the “miles of sand” in the “desert” suggests that the lovers, without moving, have travelled far far away from the “coffee shop” in which they sit. Sound ceases to exist too, when the lovers meet, as the bell, which “clanged” before, becomes “silent”. There is a motif of merging as well, with the “two people” who have “one pulse”, and the room which becomes “one glow”. This idea of that which is separate being made whole by love is echoed through the ABABA rhyme scheme, which weaves throughout the poem, like two intertwined lovers. The paradox of “praising” a “God” who makes a “heart” which “verifies” his own existence highlights the idea that love exists beyond the rational, and has transcended all physical laws of time, space, and logic.
Both writers therefore present love as something which heightens human existence by releasing us from the restraints of universal boundaries such as language or time. For Friel, love allows us access to a heightened experience of interpersonal communication which is beyond words, and for MacNeice it allows us to access a heightened physical existence beyond space and time.