House on a Cliff. By Louis MacNeice.
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House on a Cliff
By Louis MacNeice
The imagery of the first line and second line is very symbolistic of a lighthouse which safe guards boats from rocks possibly implying the lamp is significant as protection from outside elements. This develops the poems strong sense of interiority and exteriority.
The alliteration in the first line of the poem and a stress on the words “oil lamp” emphasises the lamps significance on the of the house. Could also reference the common phrase “burning the midnight oil” and the hard night-work of the person living in the house. The word for when someone working hard through the night is elucubrating. The speaker in this poem is therefore elucubrating.
Indoors the tang of a tiny oil lamp. OutdoorsThe winking signal on the waste of sea.Indoors the sound of the wind. Outdoors the wind.Indoors the locked heart and the lost key.
The stanza also has very negative connotations towards the solitude of the candle in the dark, very much like the houses geographical situation. Referencing line 4 the person has also withdrawn themselves emotionally from life not emotionally investing in anything.
Line 3 is a effective summary of the concept of the poem. The protection of home and the warmth as opposed to the brutality of the naturally world outside.
The strong man in line in line 6 is being lured out of his house by the beauty of her/nature. Similar to the concept of the siren in the previous line, the blind clock shows how the time seems never ending and unavoidable when there is a storm/when she is there.
The sirens mentioned could be an ambulance or the Greek mythologicalbeast which lured men from their ships to kill them. This indicates that outside is dangerous yet represents freedom.
The contrast in the two “people” is very significant as they represent their environments, they are personifications of the environments. The man being the calm, strong, loving and protecting person representing the house. The woman is brutal, powerful, beautiful and spiteful.
Outdoors the chill, the void, the siren. IndoorsThe strong man pained to find his red blood cools,While the blind clock grows louder, faster. OutdoorsThe silent moon, the garrulous tides she rules.
Linking this with the previous stanza, she holds the key to his heart but he can never be with her as she is nature. This could explain his reason for living in solitude that he was pursuing what he loved.
The power of nature that she commands is not just the sea, which he admires, she also has power over him. The sibilance of the last line implies an overwhelming enticement he has for her yet portraying her as the moon shows the distance between them and that they’ll never be together.
The last two lines of the poem round off very neatly as they link back to the strong man. It is almost as if he is talking to himself as he remains “purposeful” (meaning to do something but not having the energy or passion to do it), this is expressive of yet more interiority.
Line 10 is foreshadowing the starting stanza and the sea reference, however we wouldn’t associate the sea as being empty, which suggests an emptiness inside the speaker.Possible talking again about his true love.
The first line talking about the ”curse-cum-blessing” is a reference to MacNeice's Irish heritage.
Indoors ancestral curse-cum-blessing. OutdoorsThe empty bowl of heaven, the empty deep.Indoors a purposeful man who talks at crossPurposes, to himself, in a broken sleep.
(See notes) The man suffers from somniloquy which is sleep talking, this often occurs when waking from a dream.
The fixed four line structure and consistent rhyme scheme represents the strength that the house’s structure provides, even from the lures of natures beauty.
A bowl metaphorically meaning the sky, is a strange thing to symbolise the heavens, shows a breaking down of boundaries.