Laurence Inman is full of wrath… Cape Wrath

There are interesting connections between WH Auden, Iceland and Bournville. Laurence Inman explains…..

waterfall... in Iceland!

waterfall… in Iceland!

Cape Wrath, right at the north-western tip of mainland Scotland, was, until this month, known to me only through the late-night shipping forecast.

Now I’m here. Or at least I will be by the time anyone reads this.

I have come here because it’s nearer than Iceland. And this has coincided with my discovery (or re-discovery; frankly I can’t remember) of Louis MacNeice’s 1930s poems dealing with life in Birmingham and his trip to Iceland with W H Auden. Anything he said about Iceland could (more than) apply to Cape Wrath. Anyway, the name alone makes up the difference.

I own a slightly battered copy of MacNeice’s Collected Poems, edited for Faber by his old boss at Birmingham University, E R Dodds. There’s a brilliant photo of him on the cover.

What Brummie couldn’t thrill to the opening lines of ‘Ode’ ?

          Tonight is so coarse with chocolate

              The wind blowing from Bournville.

It develops into a long meditation on time, place and his hopes for his young son.

I do not want a hundred wives or lives

         Any more than I want to be too well read

        Or have money like sand or ability like the hydra’s heads

        To flicker the tongues of self-engendering power,

        I want a sufficient sample, the exact and framed

        Balance of definite masses, the islanded hour.

I could quote the whole thing quite happily. If the final lines don’t bring you to a blubber, then there’s no point in poetry.

On August 16 1936 he writes a letter in loose conversational verse to two chums, Graham and Anna in N W 8, explaining his motives for his voyage to Iceland, setting


        The obscure but powerful ethics of Going North.

    …………………we must mortify

        Our blowsy intellects before we die,

        Who feed our brains on backchat and self-pity

        And always need a noise, the radio or the city

I say Yes to all that.

I say, Let’s have a good sweeping-out of the greasy dust that’s settled in the corners of the soul. Let’s be quiet and re-assume a bit of mental toughness.


Standing desk update: got the timber for the supports and have sawn them to size. (Couldn’t have got them in the shed otherwise: 4 metre lengths from Manjit’s.)