Sep. 12, 2002

Soap Suds

by Louis MacNeice

(RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Soap Suds," by Louis MacNeice from Collected Poems (Faber & Faber).

Soap Suds

This brand of soap has the same smell as once in the big
House he visited when he was eight: the walls of the bathroom open
To reveal a lawn where a great yellow ball rolls back through a hoop
To rest at the head of a mallet held in the hands of a child.

And these were the joys of that house: a tower with a telescope;
Two great faded globes, one of the earth, one of the stars;
A stuffed black dog in the hall; a walled garden with bees;
A rabbit warren; a rockery; a vine under glass; the sea.

To which he has now returned. The day of course is fine
And a grown-up voice cries Play! The mallet slowly swings,
Then crack, a great gong booms from the dog-dark hall and the ball
Skims forward through the hoop and then through the next and then

Through hoops where no hoops were and each dissolves in turn
And the grass has grown head-high and an angry voice cries Play!
But the ball is lost and the mallet slipped long since from the hands
Under the running tap that are not the hands of a child.

It's the birthday of the publisher Alfred A. Knopf, born in New York City in 1892.

It's the birthday of the author of The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje, born in Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) (1943). He grew up in an English colonialist family, with self-indulgent, frivolous parents. But by the time he was six, his mother had left him and his alcoholic father for England. Eventually he followed her there, and moved on to Canada to study literature. The English Patient is set in Tuscany at the end of World War II, and about the relationship between a mysterious, badly burned patient and his nurse. In an interview, Ondaatje explained his desire to write, saying, "one of the things that happens in novels…it's almost like a continual debate with yourself. That's why you're writing the book. It's why you create characters: so you can argue with yourself."

It's the birthday of H. L. Mencken, born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1880. When he was young he had to help his dad with his successful cigar factory for three years. He hated it and was horrible at all his tasks including sales and bookkeeping. At night he would spend his free time reading the classics and books on journalism. One day his father collapsed and he ran in the snow to fetch a doctor, thinking to himself that if his father died, he would be free. His father did die, and he turned to writing immediately, editing a number of publications. He called his new life of editing and writing "the maddest, gladdest existence ever enjoyed by mortal youth." Eventually he co-founded the American Mercury. He said: "The chief contribution of Protestantism to human thought is its massive proof that God is a bore," and "The capacity of human beings to bore one another seems to be vastly greater than that of any other animals."

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