One of my favourite bits of MacNeice:
Upon the decks they take beef tea,
Who are so free, so free, so free,
But down the ladder in the engine-room
(Doom, doom, doom, doom.)
The great cranks rise and fall, repeat,
The great cranks plod with their Assyrian feet
To match the monotonous energy of the sea.
It starts off all fun and frolics, with the jazz band going and the cocktails coming. The rhythm and syncopation are infectiously camp. It’s all brushes and cymbals from the drummer, with the trumpeter warbling away at a solo and flapper girls strutting their stuff. (Yes, I know flappers were from the twenties, not the thirties, but grant me a little poetic licence.)
Then we go below-decks, and the privileged gaiety gives way to the relentless mechanical servitude of the pistons. Which MacNeice evokes brilliantly by taking us into the engine-room of the poem, the iambic niceties stripped away, leaving nothing but the pounding bare-bones beat of ‘doom’.
Obviously, the poem is a metaphor for politics (upper class v steerage) and maybe biology (luscious lips, fluttering lashes v beating heart). But the thing I like most about it is the feeling it gives me that life is somehow a metaphor for the poem.