The serious action

  • David Trotter
Part of the Language, Discourse, Society book series


Louis MacNeice’s ‘Carrickfergus’ describes the town in County Antrim where he spent much of his childhood. It was a town divided irrevocably into opposing camps: rich and poor, Protestant and Catholic, soldier and civilian. But when MacNeice left for England, the division and the mutual hostility began to recede:

I went to school in Devon, the world of parents

Contracted into a puppet world of sons

Far from the mill girls, the smell of porter, the salt-mines

And the soldiers with their guns.

Although it is the prep school which seems like a puppet world, Ireland also has contracted. Unified by the backward glance and warmed over with nostalgia, Carrickfergus has become a set of stable impressions: the mill girls, the smell of porter, the salt-mines, the soldiers. Whereas in Auden’s poems the definite article had presented a world to be acknowledged and disowned (or acknowledged and owned), here they present a world to be admired for its pungent remoteness.


Definite Article Book Club Rhetorical Strategy Mutual Hostility Academic Criticism 
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© W. D. Trotter 1984

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  • David Trotter

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