(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

This poem is made up of three seven-line stanzas with a loosely organized metrical pattern and a rhyme scheme in which only lines 3 and 7 rhyme. Lines 3 and 7 are shorter than the other lines, which vary rhythmically from five to six beats, while the short lines are three or four beats long.

Stanza 1 opens with the image of the domed reading room compared to a beehive with its busy occupants moving up and down the aisles, which contain “the cells of knowledge.” The readers, however, are described as “stooping” over their work and “haunted” by their desire for knowledge.

The conceit continues in line 3, calling knowledge honey and wax; the phrase “the accumulation of years” gives a slightly negative connotation: Why are these bees hoarding all this knowledge? Is the accumulating wax like wax in the ears, which impairs one’s hearing?

Lines 4 through 7 give the reasons for these people’s being here: some to make money, some because they like learning, and some to escape an unidentified “demon” “drumming . . . in their ears.” Is the only use for knowledge for some people to escape a life that is otherwise unbearable?

Stanza 2 further describes the denizens of the place. They are all strange. The poet calls them cranks, hacks, poverty-stricken scholars, all in some way outcasts from the social order. “In pince-nez, period hats or romantic beards,” they are all out of fashion. In line 10, he...

(The entire section is 446 words.)

The British Museum Reading Room Bibliography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Brown, Terence. Louis MacNeice: Skeptical Vision. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1975.

Brown, Terence, and Alec Reid, eds. Time Was Away: The World of Louis MacNeice. Dublin: Dolmen Press, 1974.

Devine, Kathleen, and Alan J. Peacock, eds. Louis MacNeice and His Influence. Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire, England: C. Smythe, 1998.

Kiberd, Declan. Irish Classics. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2001.

McDonald, Peter. “Louis MacNeice: Irony and Responsibility.” In The Cambridge Companion to Contemporary Irish Poetry, edited by Matthew Campbell. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

McDonald, Peter. Louis MacNeice: The Poet in His Contexts. Oxford English Monographs. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1991.

McKinnon, William T. Apollo’s Blended Dream: A Study of the Poetry of Louis MacNeice. New York: Oxford University Press, 1971.

Marsack, Robyn. The Cave of Making: The Poetry of Louis MacNeice. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Moore, Donald B. The Poetry of Louis MacNeice. Leicester, England: Leicester University Press, 1972.

Smith, Stan. Irish Poetry and the Construction of Modern Identity: Ireland Between Fantasy and History. Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2005.