What is the summary of the poem "Conversation" by Louis MacNeice?

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Louis MacNeice's "Conversation" refers to that part of us which does not fit within the parameters defined by society as our "vagrancy." This vagrancy, a tendency to wander within our own minds and depart from what is expected of us, is present in everyone, rendering "ordinary" people "peculiar"—there is no such thing, MacNeice says in the first stanza, as a truly ordinary person, because we all have this tendency. While speaking to someone, we might see the vagrancy become apparent in the shift of their eyes, making it evident that they are thinking about something else, in search of "un-, or other, realities."

Sometimes, however, this wayward vagrancy can manifest in a different way. Rather than attempting to conceal itself from the conversationalist, the vagrancy might instead assault them: as you are "mistaken" for another time, or another place, the strange or inappropriate thought leaps from the other person to you, making itself known. This is something that is not supposed to happen, a fault in the fabric of social norms—a "dropped stitch."

Most people will recognize when they have made such an error and will apologize and tell themselves it will not happen again, but sometimes the attempt to conceal the error continues to make the error obvious. The nervous conversationalist might drop "swear-words like roses in their talk" in an attempt to divert attention away from this part of themselves we all pretend does not exist.

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Louis MacNeice's "Conversation" describes the discrepancy between the outwardly ordinary appearance of some people and the secret "vagrancy" that sometimes surfaces mid-conversation. The secret, socially inappropriate vagrant in the minds of ordinary people typically disappears and hides during conversations, but can momentarily appear in the form of abandonment of common sense, inappropriate emotional intimacy, or swearing. The poem describes this vagrancy as undesirable to the ordinary person: they apologize for it with their eyes, rebuild the common sense in their conversations, and reject the possibility of intimacy that the emergence of the vagrant may have suggested.

MacNeice's poem utilizes an abacbc rhyme scheme in each stanza, and the image of the "vagrant" is an extended metaphor that lasts throughout the poem's three stanzas. The vagrant metaphor conveys the secret and socially unacceptable strangeness and honesty which seemingly ordinary people hide to maintain polite conversation. MacNeice argues that this forbidden "vagrancy" is kept secret but frequently comes out accidentally in polite conversation, only to be rejected and apologized for by the speaker.

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