The Greeks thought of the past as stretching out before them while the future waited behind their backs. As a sometime lecturer in Classics and translator of Aeschylus, Louis MacNeice would have needed no reminding of this, but the experience, in April 1939, of sitting down in New York on board the departing Queen Mary to write Eleanor Clark the longest letter of his life might nevertheless have seemed uncomfortably Greek in its symbolism. He had met Clark a few weeks before and fallen badly in love with her, but was returning to Britain amid much uncertainty. He had lectured at Birmingham University and Bedford College through the 1930s, but correctly sensed his future did not lie in the academy. Behind him lay an unsuccessful first marriage, and waiting for him in London a complex relationship with Nancy Coldstream, the “married friend” of his letters to Clark. His friends W. H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood had crossed the Atlantic in the other direction in January 1939, but MacNeice sensed the coming conflict would be “his” war, and was reluctant to miss out on history.
more from David Wheatley at the TLS here.