Week 178: The Streets of Laredo, by Louis MacNeice

David Sutton

Louis MacNeice was in London during the Blitz and this poem captures the spirit of that time in masterly fashion as it shifts between the real and the semi-mythic, the defiant and the despairing, its cast of characters moving to the ballad tune in a brilliantly choreographed danse macabre.

Agag was a bibilical king referred in the book of Samuel as coming ‘delicately’ to his execution.

The Streets of Laredo

O early one morning I walked out like Agag,
Early one morning to walk through the fire
Dodging the pythons that leaked on the pavements
With tinkle of glasses and tangle of wire;

When grimed to the eyebrows I met an old fireman
Who looked at me wryly and thus did he say:
‘The streets of Laredo are closed to all traffic,
We won’t never master this joker to-day.

‘O hold the branch tightly and wield the axe brightly,
The…

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