THE MEETING-POINT Time was away and somewhere else, There were two glasses and two chairs And two people with the one pulse (Somebody stopped the moving stairs): Time was away and somewhere else. And they were neither up nor down; The stream's music did not stop Flowing through heather limpid brown Although they sat in a coffee shop And they were neither up nor down. The bell was silent in the air Holding its inverted poise- Between the clang and clang a flower, A brazen calyx of no noise; The bell was silent in the air. The camels crossed the miles of sand That stretched round the cups and plates; The desert was their own, they planned To portion out the stars and dates: The camels crossed the miles of sand. Time was away and somewhere else. The waiter did not come, the clock Forgot them and the radio waltz Came out like water from a rock: Time was away and somewhere else. Her fingers flicked away the ash That bloomed again in tropic trees: Not caring if the markets crash When they had forests such as these, Her fingers flicked away the ash. God, or whatever means the Good Be praised that time can stop like this, That what the heart has understood Can verify in the body's peace God or whatever means the Good. Time was away and she was here And life no longer what it was, The bell was silent in the air And all the room one glow because Time was away and she was here. Louis MacNeice (April 1939)
Louis MacNeice was an Irishman as might be guessed by the refrain “Time was away and somewhere else”. It is a line carried by the colloquial rhythm of Irish speech. You might say it is a line that is tautological, as it has two phrases which, just about, say the same thing. But that is the charm of the way the Irish speak their English. The two phrases point to the transcendent nature of the experience of the two lovers completely at one in their coffee shop room. The love they know is eternal and knows no time. The stanzas all collaborate to suggest this experience of togetherness in a perfect world, while never allowing us to forget the actual setting of an ordinary cafe. The pictures in each stanza-the stream, the bell, the camels, the tropical trees evoke meaningful pictures or imagined ideal landscapes and moments of stillness for the lovers.
It is a beautiful poem for St. Valentine’s Day that relates love to eternity within the mundane surroundings of a coffee shop.