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Irish Poetic Modernisms A Reappraisal


Alex Davis


University College Cork


First published in Critical Survey 8 (16) p186-17.


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The current revision of our understanding of European and American modernism has implications for the study of Irish literature from the revival through the early years of the Free State. The undermining of New Criticisms narrow conception of the modernist text as a well-wrought urn or manifestation of spatial form, and the recognition that modernism embraces a wide, and often conflicting, diversity of practitioners, theorists and propagandists, allows us, in turn, to reappraise the literature produced in Ireland from the 1880s to the 10s, and beyond. John Wilson Fosters important 181 essay, Irish Modernism, contributed to this process by observing the close connections between the Irish literary revival and certain strains or tendencies within early modernism, their shared preoccupation with mysticism, symbolism, millenarianism and anti-modernization.1 In what follows, I compare the modernism of the revival, as exemplified in the work of Yeats, with that of a later generation of Irish writers, principally Thomas MacGreevy, but with reference to Samuel Beckett and Brian Coffey. With the obvious exception of Beckett, critical notice of these writers has been sporadic, though of recent years their work is beginning to be seen as of more than peripheral interest. They have tended to be seen as simply rejecting Yeats as an example, in favour of Joyce and European modernism; and indeed, their own critical writings tend, on occasion, to encourage such a view, as we shall see below. Robert F. Garratt, for instance, claims that they regarded both Yeats and revivalism as false trails, adopting modernist techniques, which they derived from Ulysses. While these statements are not untrue, their oversimplified nature renders them misleading. The younger poets rejection of revivalism stems from the different inflections of their modernist poetics from the modernism of Yeats. To state that these writers derived their techniques from Ulysses is implicitly to claim a monologic (in this case, Joycean) understanding of modernism, to which Yeats stands opposed. In short, the opposition revivalism/modernism is a reductive and erroneous binary opposition with which to examine the response made by certain writers to the example of Yeats. By way of contrast, taking modernism as a plural entity, as a number of modernisms, a modest revisionary approach to Irish poetry in the aftermath of the revival is made possible.


Of course, to conceive of Yeats, among the revivalists, as a modernist is hardly mould-breaking, though it is surprising the extent to which his modernism is accepted by critics a priori. For there is a powerful counter-argument to this view, one made most powerfully by Harold Bloom,4 in which Yeats is interpreted as a belated romantic poet. At the risk of caricature, one can gloss Blooms thesis as a conception of romanticism in which the would-be poet, or ephebe, wrestles with a precursor-figure, seeking to quell the anxiety of influence created by the precursors example through a powerful misreading or misprision of his (rarely her) work.5 Yeatss precursors, in the English literary tradition, are Shelley and Blake, to whom Yeats devoted a great deal of critical and scholarly attention, but whose influence, according to Bloom, Yeats needed to overcome through a strong act of misreading. Blooms capacious grasp of romanticism, and Yeatss place within that tradition, is elastic enough to embrace modernism as simply one of its moments. Its weakness, however, is that it tends to obscure some of the critical differences between Yeats and his admired precursors. By focusing on those differences it is also possible to foreground the genuinely modernist anxiety in Yeatss work, an anxiety that, as we shall see, links Yeatss work, albeit indirectly, to that of later Irish modernist writers.


One point of entry into this area of Yeatss poetry is via the early poem The Song of the Happy Shepherd, and its relationship with the epigraph Yeats chose for the Crossways section of the Collected Poems, which the poem opens. The epigraph is a quotation, or rather a misquotation, from Blakes The Four Zoas The stars are threshed, and the souls are threshed from their husks. Blakes words, from Night the Ninth of his epic poem, are rendered in Yeatss and Edwin John Elliss 18 edition of The Works of William Blake6 thus And all the Nations were threshed out, and the stars threshed from their husks. Yeatss alteration of Blakes line - whether we decide to treat it as an act of misprision or not - denudes it of its social and political dimension, and emphasises, by way of contrast, the individual soul at the expense of collectivity. In miniature, the discrepancy between Blakes original line and Yeatss version encapsulates one difference between late-eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century romanticism and Yeatss palaeo-modernism. Romanticisms intense concentration on solitariness does not preclude a concomitant concern with the interaction between the poet and the public sphere. The poet is a privileged figure, yet his aspiration is to be representative; he or she aims, to paraphrase Wordsworths Preface to Lyrical Ballads, to communicate to others in a recognisable because shared language of experience. For all the hermeticism of the symbolism deployed in his prophetic book, Blakes The Four Zoas, and indeed his work as a whole, works towards a regeneration of intersubjective experience - towards the state, in both an individual and political sense, envisaged in the magnificent final plates of Jerusalem


And from the thirty-two nations of the earth among the living creatures


All human forms identified, even tree, metal, earth & stone. All


Human forms identified, living, going forth & returning wearied


Into the planetary lives of years, months, days & hours - reposing


And then awaking into his bosom in the life of Immortality.


And I heard the name of their emanations they are named JERUSALEM.7


In contrast, the theme developed in Yeatss The Song of the Happy Shepherd is the absence of intersubjectivity; and it is precisely this absence that identifies this fairly conventional late-nineteenth-century lyric as modernist in its preoccupations, if not in its form.


An earlier title for the poem was Song of the Last Arcadian, which is, perhaps, more in keeping with the poems intense concentration on the isolation and belatedness of the persona than the Crossways title he is the last Arcadian, deprived of a community which has vanished into an indefinite past The woods of Arcady are dead,/ And over is their antique joy . . ..8 The Arcadian shepherds isolated predicament certainly looks back to the romantic solitary; and there is more than an echo of Blake in the extent to which the persona inveighs against the soullessness of empiricism, the Grey Truth that has supplanted poetic truth. However, the poems romantic emphasis on the individuals specificity - the claim that there is no truth/ Saving in thine own heart - also strikes a modernist note to the extent that the speakers isolation is a consequence of his awareness of the problematic relationship between poet (or singer) and a public sphere. The Arcadians advice to the reader is premised on the belief that the cultural and the social no longer possess any meaningful contact with one another in a lifeworld in which, it would seem, intersubjective communication has ceased


Go gather by the humming sea


Some twisted, echo-harbouring shell,


And to its lips thy story tell,


And they thy comforters will be,


Rewording in melodious guile


Thy fretful words a little while,


Till they shall singing fade in ruth


And die a pearly brotherhood;


For words alone are certain good


Sing, then, for this is also sooth.


(p- 4)


The penultimate line of this passage marks a retreat into a private language, recourse to which derives from the speakers despair over the role of poetry after Arcady has gone. His linguistic turn marks a break with romanticisms moving aspirations for poetry to function within the public sphere. Therefore, if the poem still feebly emits a properly romantic concern with the uniqueness of the poetic subject, missing from Yeatss text is any faith in the communicative possibilities of poetry. To put this another way, for all Yeatss explicit admiration for Shelley, a poem like The Song of the Happy Shepherd articulates an antithetical claim to that of The Defence of Poetry Yeatss last Arcadian does not believe that the poet can act as an unacknowledged legislator for the social sphere, he is simply unacknowledged.


In the light of the above, Yeatss early lyric can be seen as closer, in its implications for the role of art, to Baudelaires aesthetic formulations of the mid-nineteenth century than to those of the English high romantics half a century before. Baudelaires own version of symbolism, in which the material, historically embedded word grants the apprehension of a spiritual realm is, of course, related to high romantic symbolism. However, due to the specific historical pressures on Baudelaire (the 1848 revolutions), and his response to those pressures, Baudelairean symbolism is deeply imbued with a rejection of any correspondence of the poetic and the political. Instead, it postulates a correspondence between the poetic word, the symbol, and a realm that transcends the world of telegrams and anger (and Parisian barricades). In Raymond Williamss words, this form of poetic revelation involved a fusion of present synaesthetic experience with the recovery of a nameable, tangible past which was yet beyond or outside time. For the young Yeats, that nameable past outside temporality is called Arcady, and his last Arcadian confronts a dismal modernity which is back-dated, as it were, to a point at which it embraces historical time. The only solace lies in words divorced from communicative action with other inhabitants of this landscape in symbols alone are certain good.


Thus, prior to the poetry he wrote under the direct influence of French Symbolism (through the mediation of Arthur Symonss The Symbolist Movement in Literature, 18), Yeatss work evinces the symbolist abstention from the social as developed from Baudelaire to Mallarm� and Verlaine. It is a desire for a beyond which Yeats, late in his life, described to Dorothy Wellesley as the road I & others of my time went for certain furlongs. It is not the way I go now but one of the legitimate roads.10 Therefore, Stan Smiths contention that Yeatss modernism can be dated from 110, from the poems collected in The Green Helmet, which mark the major breakthrough in his style, heralding a new, tough, argumentative dialogism ... rather than retreating to the twilights glimmer,11 is open to question. The changes in Yeatss style, signalled by this collection, mark a shift of direction within a poetic already coloured by modernism in its symbolist form.


The responses made by Irish poets of the mid-century to Yeatss developed modernism are frequently ambivalent, on occasion highly sceptical. Writers as diverse as Patrick Kavanagh, Austin Clarke and Samuel Beckett confronted, and sought to evade, the influence of Yeats through a variety of strategies. Kavanaghs studied dismissal of Yeats as a Victorian, whose idealised evocations of an imaginary Ireland should be read as the target of Kavanaghs mature realism in The Great Hunger and elsewhere, constitutes a powerful riposte to the literary revival as a whole, at least as Kavanagh understood it. In Kavanaghs words


Yes, Yeats, it was damn easy for you protected


By the middle classes and the Big Houses


To talk about the sixty-year old public protected


Man sheltered by the dim Victorian Muses.1


Austin Clarkes lifelong attempts to be free from the shadow the older poets work cast over his poetic and dramatic endeavours are, arguably, more complex and more interesting than Kavanaghs overt rejection of revivalism. From his experiments with celto-romanesque material in Pilgrimage as a possible alternative to Yeatss early Celticism, through the intense dialogues with Yeats in The Echo at Coole and Other Poems, to the sexual exuberance of his late poem, Tiresias, Clarkes texts inscribe themselves within the margins of Yeatss, paradoxically remaining parasitical in their very defence of their own autonomy.1


However, few have been so scathing in their condemnation of Yeats as Brian Coffey, a friend and contemporary of Beckett, who described Yeats as A power-hungry seducer who gathered a right gang of praisers around him, and who blocked off the kind of talent he didnt like.14 In a draft of Coffeys long poem Missouri Sequence (16) Coffeys antipathy to Yeats is less outspoken, but still present Yeats is admitted to be a great poet, but one who failed/ when he advised our Irish poets.15 Coffeys antagonism is prefigured in Becketts better-known discussion of the influence of Yeats on younger poets in his article Recent Irish Poetry, first published in The Bookman in 14. Beckett directs his scorn at those poets he views as antiquarians, pale imitators of Yeats, among whom he numbers F. R. Higgins, Monk Gibbon and - somewhat over-hastily - Austin Clarke. All continue to peddle, in Becketts words, the Ossianic goods; that is, their work draws upon a body of conventional tropes and themes central to the literary revivals cultural nationalism Oisin, Cuchulain, Maeve, Tir-nanog, the Táin Bo Cuailgne, Yoga [?], the Crone of Beare - segment after segment of cut-and-dried sanctity and loveliness.16 David Lloyd has argued that Becketts essay evinces an awareness that Irish cultural nationalism, from its inception in the early nineteenth century, is unable to free itself from a model of national identity that is dependent upon the imperial model to which, in theory, it is diametrically opposed. The nationalist writer, from the Young Irelanders to the revivalists, is representative of ... the racial spirit which, though submerged, almost lost, will be brought to realisation through the genuinely national author


Paradoxically, in adopting such a model of cultural identification, whose complement is the development through literature of a feeling of nationality in the citizen, Irish nationalists reproduce in their very opposition to the Empire a narrative of universal development which is fundamental to the legitimation of imperialism.17


Even if one rejects Lloyds further claim - that Becketts writings approach the threshold of another possible language within which a post-colonial subjectivity might begin to find articulation (p. 56) -- it still holds that, as early as 14, Beckett is fully cognisant that for an aesthetic modernism the relationship between the cultural and the social spheres is by no means unproblematic. Hence his essays emphasis on a rupture of the lines of communication, a breakdown of the object, whether current, historical, mythical or spook (p. 70)..These reflections can be read as an acknowledgement that arts representative status in nationalist aesthetics, that which Lloyd refers to as its organic connection with the nation (p. 7), is highly questionable Scored through Becketts essay, in other words, is a sense that the mimetic - in a broad sense - quality of the national artwork is illusory. Yeatss imitators unself consciously consider that the images of Ireland proffered in their poetry provide an adequate representation of an essential Irishness; that their poetry touches and engages with a racial reality that pre-exists the rhetorical resources of their poetry.


However, as the above discussion of Yeatss The Song of the Happy Shepherd should suggest, Yeatss cultural nationalism is more complex than Becketts essay implies. As we have seen, from early on Yeatss work registers its own sense of a rupture of the lines of communication, and his subsequent development as a poet can be seen as an attempt to negotiate a relationship between the modernist artwork and the representative national text. It is an attempt which, by the 10s and 10s, Yeats finds untenable The book of the people that Coole and Ballylee, 11 (p. 5) envisages as the revivalist variant on Le Livre remains unwritten. Incoherently and movingly Yeats projects the unwritten Anglo-Irish epic back into the past


But all is changed, that high horse riderless,


Though mounted in that saddle Homer rode


Where the swan drifts upon a darkening flood.


(p. 5; and see Lloyd, pp. 67-8)


In this context, Homi Bhabhas distinction between cultural diversity and cultural difference is of great relevance to understanding the nationalist dimension of Yeatss modernism. Cultural diversity entails the recognition of pre-given cultural contents and customs, and can give rise to either a liberal tolerance of multiculturalism or a radical rhetoric of unique collective identity. Cultural difference, in contrast, emphasises the instability of the subjects identification with a cultural tradition and community due to its articulation of new cultural demands, meanings, strategies in the political present


The enunciation of cultural difference problematizes the binary division of past and present, tradition and modernity, at the level of cultural representation and its authoritative address. It is the problem of how, in signifying the present, something comes to be repeated, relocated and translated in the name of tradition, in the guise of a pastness that is not necessarily a faithful sign of historical memory but a strategy of representing authority in terms of the artifice of the archaic.18


Bhabhas notion of the hybridity of culture is underscored by his belief that tradition only grants a limited sense of identity for the colonised or dominated. In restaging (Bhabhas term) tradition in the present the past is reinscribed, appropriated, translated, rehistoricized and read anew (Bhabha, p. 7). Becketts antiquarians clearly resist such a self-conscious restaging. In Yeats case, an over-riding essentialism (We Irish) pre-empts any putatively postmodern conception of cultural hybridity and, by way of contrast, places great weight on the significance of tradition in the formation of national collective identity. This aspect of Yeatss thought, unsurprisingly, drew Coffeys ire


One remembers that Yeats expressed himself as wishing to preserve that which is living and help our two Irelands, Gaelic Ireland and AngIo-Ireland, so to unite that neither shall lose its pride. But then we should have to go well back behind the seventh century, back as far as maybe never to find our aboriginals and their instinctively habitual modes of action and being. All the while, too, we should be forgetting how fruitless paired categories (Gaelic with Anglo-Irish, Protestant with Catholic, insular with missionary, etc.) are for thinking social and political reality with, not to mention poetic reality.1


Here Coffey notes Yeatss desire to root his poetry in, and find an organic connection with, a sense of national identity, an identity out of kilter with the realities of a post-colonial social formation. Yeatss faith in tradition is a faith that, in The Municipal Gallery Re-visited, he says united himself, Synge and Lady Gregory


All that we did, all that we said or sang


Must come from contact with the soil, from that


Contact everything Antaeus-like grew strong.


We three alone in modern times had brought


Everything down to that sole test again,


Dream of the noble and the beggarman.


(p. 68)


Of course, as Coffey comments, Yeatss vision of a living Ireland as Gaelic and Anglo-Irish, in which noble and beggarman function as privileged figures, is a wholly inadequate prism through which to view the social and political reality of modern Ireland. Yeatss expressed wish to unite a divided society, however, arguably reveals a more fundamental urge to overcome the dissociation of cultural and political spheres that so much of his verse and prose implies is a given in modern times. Therefore, for all the disparities between the poetic projects of Yeats, Beckett and Coffey, all three need to be perceived in the context of European modernism, and specifically in the context of certain aesthetic presuppositions that, ultimately, derive from French nineteenth-century poetry.


Space forbids a detailed discrimination between the modernist projects of Yeats and some of his avant-garde successors in the 10s and 10s.0 I will thus confine myself to a brief consideration of the poetry of Thomas MacGreevy. MacGreevys friend and confidant, Beckett, identified MacGreevys poetry as concerned with the act and not the o bject of perception Mr MacGreevy is an existentialist in verse, the Titchener of the modern lyric (p. 74). In support of this claim, Beckett adduces the four line poem Nocturne


I labour in a barren place,


Alone, self-conscious, frightened, blundering;


Far away, stars wheeling in space,


About my feet, earth voices whispering.1


Becketts reflections on MacGreevy seem justified by his choice of text to the extent that the reaction of the poems speaker to his predicament certainly evinces the existential angst of being thrown into the- world. However, the being-in-the-world that this short lyric examines is rooted in a specific historical moment, as well as suggesting a given of human existence. MacGreevy served in the British Army during the First World War, and was twice wounded at the Somme. The poems epigraph, which Beckett does not quote, refers to the fate of a fellow officer of MacGreevy in the Royal Field Artillery To Geoffrey England Taylor, nd Lieutenant, R. F. A. Died of wounds ; and the lyric is placed in a section of MacGreevys Poems (14) headed 117-118 (which includes one other poem, De Civitate Hominum). These framing elements to the quatrain turn the barren place of the opening line into a warscape; the bewildered actions suggest the fear of the front-line soldier; while the earth voices whispering, with which the poem closes, possess intimations of possible death. The poem lacks the mimeticism that characterises the more famous war-poetry of Owen in that its reference to World War I is oblique. But reference it makes, and in this respect the poem is indicative of MacGreevys poetry, as Lee Jenkins has observed his poetry is highly experimental, reflecting the emergent technical innovations of European modernism, and at the same time his poems very often have an urgent and specific subject matter, often conflict in France or Ireland. The obliquity of MacGreevys allusions to contemporary events combined with the urgency and intensity of their presence is the signature of his poetry. Its origins lie in his experience of war, which, in his 11 monograph on Richard Aldington, he claimed prevented combatants from writing poetry too abstract, too Mallarm�an


No poet who went through the war can go back to that ... The effect of the war on Aldington and [Jean] Lurçat has been to bring their work closer to objective reality, but I do not think there is any immediate danger of their technical point of departure is not realistic, and in the second place returning to the undiscriminating realism of the nineteenth century, because in the first place the principal reality that has been impelling them to expression is so vast and terrible to look back on, that, grasping its full tragic significance as they slowly and sensitively and thoughtfully have done, they cannot, in the nature of things, fall into the mere pathetic of, say, Monet or Zola.


In this passage MacGreevy rejects the ideal of Mallarm�s symbolism, the desire to wrest language free from its referential function, yet simultaneously resists naturalisms fidelity to empirical reality. In this respect, MacGreevy prefigures Coffeys complex negotiations with Mallarm6 from a position influenced by the aesthetic theories of Jacques Maritain. Coffey also viewed the Mallarmean ivory tower (MacGreevy, Richard Aldington, p. 1) with suspicion, arguing that it marked an utter disengagement of art from the social sphere, and an abrogation of the humanity of the artist in its quest for a language divorced from its necessarily human context. As Coffey bluntly states in Missouri Sequence This much is certain . . . he [i.e., the poet] must not attempt escape/ from here and now.4 However, in line with Becketts pronouncements in Recent Irish Poetry, MacGreevy is clearly aware that a rupture of the lines of communication has rendered both realist and naturalist conceptions of a transparent relationship between sign and referent unworkable. Without belittling the horror of MacGreevys experiences during the war, the impossibility of adequately representing it in its totality is at one with the general predicament of modernist writers disabused of realist aspirations (including Yeats). Modernist writers find themselves, in Fredric Jamesons words, in a historical situation in which the truth of our social life as a whole . . . is increasingly irreconcilable with the aesthetic quality of language or of individual expression.5 The war is a terrible revelation of arts inability to map an objective reality through the resources of a shared literary language; and yet the omnipresence of that alienated object world presses all the more acutely on the artist. The war, in other words, is an event that throws into relief a more diffuse sense of a crisis in the representational capacity of art, of which Becketts emphasis on breakdown and rupture is to be seen as a late example.


Crón Tráth na nD�ithe, first published in transition in 1, is MacGreevys most sustained attempt to render an objective reality -- in this case, Dublin in the aftermath of civil war - in a non-realist fashion. On first reading, the poem seems overly derivative of Eliots The Waste Land (which MacGreevy greatly admired) in its citations from popular and high culture, montage effects, fragmentation of form, etc. However, the poem can equally be read as a reply to a quality of Eliots work which, in Richard Aldington, MacGreevy later formulated as its occasional lapse into a remote mannerof expression (p. 1). The fashion in which MacGreevys poem seeks to impress upon its reader the immediacy or closeness of its speakers experiences of the cab-drive through the shattered streets is illustrated by the opening section of the poem


Ter-ot. Stumble. Clock-clock, clock-clock! Quadrupedante, etcetera,


And heavy turning wheels of lurching cab


On midnight streets of Dublin shiny in the rain!


No trams squirt wide the liquid mud at this hour.


The dark-and-light-engulfing box


Wheels through the wetness


Bringing me


From empty healthy air in Mayo


To Dublins stale voluptuousness


Trot


Trot


Clock-clock


Lurch


Such rutty, muddy streets to clock, clock-clock on, horse!


(p. 14)


The first lines onomatopoeic quality is followed, in the second, by a reference, as Susan Schreibman has noted, to the eighth book of Virgils Aeneid quadrupedante putrem sonitu quatit ungula campum, a line in which the harsh consonants and dactyls convey the sound of galloping (MacGreevy, Poems, p. 110). MacGreevys allusion to the Latin epic is, in part, a literary joke, but it also bears upon the relationship of language to objective reality in his work. Onomatopoeia is, of course, an instance of language in which some quality of the object or event referred to is said to be evoked by the sound of the signs themselves. As such, it is a figure that grants the powerful illusion of being closer to that which it denotes than other sign-structures.6 MacGreevys truncated allusion to Virgils great example of this literary effect - Quadrupedante, etcetera - foregrounds the extent to which his poem deploys onomatopoeia in the service of a non-realist poetic which is difficult to construe in New Critical terms (or that of spatial form). In this respect, MacGreevy holds what Charles Altieri calls a presentational theory of poetry; that is, his poetry embodies the poets desire to articulate his or her emotions in an artwork that is not a straightforward copy of the non-linguistic world, but a purposive structuring of experience.7 Hence, the centrality to Crón Tráth na nD�ithe (and to MacGreevys work as a whole) of the speaker, whose reactions hold the poem together as a single narrative in a manner clearly distinct from Eliots use of disjointed personae and settings in The Waste Land. MacGreevys method of structuring experience is apparent in a passage such as the following, from section I of the poem


Wrecks wetly mouldering under rain,


Everywhere.


Remember Belgium!


You cannot pick up the


Pieces


But, oh, Phoenicians, who on blood-red seas


Come sailing to the Galerie des Glaces


And you, gombeenmen


On blue hills of office


No man hath greater lunacy than this.


(pp. 15-16)


The damaged buildings in the speakers immediate range of vision give way to a recollection of the propaganda used to encourage Irish Catholics to enlist in the British Army in World War 1. This is succeeded by a juxtaposition of the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles with the doubtful practices of government officials, and concludes with a bitter rewriting of St John. These are all fragments or pieces of a totality, a socio-political context, which cannot be grasped directly - it is too vast and terrible - but can be structured only according to an individuals specific experience and systems of belief. This manner of registering history, as wholly subjectivised, is comparable with the despair articulated by Yeatss expropriated Arcadian, despite the gulf separating the two texts in terms of formal influences. MacGreevys poem differs from Yeatss, however, in its implicit refusal to entertain the consolations of a private poetic, language (In words alone are certain good). In comparing these two very different texts - texts separated by over thirty years - we can see the presence of certain strains of what we now think of as modernism anxiety over the social function of art; the collapse of realist conceptions of thought and language; alienation from an object world that cannot be transcended. fully (note that the Arcadian speaks of, but doesnt experience transcendence through language) - the predicament, in short, inherited by the post-Baudelairean poet.


In conclusion, there are important continuities between the revivals palaeo-modernism and the neo-modernism of writers who, in varying degrees, wrote out of an intense dissatisfaction with the literary achievements of their predecessors. In revising our conception of the nature of Irish poetry in this century it is necessary to identify these overlooked connections, and, in so doing, to move beyond the partial accounts of the involuted currents of modernist writing in Ireland that have dominated much of the discussion to date.8 Notes


1 John Wilson Foster, Colonial Consequences Essays in Irish Literature and Culture (Dublin Lilliput, 11), p. 55. Foster appears to consider the romantic nationalism of the revival as at odds with its modernist dimension. However, it is surely time to reconsider modernisms supposed internationalism. Nationalism and/or regionalism are central to many writers we commonly think of as modernist Basil Bunting and David Jones, for example. Foster is also ambivalent about the importance of spatial form -- the autonomy of the Modernist fictive structure (p. 56) -- to a definition of modernism. It is central to a particular kind of modernism, that which received canonical formulation in the writings of the New Critics. Back to text.


The most recent contribution to the growing body of work on these poets, and on Beckett as poet, is Patricia Coughlan and Alex Davis (eds), Modernism and Ireland The Poetry of the 10s (Cork Cork University Press, 15). Back to text.


Robert F. Garratt, Modern Irish Poetry Tradition and Continuity from Yeats to Heaney (Berkeley University of California Press, 186), pp. 4, 6. Back to text.


4 See Harold Bloom, Yeats (New York Oxford University Press, 170), especially chapters 4 and 5. Back to text.


5 This theory is elaborated most fully in Harold Bloom, The Anxiety of Influence A Theory of Poetry (New York Oxford University Press, 17). A useful introduction to, and critique of, Blooms work is Graham Allens Harold Bloom A Poetics of Conflict (Hemel Hempstead Harvester Wheatsheaf, 14). Back to text.


6 Published in London by Bernard Quaritch. Back to text.


7 William Blake, Jerusalem, pls 8-, The Complete Poems, ed. W. H. Stevenson (London Longman, 171), pp. 840-1. Back to text.


8 W. B. Yeats, The Poems, ed. Daniel Albright (London Dent, 10), p. . Back to text.


Raymond Williams, The Politics of Modernism Against the New Conformists, ed. Tony Pinkney (London Verso, 18), p. 71. Back to text.


10 Quoted in The Collected Letters of W. B. Yeats, vol. 1, 1865-5, eds John Kelly and Eric Domville (Oxford Oxford University Press, 186), p. 81. In the same letter Yeats states that Mallarm� escapes from history. The full letter awaits its place in the complete edition of Yeatss letters. Back to text.


11 Stan Smith, The Origins of Modernism Eliot, Pound, Yeats and the Rhetorics of Renewal (Hemel Hempstead Harvester Wheatsheaf, 14), p. 08. Smith is contesting the common assumption that Pounds influence on Yeats resulted in the latter becoming a modernist in the poems collected in Responsibilities (114). Back to text.


1 Patrick Kavanagh, Yeats, The Complete Poems, ed. Peter Kavanagh (Newbridge The Goldsmith Press, 184), p. 4. Back to text.


1 A point elaborated upon by Edna Longley in a lecture delivered to the Yeats Summer School, Sligo, 7 August 15. Back to text.


14 Quoted in Michael Smith, Irish Poetry Since Yeats Notes Towards a Corrected History, Denver Quarterly, 5 (171), 7. Back to text.


15 Brian Coffey, letter to Thomas MacGreevy, 11 January 15, Thomas MacGreevy Papers, Trinity College, Dublin, MS 8110/41. Back to text.


16 Samuel Beckett, Disjecta Miscellaneous Writings and a Dramatic Fragment, ed. Ruby Cohn (London John Calder, 18), pp. 70-1. Back to text.


17 David Lloyd, Anomalous States Irish Writing and the Post-Colonial Moment (Dublin Lilliput, 1), p. 46. Back to text.


18 Homi Bhabha, The Locations of Culture (London Routledge, 14), pp. 4-5; emphasis mine. Back to text.


1 Brian Coffey, A Note on Rat Island, University Review (Dublin), 8 (166), 5-6. Back to text.


0 In the present context, the most rewarding essay to consult with regard to Beckett is Patricia Coughlan, The Poetry is Another Pair of Sleeves Beckett, Ireland and Modernist Lyric Poetry, in Coughlan and Davis, pp. 17-08. Coffeys modernism is examined in my Poetry is Ontology Brian Coffeys Poetics, in Coughlan and Davis, pp. 150-7. Back to text.


1 Thomas MacGreevy, Collected Poems of Thomas MacGreevy An Annotated Edition, ed. Susan Shreibman (Dublin Anna Livia, 11), p. 1. Schreibman dates the poem late 18 or early 1. Back to text.


Lee Jenkins, Thomas MacGreevy and the Pressure of Reality, The Wallace Stevens Journal, 18 (14), 14-50. Back to text.


Thomas MacGreevy, Richard Aldington An Englishman, Dolphin Books, no. 10 (London Chatto and Windus, 11), pp. 1-. Back to text.


4 Brian Coffey, Poems and Versions 1-10 (Dublin Dedalus, 11), p. 81. See also Coffeys comments on the humanity of poetry and the dangers of Mallarm�s poetic in Brian Coffey, An Interview by Parkman Howe, Eire-Ireland, 11 (178), 11-. Back to text.


5 Fredric Jameson, The Ideologies of Theory Essays 171-186, vol. , The Syntax of History (London Routledge, 188), p. 11. Back to text.


6 The debate over onomatopoeia has tended to concur that the meaning of the utterance is as important to its effect as is the sound - such at least is the conclusion reached by such influential commentators as John Crowe Ransom and William Empson. Saussure famously held that the relationship between sound and sense in onomatopoeic words is as arbitrary as it is for any other sign. For a scrupulous interrogation of this whole issue see Peter Makin, Basil Bunting The Shaping of His Verse (Oxford Oxford University Press, 1), chapter 1 and Appendices 5(a) and 5(b). Back to text.


7 Charles Altieri, The Poem as Act A Way to Reconcile Presentational and Mimetic Theories of Literature, Iowa Review, 6 (175), 111. Back to text.


8 I am thinking in particular of Edna Longleys inability to see the formal innovativeness of, for example, MacGreevys and Coffeys work. Her claim that Coffeys work is pastiche Eliot is made on the strength of a brief quotation from one of the earliest poems preserved in his Poems and Versions, and thus safely ignores his major sequences from the 160s and 170s, the poems on which his reputation will ultimately rest. The obverse of this form of critical meanspiritedness is to be found in Michael Smiths extreme valorisation of Coffey and MacGreevy, among others, by means of an over-reductive conception of revivalism and its supposed opposite, cosmopolitanism. See Edna Longley, The Living Stream Literature and Revisionism in Ireland (Newcastle Bloodaxe), pp. 0-4; and the article by Michael Smith cited in note 14. Back to text.


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� Copyright 16 Alex Davis.

















Irish Poetic Modernisms A Reappraisal


Alex Davis


University College Cork


First published in Critical Survey 8 (16) p186-17.


This text has not been re-edited for this hypertext version.





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The current revision of our understanding of European and American modernism has implications for the study of Irish literature from the revival through the early years of the Free State. The undermining of New Criticisms narrow conception of the modernist text as a well-wrought urn or manifestation of spatial form, and the recognition that modernism embraces a wide, and often conflicting, diversity of practitioners, theorists and propagandists, allows us, in turn, to reappraise the literature produced in Ireland from the 1880s to the 10s, and beyond. John Wilson Fosters important 181 essay, Irish Modernism, contributed to this process by observing the close connections between the Irish literary revival and certain strains or tendencies within early modernism, their shared preoccupation with mysticism, symbolism, millenarianism and anti-modernization.1 In what follows, I compare the modernism of the revival, as exemplified in the work of Yeats, with that of a later generation of Irish writers, principally Thomas MacGreevy, but with reference to Samuel Beckett and Brian Coffey. With the obvious exception of Beckett, critical notice of these writers has been sporadic, though of recent years their work is beginning to be seen as of more than peripheral interest. They have tended to be seen as simply rejecting Yeats as an example, in favour of Joyce and European modernism; and indeed, their own critical writings tend, on occasion, to encourage such a view, as we shall see below. Robert F. Garratt, for instance, claims that they regarded both Yeats and revivalism as false trails, adopting modernist techniques, which they derived from Ulysses. While these statements are not untrue, their oversimplified nature renders them misleading. The younger poets rejection of revivalism stems from the different inflections of their modernist poetics from the modernism of Yeats. To state that these writers derived their techniques from Ulysses is implicitly to claim a monologic (in this case, Joycean) understanding of modernism, to which Yeats stands opposed. In short, the opposition revivalism/modernism is a reductive and erroneous binary opposition with which to examine the response made by certain writers to the example of Yeats. By way of contrast, taking modernism as a plural entity, as a number of modernisms, a modest revisionary approach to Irish poetry in the aftermath of the revival is made possible.


Of course, to conceive of Yeats, among the revivalists, as a modernist is hardly mould-breaking, though it is surprising the extent to which his modernism is accepted by critics a priori. For there is a powerful counter-argument to this view, one made most powerfully by Harold Bloom,4 in which Yeats is interpreted as a belated romantic poet. At the risk of caricature, one can gloss Blooms thesis as a conception of romanticism in which the would-be poet, or ephebe, wrestles with a precursor-figure, seeking to quell the anxiety of influence created by the precursors example through a powerful misreading or misprision of his (rarely her) work.5 Yeatss precursors, in the English literary tradition, are Shelley and Blake, to whom Yeats devoted a great deal of critical and scholarly attention, but whose influence, according to Bloom, Yeats needed to overcome through a strong act of misreading. Blooms capacious grasp of romanticism, and Yeatss place within that tradition, is elastic enough to embrace modernism as simply one of its moments. Its weakness, however, is that it tends to obscure some of the critical differences between Yeats and his admired precursors. By focusing on those differences it is also possible to foreground the genuinely modernist anxiety in Yeatss work, an anxiety that, as we shall see, links Yeatss work, albeit indirectly, to that of later Irish modernist writers.


One point of entry into this area of Yeatss poetry is via the early poem The Song of the Happy Shepherd, and its relationship with the epigraph Yeats chose for the Crossways section of the Collected Poems, which the poem opens. The epigraph is a quotation, or rather a misquotation, from Blakes The Four Zoas The stars are threshed, and the souls are threshed from their husks. Blakes words, from Night the Ninth of his epic poem, are rendered in Yeatss and Edwin John Elliss 18 edition of The Works of William Blake6 thus And all the Nations were threshed out, and the stars threshed from their husks. Yeatss alteration of Blakes line - whether we decide to treat it as an act of misprision or not - denudes it of its social and political dimension, and emphasises, by way of contrast, the individual soul at the expense of collectivity. In miniature, the discrepancy between Blakes original line and Yeatss version encapsulates one difference between late-eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century romanticism and Yeatss palaeo-modernism. Romanticisms intense concentration on solitariness does not preclude a concomitant concern with the interaction between the poet and the public sphere. The poet is a privileged figure, yet his aspiration is to be representative; he or she aims, to paraphrase Wordsworths Preface to Lyrical Ballads, to communicate to others in a recognisable because shared language of experience. For all the hermeticism of the symbolism deployed in his prophetic book, Blakes The Four Zoas, and indeed his work as a whole, works towards a regeneration of intersubjective experience - towards the state, in both an individual and political sense, envisaged in the magnificent final plates of Jerusalem


And from the thirty-two nations of the earth among the living creatures


All human forms identified, even tree, metal, earth & stone. All


Human forms identified, living, going forth & returning wearied


Into the planetary lives of years, months, days & hours - reposing


And then awaking into his bosom in the life of Immortality.


And I heard the name of their emanations they are named JERUSALEM.7


In contrast, the theme developed in Yeatss The Song of the Happy Shepherd is the absence of intersubjectivity; and it is precisely this absence that identifies this fairly conventional late-nineteenth-century lyric as modernist in its preoccupations, if not in its form.


An earlier title for the poem was Song of the Last Arcadian, which is, perhaps, more in keeping with the poems intense concentration on the isolation and belatedness of the persona than the Crossways title he is the last Arcadian, deprived of a community which has vanished into an indefinite past The woods of Arcady are dead,/ And over is their antique joy . . ..8 The Arcadian shepherds isolated predicament certainly looks back to the romantic solitary; and there is more than an echo of Blake in the extent to which the persona inveighs against the soullessness of empiricism, the Grey Truth that has supplanted poetic truth. However, the poems romantic emphasis on the individuals specificity - the claim that there is no truth/ Saving in thine own heart - also strikes a modernist note to the extent that the speakers isolation is a consequence of his awareness of the problematic relationship between poet (or singer) and a public sphere. The Arcadians advice to the reader is premised on the belief that the cultural and the social no longer possess any meaningful contact with one another in a lifeworld in which, it would seem, intersubjective communication has ceased


Go gather by the humming sea


Some twisted, echo-harbouring shell,


And to its lips thy story tell,


And they thy comforters will be,


Rewording in melodious guile


Thy fretful words a little while,


Till they shall singing fade in ruth


And die a pearly brotherhood;


For words alone are certain good


Sing, then, for this is also sooth.


(p- 4)


The penultimate line of this passage marks a retreat into a private language, recourse to which derives from the speakers despair over the role of poetry after Arcady has gone. His linguistic turn marks a break with romanticisms moving aspirations for poetry to function within the public sphere. Therefore, if the poem still feebly emits a properly romantic concern with the uniqueness of the poetic subject, missing from Yeatss text is any faith in the communicative possibilities of poetry. To put this another way, for all Yeatss explicit admiration for Shelley, a poem like The Song of the Happy Shepherd articulates an antithetical claim to that of The Defence of Poetry Yeatss last Arcadian does not believe that the poet can act as an unacknowledged legislator for the social sphere, he is simply unacknowledged.


In the light of the above, Yeatss early lyric can be seen as closer, in its implications for the role of art, to Baudelaires aesthetic formulations of the mid-nineteenth century than to those of the English high romantics half a century before. Baudelaires own version of symbolism, in which the material, historically embedded word grants the apprehension of a spiritual realm is, of course, related to high romantic symbolism. However, due to the specific historical pressures on Baudelaire (the 1848 revolutions), and his response to those pressures, Baudelairean symbolism is deeply imbued with a rejection of any correspondence of the poetic and the political. Instead, it postulates a correspondence between the poetic word, the symbol, and a realm that transcends the world of telegrams and anger (and Parisian barricades). In Raymond Williamss words, this form of poetic revelation involved a fusion of present synaesthetic experience with the recovery of a nameable, tangible past which was yet beyond or outside time. For the young Yeats, that nameable past outside temporality is called Arcady, and his last Arcadian confronts a dismal modernity which is back-dated, as it were, to a point at which it embraces historical time. The only solace lies in words divorced from communicative action with other inhabitants of this landscape in symbols alone are certain good.


Thus, prior to the poetry he wrote under the direct influence of French Symbolism (through the mediation of Arthur Symonss The Symbolist Movement in Literature, 18), Yeatss work evinces the symbolist abstention from the social as developed from Baudelaire to Mallarm� and Verlaine. It is a desire for a beyond which Yeats, late in his life, described to Dorothy Wellesley as the road I & others of my time went for certain furlongs. It is not the way I go now but one of the legitimate roads.10 Therefore, Stan Smiths contention that Yeatss modernism can be dated from 110, from the poems collected in The Green Helmet, which mark the major breakthrough in his style, heralding a new, tough, argumentative dialogism ... rather than retreating to the twilights glimmer,11 is open to question. The changes in Yeatss style, signalled by this collection, mark a shift of direction within a poetic already coloured by modernism in its symbolist form.


The responses made by Irish poets of the mid-century to Yeatss developed modernism are frequently ambivalent, on occasion highly sceptical. Writers as diverse as Patrick Kavanagh, Austin Clarke and Samuel Beckett confronted, and sought to evade, the influence of Yeats through a variety of strategies. Kavanaghs studied dismissal of Yeats as a Victorian, whose idealised evocations of an imaginary Ireland should be read as the target of Kavanaghs mature realism in The Great Hunger and elsewhere, constitutes a powerful riposte to the literary revival as a whole, at least as Kavanagh understood it. In Kavanaghs words


Yes, Yeats, it was damn easy for you protected


By the middle classes and the Big Houses


To talk about the sixty-year old public protected


Man sheltered by the dim Victorian Muses.1


Austin Clarkes lifelong attempts to be free from the shadow the older poets work cast over his poetic and dramatic endeavours are, arguably, more complex and more interesting than Kavanaghs overt rejection of revivalism. From his experiments with celto-romanesque material in Pilgrimage as a possible alternative to Yeatss early Celticism, through the intense dialogues with Yeats in The Echo at Coole and Other Poems, to the sexual exuberance of his late poem, Tiresias, Clarkes texts inscribe themselves within the margins of Yeatss, paradoxically remaining parasitical in their very defence of their own autonomy.1


However, few have been so scathing in their condemnation of Yeats as Brian Coffey, a friend and contemporary of Beckett, who described Yeats as A power-hungry seducer who gathered a right gang of praisers around him, and who blocked off the kind of talent he didnt like.14 In a draft of Coffeys long poem Missouri Sequence (16) Coffeys antipathy to Yeats is less outspoken, but still present Yeats is admitted to be a great poet, but one who failed/ when he advised our Irish poets.15 Coffeys antagonism is prefigured in Becketts better-known discussion of the influence of Yeats on younger poets in his article Recent Irish Poetry, first published in The Bookman in 14. Beckett directs his scorn at those poets he views as antiquarians, pale imitators of Yeats, among whom he numbers F. R. Higgins, Monk Gibbon and - somewhat over-hastily - Austin Clarke. All continue to peddle, in Becketts words, the Ossianic goods; that is, their work draws upon a body of conventional tropes and themes central to the literary revivals cultural nationalism Oisin, Cuchulain, Maeve, Tir-nanog, the Táin Bo Cuailgne, Yoga [?], the Crone of Beare - segment after segment of cut-and-dried sanctity and loveliness.16 David Lloyd has argued that Becketts essay evinces an awareness that Irish cultural nationalism, from its inception in the early nineteenth century, is unable to free itself from a model of national identity that is dependent upon the imperial model to which, in theory, it is diametrically opposed. The nationalist writer, from the Young Irelanders to the revivalists, is representative of ... the racial spirit which, though submerged, almost lost, will be brought to realisation through the genuinely national author


Paradoxically, in adopting such a model of cultural identification, whose complement is the development through literature of a feeling of nationality in the citizen, Irish nationalists reproduce in their very opposition to the Empire a narrative of universal development which is fundamental to the legitimation of imperialism.17


Even if one rejects Lloyds further claim - that Becketts writings approach the threshold of another possible language within which a post-colonial subjectivity might begin to find articulation (p. 56) -- it still holds that, as early as 14, Beckett is fully cognisant that for an aesthetic modernism the relationship between the cultural and the social spheres is by no means unproblematic. Hence his essays emphasis on a rupture of the lines of communication, a breakdown of the object, whether current, historical, mythical or spook (p. 70)..These reflections can be read as an acknowledgement that arts representative status in nationalist aesthetics, that which Lloyd refers to as its organic connection with the nation (p. 7), is highly questionable Scored through Becketts essay, in other words, is a sense that the mimetic - in a broad sense - quality of the national artwork is illusory. Yeatss imitators unself consciously consider that the images of Ireland proffered in their poetry provide an adequate representation of an essential Irishness; that their poetry touches and engages with a racial reality that pre-exists the rhetorical resources of their poetry.


However, as the above discussion of Yeatss The Song of the Happy Shepherd should suggest, Yeatss cultural nationalism is more complex than Becketts essay implies. As we have seen, from early on Yeatss work registers its own sense of a rupture of the lines of communication, and his subsequent development as a poet can be seen as an attempt to negotiate a relationship between the modernist artwork and the representative national text. It is an attempt which, by the 10s and 10s, Yeats finds untenable The book of the people that Coole and Ballylee, 11 (p. 5) envisages as the revivalist variant on Le Livre remains unwritten. Incoherently and movingly Yeats projects the unwritten Anglo-Irish epic back into the past


But all is changed, that high horse riderless,


Though mounted in that saddle Homer rode


Where the swan drifts upon a darkening flood.


(p. 5; and see Lloyd, pp. 67-8)


In this context, Homi Bhabhas distinction between cultural diversity and cultural difference is of great relevance to understanding the nationalist dimension of Yeatss modernism. Cultural diversity entails the recognition of pre-given cultural contents and customs, and can give rise to either a liberal tolerance of multiculturalism or a radical rhetoric of unique collective identity. Cultural difference, in contrast, emphasises the instability of the subjects identification with a cultural tradition and community due to its articulation of new cultural demands, meanings, strategies in the political present


The enunciation of cultural difference problematizes the binary division of past and present, tradition and modernity, at the level of cultural representation and its authoritative address. It is the problem of how, in signifying the present, something comes to be repeated, relocated and translated in the name of tradition, in the guise of a pastness that is not necessarily a faithful sign of historical memory but a strategy of representing authority in terms of the artifice of the archaic.18


Bhabhas notion of the hybridity of culture is underscored by his belief that tradition only grants a limited sense of identity for the colonised or dominated. In restaging (Bhabhas term) tradition in the present the past is reinscribed, appropriated, translated, rehistoricized and read anew (Bhabha, p. 7). Becketts antiquarians clearly resist such a self-conscious restaging. In Yeats case, an over-riding essentialism (We Irish) pre-empts any putatively postmodern conception of cultural hybridity and, by way of contrast, places great weight on the significance of tradition in the formation of national collective identity. This aspect of Yeatss thought, unsurprisingly, drew Coffeys ire


One remembers that Yeats expressed himself as wishing to preserve that which is living and help our two Irelands, Gaelic Ireland and AngIo-Ireland, so to unite that neither shall lose its pride. But then we should have to go well back behind the seventh century, back as far as maybe never to find our aboriginals and their instinctively habitual modes of action and being. All the while, too, we should be forgetting how fruitless paired categories (Gaelic with Anglo-Irish, Protestant with Catholic, insular with missionary, etc.) are for thinking social and political reality with, not to mention poetic reality.1


Here Coffey notes Yeatss desire to root his poetry in, and find an organic connection with, a sense of national identity, an identity out of kilter with the realities of a post-colonial social formation. Yeatss faith in tradition is a faith that, in The Municipal Gallery Re-visited, he says united himself, Synge and Lady Gregory


All that we did, all that we said or sang


Must come from contact with the soil, from that


Contact everything Antaeus-like grew strong.


We three alone in modern times had brought


Everything down to that sole test again,


Dream of the noble and the beggarman.


(p. 68)


Of course, as Coffey comments, Yeatss vision of a living Ireland as Gaelic and Anglo-Irish, in which noble and beggarman function as privileged figures, is a wholly inadequate prism through which to view the social and political reality of modern Ireland. Yeatss expressed wish to unite a divided society, however, arguably reveals a more fundamental urge to overcome the dissociation of cultural and political spheres that so much of his verse and prose implies is a given in modern times. Therefore, for all the disparities between the poetic projects of Yeats, Beckett and Coffey, all three need to be perceived in the context of European modernism, and specifically in the context of certain aesthetic presuppositions that, ultimately, derive from French nineteenth-century poetry.


Space forbids a detailed discrimination between the modernist projects of Yeats and some of his avant-garde successors in the 10s and 10s.0 I will thus confine myself to a brief consideration of the poetry of Thomas MacGreevy. MacGreevys friend and confidant, Beckett, identified MacGreevys poetry as concerned with the act and not the o bject of perception Mr MacGreevy is an existentialist in verse, the Titchener of the modern lyric (p. 74). In support of this claim, Beckett adduces the four line poem Nocturne


I labour in a barren place,


Alone, self-conscious, frightened, blundering;


Far away, stars wheeling in space,


About my feet, earth voices whispering.1


Becketts reflections on MacGreevy seem justified by his choice of text to the extent that the reaction of the poems speaker to his predicament certainly evinces the existential angst of being thrown into the- world. However, the being-in-the-world that this short lyric examines is rooted in a specific historical moment, as well as suggesting a given of human existence. MacGreevy served in the British Army during the First World War, and was twice wounded at the Somme. The poems epigraph, which Beckett does not quote, refers to the fate of a fellow officer of MacGreevy in the Royal Field Artillery To Geoffrey England Taylor, nd Lieutenant, R. F. A. Died of wounds ; and the lyric is placed in a section of MacGreevys Poems (14) headed 117-118 (which includes one other poem, De Civitate Hominum). These framing elements to the quatrain turn the barren place of the opening line into a warscape; the bewildered actions suggest the fear of the front-line soldier; while the earth voices whispering, with which the poem closes, possess intimations of possible death. The poem lacks the mimeticism that characterises the more famous war-poetry of Owen in that its reference to World War I is oblique. But reference it makes, and in this respect the poem is indicative of MacGreevys poetry, as Lee Jenkins has observed his poetry is highly experimental, reflecting the emergent technical innovations of European modernism, and at the same time his poems very often have an urgent and specific subject matter, often conflict in France or Ireland. The obliquity of MacGreevys allusions to contemporary events combined with the urgency and intensity of their presence is the signature of his poetry. Its origins lie in his experience of war, which, in his 11 monograph on Richard Aldington, he claimed prevented combatants from writing poetry too abstract, too Mallarm�an


No poet who went through the war can go back to that ... The effect of the war on Aldington and [Jean] Lurçat has been to bring their work closer to objective reality, but I do not think there is any immediate danger of their technical point of departure is not realistic, and in the second place returning to the undiscriminating realism of the nineteenth century, because in the first place the principal reality that has been impelling them to expression is so vast and terrible to look back on, that, grasping its full tragic significance as they slowly and sensitively and thoughtfully have done, they cannot, in the nature of things, fall into the mere pathetic of, say, Monet or Zola.


In this passage MacGreevy rejects the ideal of Mallarm�s symbolism, the desire to wrest language free from its referential function, yet simultaneously resists naturalisms fidelity to empirical reality. In this respect, MacGreevy prefigures Coffeys complex negotiations with Mallarm6 from a position influenced by the aesthetic theories of Jacques Maritain. Coffey also viewed the Mallarmean ivory tower (MacGreevy, Richard Aldington, p. 1) with suspicion, arguing that it marked an utter disengagement of art from the social sphere, and an abrogation of the humanity of the artist in its quest for a language divorced from its necessarily human context. As Coffey bluntly states in Missouri Sequence This much is certain . . . he [i.e., the poet] must not attempt escape/ from here and now.4 However, in line with Becketts pronouncements in Recent Irish Poetry, MacGreevy is clearly aware that a rupture of the lines of communication has rendered both realist and naturalist conceptions of a transparent relationship between sign and referent unworkable. Without belittling the horror of MacGreevys experiences during the war, the impossibility of adequately representing it in its totality is at one with the general predicament of modernist writers disabused of realist aspirations (including Yeats). Modernist writers find themselves, in Fredric Jamesons words, in a historical situation in which the truth of our social life as a whole . . . is increasingly irreconcilable with the aesthetic quality of language or of individual expression.5 The war is a terrible revelation of arts inability to map an objective reality through the resources of a shared literary language; and yet the omnipresence of that alienated object world presses all the more acutely on the artist. The war, in other words, is an event that throws into relief a more diffuse sense of a crisis in the representational capacity of art, of which Becketts emphasis on breakdown and rupture is to be seen as a late example.


Crón Tráth na nD�ithe, first published in transition in 1, is MacGreevys most sustained attempt to render an objective reality -- in this case, Dublin in the aftermath of civil war - in a non-realist fashion. On first reading, the poem seems overly derivative of Eliots The Waste Land (which MacGreevy greatly admired) in its citations from popular and high culture, montage effects, fragmentation of form, etc. However, the poem can equally be read as a reply to a quality of Eliots work which, in Richard Aldington, MacGreevy later formulated as its occasional lapse into a remote mannerof expression (p. 1). The fashion in which MacGreevys poem seeks to impress upon its readPlease note that this sample paper on sadgjhgjkgjksda hbjhjhkjhlkjhsad is for your review only. In order to eliminate any of the plagiarism issues, it is highly recommended that you do not use it for you own writing purposes. In case you experience difficulties with writing a well structured and accurately composed paper on sadgjhgjkgjksda hbjhjhkjhlkjhsad, we are here to assist you. Your cheap custom research papers on sadgjhgjkgjksda hbjhjhkjhlkjhsad will be written from scratch, so you do not have to worry about its originality.

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