Topics in Irish Literature: Modern Irish Poetry


In addition to the colorful Irish histories that we might expect to find in the poetry of Yeats and other modern Irish poets-- cattle raids and roving bards and warriors, poetic prophecy, and risings against England--modern Irish poems, even those that begin with such themes, are personal, invoking bodily intimacies without losing historical urgency. Among the dozen or so poets we will read who have explored the possibilities of engaging simultaneously these (and often additional) temporalities are W.B Yeats, Thomas Kinsella, Seamus Heaney, Eavan Boland, Medbh McGuckian, and Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin. We will focus on poems written between 1898 (the centennial of the failed Irish Rising against England in 1798) and 1998, when the Good Friday Agreement led to the de-escalation of violence in the Troubles that are still ongoing in Northern Ireland. These poets inventively deploy a variety of forms for expressing, and engendering, bodily threat, excitement, urgency, and agency during national states of emergency. We will read poems whose themes are clearly shaped by revolution and reaction and others that may seem less so, engaging with topics that while not overtly political aren't easily closeted from public concerns and, indeed, may openly question distinctions between the categories "sex," "nation," and "history." We will keep to the fore the term "revival," which has been used for the various cultural movements in Ireland that emerged out of the political, national crises that bookended the last century: "revival" suggests that the past may survive but it also moves, in bodies as well as nations. Deft humor, unabashed yearning, and sometimes blunt threat are only a few of the ways this larger sense of "revival" works in Irish poems, which do not shrink from what Eavan Boland pithily points to: "Sex and history. And skin and bone" ("Heroic"). A one-time scholarly bent toward heroic versions of masculinity in Irish literature began shifting well before the Good Friday
Course Attributes: EN H; AS HUM; AS LCD; FA HUM; AR HUM; EL TC

Section 01

Topics in Irish Literature: Modern Irish Poetry
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