A Second Take: Xenophobia and Readership

Having spent about a week away from the Celtic Fringe blog, I was pleased to see today that an enlivened discussion emerged from my post about xenophobic trends in Ireland, as seen through the eyes of Derek Mahon and James Joyce. Both Cole and Professor McInerney point to key aspects of the works that need to be considered. Thinking about the potential roots of such xenophobia, Cole’s post encourages us to see Mahon’s xenophobic tropes as a reaction against the marginalization of the Irish in their own land; Professor McInerney’s asks us to consider the historical factors, like a homogenous population and little immigration, which lead the Irish to express such sentiments.

Beyond addressing the mere presence of xenophobia, both posts make me wonder, more generally, about how difficult it is for readers to distance their personal thoughts and experiences from the reading process. Looking back to my reading of xenophobia in Ulysses, I think my reaction is colored by an identification with Bloom, Joyce’s protagonist. To give a short gloss, Bloom is a Jewish individual born and raised in Ireland. Plagued by domestic strife (a cheating wife and a dead son), he wanders through Dublin and relates his experiences in the text. What is really striking about him, however, is his evenhandedness. Faced with complicated decisions or infuriating situations, he always tries to see two sides of an issue—a trait I very much admire. With this (albeit biased) reading in mind, one can begin to understand how a reader could be infuriated when faced with the Cyclops episode, wherein a brutal, nationalistic, xenophobic (and unnamed) narrator rages against Bloom’s religion and challenges his claim to Irish identity. One could also see how that reading of Ulysses might color a reading of other Irish poets, like Mahon. On the other hand, I very much understand and relate to Cole’s defense of Mahon, which is based, at least partially, on the personal experience of seeing tourists overrun a beloved home space. It is clear that such an experience could and will make one feel slightly xenophobic at times.

Put together, it is interesting how both Cole and my readings emerge in no small part from personal experience. Far from being the cold, unemotional evaluation of a text, the reading process emerges from the “baggage” we bring to the text. Personal relationships, individual philosophies, traumas, memories, joys, and knowledge simultaneously craft and limit the way we interpret a literary text. Above all, as human beings, as individuals in the truest sense of the word, we experience the world (and the literary texts in it) from our own perspective. No wonder, then, that literary texts or the presence of foreigners in one’s homeland evoke such powerful responses and differentiated responses. All of us see the world through our own eyes.

And yet, such a conclusion might also be a reason why we should avoid xenophobia. If individuals’ readings emerge from their own personal experiences, from each person’s unique history and ideologies, we can conclude that everyone is truly different. Why, then, not strive to see each person for who they are, instead of grouping them into a national, reductionist category? To do so would be to recognize our own biases and to gain a better understanding of exactly what we do when we crack a book open.

All of this is not to say that xenophobia shouldn’t exist; it is understandable that it does. Rather, I am arguing for an open mind or, to use the Economists’ word, greater “perspective”. At the root of many human disagreements is a personal short-sightedness. Looking at the bigger picture, of immigration, for example, can yield refreshing perspectives and something we can all agree on, namely greater prosperity for more people:

“Above all, perspective is needed. The vast population movements of the past four decades have not brought the social strife the scaremongers predicted. On the contrary, they have offered a better life for millions of migrants and enriched the receiving countries both culturally and materially. But to preserve these great benefits in the future, politicians need the courage not only to speak up against the populist tide in favour of the gains immigration can bring, but also to deal honestly with the problems it can sometimes cause.”

See the Economist Article “Global Migration, Keep the Borders Open”

In short, we might all do well to see the world in a more Bloomsian fashion, constantly weighing the arguments and counterarguments implicit in the chain of ambiguous events that form our existence.

Xenophobia in Irish Literature

Although the discussions that Cole and Susanna lead in class today provided an invigorating engagement with Mahon’s works, I saw one recurring theme that we all might benefit from exploring further. In short, why does Derek Mahon portray outsiders in such a negative light in his poetry? This theme of xenophobia appears in two of the poems we read for today and in James Joyce’s Ulysses—in other words, far too often to be mere coincidence.

Of the poems selected by Susanna, “Night Thoughts” is the poem that most clearly foregrounds the conflict between the Irish citizen and the tourist, between the insider and the outsider. The speaker, a figure who finds solitude and serenity solely in early hours of the morning, laments the influx of tourists in the summer season. With a decidedly sardonic tone, he appraises said foreigners as “aliens, space invaders” sporting “baseball caps and nylon leisurewear” who shatter the stillness of “those luminous, rain-washed April mornings.” Most generative, however, is the poem’s epigraph that imagines post-war Ireland as a “pseudo-space”—a mere destination for tourists who ignore the local culture.

Of Cole’s selections, the poem “The Chinese Restaurant in Portrush” both furthers and problematizes the theme of xenophobia. On the one hand, the poem also decries the arrival of foreigners seeking the beautiful destination spots of Ireland. Using the charged military term “invasion” and juxtaposing the “shut” doors of the off-season (winter) with the “open” ones of the tourist season (summer), Mahon effectively others the tourists. On the other hand, however, he inserts the problematic figure of the foreigner who inhabits the Irish space, namely “the proprietor of the Chinese restaurant”. Simultaneously a permanent inhabitant of Ireland and a foreigner by birth, the Chinese man challenges what is an otherwise unambiguous dislike of foreigners.

Aside from the fact that this trope wove itself through several of Mahon’s poems, the idea of xenophobia in an Irish context is interesting because it is a dominant theme in James Joyce’s Ulysses, a text that seeks to painstakingly recreate Dublin and its inhabitants. In the novel, the protagonist, Leopold Bloom, is a native-born Jew who is constantly confronted by the anti-Semitic and xenophobic views of his fellow Dubliners. Perhaps most poignantly, we see his marginalization in Episode Twelve, where Bloom’s response to the question of his heritage (“Ireland, says Bloom. I was born here. Ireland”) is powerfully rejected by the narrator’s expectoration of a “Red bank oyster”.

Faced with the distrust of foreigners seen in Mahon’s work and the downright xenophobia of the unknown narrator in Joyce’s twelfth episode, I am keen to hear what other people have to say about why such a trope might emerge from two contributors to Irish literature. Are the Irish naturally xenophobic? Does their literature misrepresent them in this light? And/or did certain socio-historio-political factors drive these themes to the forefront of Irish culture and literature?

A Second Poet to Remember: Wilfred Owen

Often, as we read a number of poets in class each day, we touch briefly on a poet who could be the subject of an entire semester’s study. One such individual is Wilfred Owen. Born and raised in England in the two decades preceding the First World War, Owen lived to see the ending of the Victorian era of poetry and personally experienced the devastation of the Great War—one of the major drivers of arrival of the Modern era in poetry. It was his tragic time spent fighting in the war and his death just one week before the Armistice that helped patriotic Britons realize the extent of the horrors of trench warfare in continental Europe.

In a class that I took a year ago (appropriately labeled “Victorian Poetry: From Tennyson to Eliot”), we read through much the English canon around which our Celtic Fringe poets are working. Owen was a key figure in that canon since his works fell between the aristocratic, sexually-charged poems of Tennyson and the innovative, Modernist free verse of Eliot. In particular, two of Owen’s poems stick out in my mind as archetypes of his forceful and ironic treatment of the Great War: “Dulce et Decorum Est” and “Exposure.”

In the first poem, Owen remembers the haunting image of a fellow soldier who succumbs to a gas attack and paints the picture of his agony: “…at every jolt, the blood / Comes gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs, / Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud / Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues.” The poem, however, goes beyond a mere imagination of the soldier’s suffering. In repeating the phrase “If you…” and addressing the reader as “My friend”—ostensibly, a Briton at home who venerates the war—the poem challenges society’s misconceptions about the glories of war. Famously, it ends with the phrase “My friend, you would not tell with such high zest / To children ardent for some desperate glory, / The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est / Pro patria mori”, caustically challenging the Victorian notion that it can be sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.

Dulce Et Decorum Est

In contrast to the biting tone of “Dulce et Decorum Est”, the poem “Exposure” solely laments the terrible conditions that soldiers faced in the bitter cold of winters in the trenches. Two key rhetorical devices are used. Most subtly, Owen re-imagines nature as the soldiers’ most fearsome enemy by personifying the cold: “Our brains ache, in the merciless iced east winds that knive us”. The weather, more aggressive than the Germans, “knive[s]” the benumbed, entrenched soldiers. And, more overtly, he reiterates the poignant message that “nothing happens”. In the midst of painful, hypothermia-inducing cold, the soldiers’ greatest frustration is the complete lack of action and progress. Life in the trenches just grinds on.

Exposure

The poetry of Wilfred Owen, then, ardently seeks to expose the brutality and the tragedy of the Great War. How very different from the brief nod to the Hed Wynn’s death in the same war in R. Williams Parry’s elegy, where the atrocities of war are sidelined before an attempt to create a national poet figure for Wales.

The Welsh Working Man

Sometimes mis-readings can be productive. Although we are most often taught to read carefully and with studious detail to a poem’s particular poems, one of the most fascinating things about poetry—about its unconventional phrases and vague nature—is the way it catalyzes our minds’ wanderings.

One example of productive mis-reading occurred earlier today when I was reading Idris Davies’ poem Do you remember 1926? and immediately considered it a poem about the Great Depression. As an English major roughly familiar with landmark dates, I quickly jumped to the conclusion that it contrasted the excessive highs of the Roaring 20s (the “summer of soups and speeches”, of “penny concerts” and “jazz-bands”) with the oppressive lows of the Wall Street Crash and the following Depression (the “swift disaster”). Such a reading is certainly plausible—except for the fact that the Stock Market Crash occurred in 1929.

Chronology aside, the (incorrect) reading I extracted from Davies’ poem set my mind on an economic slant and made me realize how much money, power, and employment factor into the other Welsh poems we are reading. Another of Davies’ poems, Mrs. Evans, you want butter again, hardly hides its political and economic undertones when it pits Dan the grocer against Mrs. Evans, the “little woman” whose husband “strike[s]” and spits “fiery language” about the evils of communism.

On a slightly different tact, two of R.S. Thomas’ poems A Peasant and The Hill Farmer Speaks work to defend the importance of the Welsh shepherd, the archetype of the working man. In the first poem, the speaker—one who blatantly admits that “There is something frightening in the vacancy of [the peasant’s] mind”—insists on the famer’s ruggedness and durability, utilizing the military diction of “siege”, “attrition”, “fortress[es]” and “wars.” In the second, the famer gains even more power by directly addressing the reader and pleas for equality, saying “Listen, listen, I am a man like you.”

In both poets’ works, then, there appears a shared working class rhetoric. In focusing on the quotidian interactions of members of Welsh society, like those between the grocer and his customer or between the shepherd and his flock, the poets present the Welsh as a humble, blue-collar people and suggest that economic activity (or lack thereof) is an integral aspect of the Welsh identity.

Such a reading, that the Welsh people are identifiable, at least partially so, by their lack of wealth, would seem a stretch if Wales were not actually one of the most economically depressed regions in the United Kingdom. Earlier this week, I came across an article in the Economist, a publication written in England, that discussed increasing regional disparities in income in the U.K. As they said so convincingly:

“The gap between Britain’s poorest regions (mainly in the north and Wales) and its richest (in the south-east) has widened for the past 20 years. It grew worse during the recent recession, and is likely to widen again as government budget cuts fall disproportionately on poorer regions. GDP per head in the poorest quarter of Britain’s regions is now lower than in the richest part of China. (The Economist, “Gaponomics: Regional Income Inequality Has Risen in Many Countries. What Should Be Done About It?, March 10th, 2011, www.economist.com/node/18332806)

In short, parts of the United Kingdom are growing healthily while Wales is not. As seen in the chart from The Guardian (above right) , people in Wales have about sixteen percent less money to spend, on average, than those in the South-East, home of London’s bustling financial market. With such income disparities in mind, maybe we can begin to understand why Welsh poets feel the need to defend their working class roots. It is their reality.

See both articles here:

Economist Article –&– Guardian Article

A Generation Estranged From the Rural World

This past week, as we wound through a number of remarkable Irish poets, I have found myself particularly intrigued by an agricultural current that ran through both John Montague and Seamus Heaney’s poems. Both poets seized upon the imagery of the milking process as a sort of poetic muse, or, at the very least, as a rough and physical phenomenon that needed a poetic response.

John Montague’s poem, “A Drink of Milk”, operates on two distinctly different registers. On the simplest level, the poem is a delightful portrayal of a rural farmhand enjoying one final, refreshing beverage before he falls, exhausted into sleep.

…as he dreams towards bed.

A last glance at a magazine,

he puts the mug to his head,

grunts, and drains it clean.

On a much subtler and perplexing level, the poem exhibits a noticeably sexual undercurrent. The interaction between the dairy cows and the farmer, between the feminine “swollen dugs” and the  masculine “farmhand”, couples fascinatingly with the erotically charged “steadily pulsing stream”, the relieved “grunt” of satisfaction, and the “pounding transistor” that “shakes / the Virgin on her shelf” to create a crisscrossing and complicated sexual dynamic in an otherwise straightforward celebration of rural life.

Similarly, Seamus Heaney’s “Churning Day” also succeeds at finding intense meaning in the simple agricultural act of churning buttermilk. By virtue of several hauntingly beautiful portrayals of the churning process—I am thinking of “the hot brewery of gland, cud, and udder” as well as the “danc[ing]” “gold flecks” of butter that appear magically—the poem works to glorify the decidedly difficult work of the rural milkmaid, the rhythmic and exhausting labor of creating butter by hand.

With two such well-wrought agricultural poems in front of us, I find myself wondering why it is that a generation such as ours finds ourselves so very distanced from the rural scenes seen in both poems. Why is it that few, if any, of us have spent time on a farm, milked a cow, churned butter, or enjoyed a fresh glass of milk. Why does such a thought even seem bizarre to wonder? And, perhaps most importantly for our class, what is poetry that does not find itself rooted in the natural world or in the lives of those connected to it?

As someone who has spent a fair amount of time thinking about the importance of agriculture, and, more generally, about our generation’s (lack of a) connection to the physical world, I hope that Montague and Heaney’s poems offer a glimpse into a world that most of us are quickly passing by.

Longbows: Past and Present

Like many of the boys with whom I grew up, I found myself obsessed, from about the age of seven to fifteen, with weapons, imagined battles, and military history. The Middle Ages undoubtedly the coolest. Broadswords, battleaxes, crossbows all served to tantalize the imagination with vivid scenes of glorious battle and unprecedented demonstrations of chivalry. That such implements were meant to harm never seemed to factor into the picture.

Of all the heroic tales and armaments I imagined, however, nothing seemed as majestic or powerful as the tale of the English archer and his longbow. To this day, something about the awesome power of a one-hundred-fifty pound draw weight bow sending an arrow three hundred meters sends chills down my spine. It should not be a surprise, then, that Hugh MacDiarmid’s casting of Dylan Thomas’ elegy in the form of an arrow’s flight impressed itself upon my mind and urged me on to write a blog post about the history of such fearsome weapons in the British Isles.

The poem, In Memoriam Dylan Thomas, makes beautiful use of image and symbol in positing—in my reading, at least—Thomas’ final poem (or poetic effort) as an arrow shot vertically. The fast-flying arrow is at first glorified: “Up and up it went, not weaving as it would have done / With a snatching loose, but soaring, swimming / Aspiring towards heaven, steady, golden, and superb.” Such a perfect flight, however, is quickly subverted by the entrance of an ominously named “gore crow” that snatches the arrow from flight and extinguishes the poet’s symbolic flight. Rather than ending on a pessimistic note, however, the poem insists that the arrow must eventually return to earth and uses the repetition of the opening lines (“there comes from Wales once again / The fff-putt of a triple-feathered arrow / Which looks as if it had never moved!) to signal a certain a-temporal character of Thomas’ poetry.

Moving beyond the poem itself, I found myself extremely interested in the question of why the English longbow is often referred to as Welsh. Although most writers on the internet do not do more than take a perfunctory jab, saying that the bow itself originated with Welsh clans, I think there might be more of a back story—something with which I am hoping Professor McInerney might be able to help. On the other hand, my searches did yield an overwhelming amount of references and analysis of the role of the longbow in English history. Books have been written on the subject, but the short history is that around the year 1250 AD, the English army began to actively employ longbowmen in their armies, having initially seen them used successfully by the Welsh. Over the next hundred years, a culture developed in which all peasants began training at a very young age to develop the strength and accuracy needed to use the longbow in war. Then, between 1346 and 1415, the English used longbowmen to devastating effect in the Hundred Years’ War, literally massacring the French nobility (who fought as mounted, armored knights) in the battles of Crecy, Poitiers, and Agincourt. The success of the weapon and its imprint of the national consciousness of England are represented, I think, in two documents I found on the Early English Books Online database. The first, Toxophilus, or, “Lover of Bows,” was written in 1545 as a dedication to Henry VIII who required all men under sixty to practice the art of archery. The second is an announcement by king Charles I in 1631 officially a commission designed to explore the importance of archery in that day and age.

Roger Ascham’s Toxophilus

Charles I’s Proclamation

Considering that MacDiarmid found himself writing Thomas’ elegy in the twentieth century—a full seven hundred years after the initial adoption of the longbow by England—I am truly struck by both the importance and the persistence of the figure of the longbow in British historical and literary traditions.

Ragouts, Olios, and Fricassees Galore

In keeping with the gastronomic theme covered in the last several posts, I wanted to dig into (pun intended) Robert Burns’ portrayal of competing nationalities in his delightful poem “To a Haggis.” As I mentioned today in class, I am particularly intrigued by the stanza that juxtaposes Scotland’s “rustic” haggis with the culinary culture of the European continent:

Is there that owre his French ragout,

Or olio that wad staw a sow,

Or fricassee wad mak her spew

Wi’ perfect sconner,

Looks down wi’ sneering, scornfu’ view,

On sic a dinner?

Having taken the time to revisit the stanza, I do not think that our initial reading stands quite as firm as we would like. In class, we came to the conclusion that foreigners, those “French[men]” eating their ragouts, were condescending towards the baseness of the haggis. By positing their “fricasees”—perhaps the haughtiest name that might be applied to a dish—in opposition to the Scottish, offal-based dish, the poem seems to mock the notion that foreign culinary cultures were superior.

Upon further reflection, however, I think a few words in the poem undercut this reading to a small extent. Although the individuals do gaze upon the haggis with “scornful[l]” eyes, all three dishes mentioned are not as gastronomically complex as one might assume. The French “ragout” and the Spanish “olio” are both simple meat stews that incorporate whatever the cook has available. In its present form, “olio” connotes a hodgepodge, which is a nod to the variability of the dish’s ingredients. And, perhaps most surprisingly, “fricassee,” the word we assumed implies a sort of French haute cuisine, is actually just a ragout of small animals like wood pigeons or squirrels. All three words/dishes, then, represent the peasant food of foreign lands. Much like the Scottish haggis that literally crams everything available into an animal’s stomach, these stews originated as a mish-mash of what French and Spanish farmers could grow or kill.

With such a reading in mind, Burns’ ironic portrayal of the French and Spanish does not seem so very farfetched. Their peasants ate a bizarre combination of foods as well.

Hopkins – A Poet to Remember

Over the course of my time at Haverford, I have had the pleasure of studying poetry ranging from a vast spectrum of time. Some of my earliest explorations followed the evolutions of the sonnet in Petrarch, Sir Sidney, and Shakespeare. The most contemporary ones are probably T. S. Eliot, Derek Walcott, and Wallace Stevens (a name my uncle happens to share with the famed poet). Although each poet (and each poem, for that matter) brought different prosodic movements, aural landscapes, and emotive drives, however, one poet stands above all the rest for me: Gerald Manley Hopkins. It might come as no surprise, then, that when I was reading through Hardy’s piece on Dylan Thomas, I was more than enthused to find that “Thomas may well have learned what he knew about Welsh prosody from Hopkins, who learned Welsh when he was in St. Bueno’s, in North Wales…” (11).

So, who exactly is Gerald Manley Hopkins and why should he be remembered? Born in 1844, Hopkins is an English poet that fits nicely into the Victorian era alongside poets like Alfred Lord Tennyson and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Unlike like either of them, however, Hopkins was a Catholic Jesuit priest who passed a lot of time outside of England in Ireland (as a professor) and Wales (where we see the connection to Thomas). In terms of his poetry, Hopkins is remembered as a poet who, in an incredibly captivating and unique fashion, united his love of religion and the natural world. In poems like “God’s Grandeur”, “Pied Beauty”, “The Windhover”, “As Kingfishers Catch Fire”, and “Inversnaid“, Hopkins both glorifies the beauty (and fragility) of nature AND applies a distinctly spiritual interpretation of that beauty. And yet, despite the penetrating beauty of his imagery and the musicality of his poetry, Hopkins is, to this day, vastly under-valued as a poet.

With this (admittedly biased) history in mind, I sincerely hope that we can take some time in class to incorporate Hopkins material into our study of Dylan Thomas’ poetry. Aside from the most obvious connection of their mutual interest in Wales and Welsh prosody, I imagine that their respective takes on nature will be fascinating to examine and unpack. If, as Hardy declares, “nearly all of [Thomas’] poetry is nature poetry,” we will certainly have to compare it to Hopkins glorification of the natural world’s beauty and his lament for its loss in poems like this one:

Binsey Poplars

felled 1879

My aspens dear, whose airy cages quelled,
Quelled or quenched in leaves the leaping sun,
All felled, felled, are all felled;
Of a fresh and following folded rank
Not spared, not one
That dandled a sandalled
Shadow that swam or sank
On meadow & river & wind-wandering weed-winding bank.
O if we but knew what we do
When we delve or hew —
Hack and rack the growing green!
Since country is so tender
To touch, her being só slender,
That, like this sleek and seeing ball
But a prick will make no eye at all,
Where we, even where we mean
To mend her we end her,
When we hew or delve:
After-comers cannot guess the beauty been.
Ten or twelve, only ten or twelve
Strokes of havoc unselve
The sweet especial scene,
Rural scene, a rural scene,
Sweet especial rural scene.

A Decidedly Non-Literary Appraisal of Ireland

Since my last post and many recent ones have focused on the material we have been covering in class, I want to write on a topic far removed from the literary realm: the current state of Ireland’s economy. Early last week, I was reading through a copy of the Economist – a publication, I would like to mention, that actually focuses the bulk of its articles on news stories, not heavy-handed economic analysis – and came across an article discussing Ireland’s economic woes.

One Can Find The Article Here

What initially caught my eye was the reporter’s nod towards the history of Ireland’s leading political party, Fianna Fail, that has been in office for “three out of every four years” since Eamon de Valera first rose to power in 1932. That individual is, of course, the same personage who was so convincingly played by Alan Rickman in our viewing of Michael Collins and whose image can been seen in Professor McInerney’s posting of the cover of Times magazine.

Anyway, the article is a good one because it presents the implications of Ireland’s economic issues through a political lens we can all relate to. As the charming picture of Ireland’s Prime Minister Brian Cowen (left) hints, now is not a good time to be a member of the Fianna Fail party in Parliament. Why is that the case? The economic narrative is relatively straightforward. When the recession struck Ireland, a housing bubble (much like the one in the United States) burst, leaving homeowners with houses worth less than their mortgages. Those households could no longer repay the banks that had leant to them and defaulted on their debts. Then, the banks, now experiencing terrible losses due to the defaults, turned to their insurers, the national government, and forced them to pay up. Finally, and most importantly, the government was forced to accept the worst shame of all: a national bailout of $113 billion paid by the European Union member countries and the International Monetary Fund, the most woefully detested austerity agent in macroeconomics.

Put together, Ireland’s current economic outlook is not so good, which leads us to ask a provocative question. What would the state of Ireland’s economy be if it had not severed itself from the British economy eighty years ago, if leaders like de Valera and Collins had not fought so vigorously for independence?

MacDonagh Contra Collins, Or How to Live the Revolutionary Life

In keeping with Professor McInerney’s post, I wanted to briefly introduce myself before diving into the actual subject of this blog post – the differences between the poetic self-portrayals of Thomas MacDonagh and the cinematic portrayal of Michael Collins. Quite simply, I am an English major with a variety of decidedly non-literary interests—including sustainable agriculture, French culture, global macroeconomics, and, most important of all, that never-ending pursuit of fine meals and excellent conversation—that I hope to bring to this blog. I look forward to seeing everyone else draw their on outside interests, as well, to spice up this electronic dialogue, all the while avoiding the dull response-counter-response style often seen on Blackboard. But, enough about me; let’s move onto the main focus of this blog post.

As I alluded to above, I would like to make a quick cross-comparison of the poetry written by one of the authors (pun intended) of the 1916 Easter Rising and the film we watched today, Michael Collins. In reading the work of Thomas MacDonagh, in particular, I noticed an explicit thread of isolation in his poetic self-portrayal. (That is, of course, assuming that we are disregarding New Critical theory and are conflating the dramatic speaker with MacDonagh, the man.) Starting with “Of a Poet Patriot,” the second stanza externalizes the poet’s solitude in stating “His deed was a single word, / Called out *alone* / In a night when no echo stirred / To laughter or moan.” MacDonagh’s revolutionary work, his “eternal [patriotic] song,” reverberates in the quiet, unhearing darkness of the night when no sign of human existence, not even a “laugh[]” “moan,” betrays the presence of another. Likewise, in the poem “In Paris,” the second stanza once again posits the speaker as separate from others. Crying out “I speak to no one from sun to sun, / And do my *single* will, / Though round me loud voiced *millions* run / And life is never still.,” the speaker betrays his separation from the multitudes that exist around him and alludes to the solitude of his revolutionary work. Put together, then, elements of both poems point towards loneliness, solitude, and/or privacy that pervaded the life of MacDonagh and, perhaps, that of the revolutionary in general.

Maybe not. As compared to the decidedly isolated sentiment one feels in reading MacDonagh’s poems, Neil Jordan’s Michael Collins portrays the acting leader of the IRA as a brash and genial war hero. Moving from his early years as a participant in the 1916 Easter Rising to his assassination in August of 1922, Collins never seems to be without companionship. Besides his stunning (although inauthentic) Irish lass, Julia Roberts, “Mick” finds himself surrounded by his militant “boys,” his longtime friend Henry Boland, and, even on the night before he perishes, his countrymen of West Cork. In short, he is a socialite, a wartime Irish rockstar who riles the masses enough to overthrow the most powerful empire in the world.

In juxtaposition,  MacDonagh’s revolutionary verse and Jordan’s Michael Collins present two vastly different (and equally fictional) portrayals of the life of an Irish revolutionary. Why do the differ so? Perhaps that is an answer to be sought by another sailor on this curiously Celtic course upon which we have all embarked.