Creation from conflict : the Great War in Irish poetry
This thesis explores the impact of the First World War on the imaginations of six poets - W.B. Yeats, Robert Graves, Louis MacNeice, Derek Mahon, Seamus Heaney and Michael Longley - all of whom have written in wartime: Graves in the Great War, Yeats in the Great War, the Anglo-Irish War and the Civil War, MacNeice in the Second World War, Mahon, Longley and Heaney in the Northern Ireland Troubles. The thesis locates affinities between these poets in their response to violence, and compares the ways in which they have imaginatively appropriated the images and events of the Great War to facilitate that response. Part I of this study begins by outlining the historical background to Irish participation in the Great War, and considers some of the issues involved in the Irish cultural response to the war which were engendered by the complex domestic politics in Ireland between 1914 and 1918. Chapters two to four constitute a more detailed exploration of these issues as manifested in the work of Yeats, Graves and MacNeice. In the cases of Yeats and MacNeice, their engagement with the subject of the Great War is re-evaluated in order to illuminate repressed or complex areas of Irish history and culture, and to shed new light on their influence on recent Northern Irish poetry. Consideration of Robert Graves's response to the Great War serves to illustrate the ways in which a high-profile association with the War can obscure relations to an Irish or Anglo-Irish tradition. The thesis discusses ways in which these poets have been misrepresented, and considers how far the misrepresentation can be attributed to the contrasting interpretations of the Great War in England and Ireland, and to versions of literary history based upon these interpretations. The second part of the study concentrates on contemporary Northern Irish poetry. Chapter five considers problems pertinent to Northern Ireland in relation to the subject of the Great War by looking at the ways in which remembrance of the war, politicized in order to bolster mythologies of history, reverberates in the context of the Northern Irish Troubles. The final three chapters outline the difficulties encountered by Northern Irish poets Mahon, Heaney and Longley, under pressure to respond to the Troubles, and relate these difficulties to those encountered by the Great War soldier poets. The chapters explore the extent to which the fascination of these three poets with the Great War illuminates their aesthetic strategies, revises aspects of Irish political and cultural history, offers a way of responding to the violence in Northern Ireland, and has determined critical responses to their work. The thesis is concerned with ways in which the Great War has been imagined in Irish writing. It also shows how and why those imaginings have struggled with, and revised aspects of, reductive mythologies of history and competing versions of the literary canon.