East of Ireland: Ideas of Europe in Postwar British and Irish Poetry Open Access

Greaves, Margaret Ann (2015)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/vh53wv94r?locale=en


When Seamus Heaney claimed in his poem "Punishment" that a person living in 1970s Northern Ireland could "understand the exact / and tribal, intimate revenge" behind the sacrificial killings of Iron Age Denmark, he alighted on a deeply ingrained but overlooked impulse in postwar British and Irish poetry. This dissertation contends that from 1960 to the present, British and Irish poetry has largely been shaped by the concurrent temptation and resistance to reading conflicts in foreign parts of Europe as distorted images of unrest at home. While studies of nationalism and poetry abound, the ways in which myths of Europe, rather than myths of the nation, inflect poetry and poetics has received scant attention. Yet Ted Hughes, Seamus Heaney, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, and Tony Harrison, along with many of their peers, rework ideas of Europe that inspire innovations in their theories and practices of lyric poetry. My project traces the relationship between poetry and ethnic conflict in Europe from the generation of post-Movement poets writing shortly after World War II through poets writing in the international climate of the War on Terror. In the postwar era, sporadic violence in Europe has frequently been coded as "tribal" to quarantine it from the idea of a unified Europe that has supposedly abolished internal conflict. By the 1990s, this rhetoric of tribalism had come to dominate interpretations of conflicts as diverse as the Northern Ireland Troubles and the Yugoslav Wars. I examine poetry's unique intervention in the rhetoric of tribalism, beginning with Hughes's metaphor of the poet as the shaman of a tribe in crisis--a notion that Heaney recalibrates through Eastern European poets. I then read Hughes's and Heaney's influences through two poetic trends: Northern Irish elegies for Bosnian Genocide victims in the 1990s, and contemporary sequences of lyric poems that assume the voice of a war correspondent reporting from warzones in Eastern Europe. In charting the aesthetic logic that underlies representations of internal European conflict, my project argues that these poets challenge the European imaginary to situate their own poetics as central, rather than marginal, to ideas of Europe.

Table of Contents


Chapter 1.

"The Shaman and the Senate": The Tribal Metaphor from Ted Hughes to Seamus Heaney 33

Chapter 2.

"Punishing the Lyric": Seamus Heaney and Poetry of the New Europe 94

Chapter 3.

"Vistas of Simultaneity": Northern Irish Elegies for the Yugoslav Wars 144

Chapter 4.

Lyric Times: Poetry of War Correspondence from England and Northern Ireland 177


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