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http://www.jstor.org EdwardHirsch

The Imaginary Irish Peasant

EDWARD HIRSCH, profes- A man who does not exist, sor of English at the University A man who is but a dream . . . W. B. Yeats, "TheFisherman" of Houston, is the author of three books of poems: For the Sleepwalkers (Knopf; 1981), Wild Gratitude (Knopf, 1986), which won the National Book HROUGHOUT THE nineteenth century, but particu- larly in there was an in- Critics' Circle Award, and The postfamine , increasing terest in the rural customs and stories of the Irish country people. Night Parade (Knopf, 1989). This interest deeply intensified during the early years of the Irish He has published articles on Literary Revival-indeed, it was in this period that the Irish peasant Irish literaturein ELH, , was fundamentally "created" and characterized for posterity. By Modern , , and placing the peasant figure at the heart of their enterprises, key Revival other journals. writers such as W. B. Yeats, John Synge, George Russell (AE), Isabella Augusta Gregory, and were partici- pating in a complex cultural discourse motivated by crucial eco- nomic, social, and political needs, as well as by pressing cultural concerns. They also established the terms of an argument that has affected virtually all subsequent Irish . From and Flann O'Brien onward, few major Irish writers have not felt compelled to demythologize the peasant figure that was first imag- ined by the Revivalists. One thinks of 's assertion that his "childhood experience was the usual barbaric life of the Irish country poor" (Self Portrait 9); of Sean O'Faolain's vehement contention that the "Noble Peasant is as dead as the Noble Savage" (T. Brown 81); of 's "archaeological" poems and 's three "Mayo Monologues" that implicitly crit- icize idealizations of Ireland's past and its people; or of the re- lentlessly bleak vision of Irish rural life and society in John McGahern's first three : The Barracks (1963), The Dark (1965), and The Leavetaking (1974). One legacy of the Revivalist's glorification of the country people has been a nearly endless in- tertextual regress in . The romantic myth of the peasant was so powerful that not until the late 1970s and early 1980s did Irish writers systematically begin

1116 Edward Hirsch 1117

to interrogate and dismantle the terms of the Re- and about rural life. The rural figures de- vivalist argument, the reductive centering of the lineated by the major Irish authors were so com- country people in Irish literature.Both the pelling that some readers and critics have periodical the Crane Bag (which started publish- mistakenly considered them real or historically ing in 1977) and the Field Day Theatre Company accurate. Indeed, each figuration of peasant life (founded in in 1980) have been instru- claimed a special empirical status for itself, ar- mental in this questioning. In a yearly stage pro- guing for its own literal verisimilitude. But this duction and in a succession of polemical supposed empiricism was the brilliant ruse of an pamphlets, the directorsof Field Day (, elaborate cultural discourse. Beyond their real Stephen Rea, Seamus Heaney, Tom Paulin, - differences, most Irish writers had a common be- vid Hammond, and ), all from lief in a single undifferentiated entity called "the , have set out to "contribute to peasants." This process of turning the peasants the solution of the present crisis by producing into a single figure of literary art ("the peasant") analyses of the established opinions, myths, and may be termed the "aestheticizing" of the Irish stereotypes which had become both a symptom country people. Such aestheticizing takes place and a cause of the current situation" (Hederman whenever a complex historical group of people and Kearey vii). One fundamental aspect of this is necessarily simplified by being collapsed into enterprise has been an assault on Irish essential- one entity, "the folk." Yeats's spiritualized fish- ism, on what Seamus Deane calls "the mystique ermen, Synge's wandering tramps, and Joyce's of Irishness," especially as it has been embodied hard and crafty peasants are all emblems of that in an anachronistic Irish culture ("Heroic Styles" imaginary entity. 57).1 In a similar vein, the shade of James Joyce The Irish countryside, however, was populated advises the pilgrim in Heaney's long poem "Sta- by a diverse grouping of the rural poor, nearly tion Island" to "let go, let fly, forget," to relin- infinite in its social and economic gradations,that quish "that subject people stuff," and to fill the comprised small farmers, laborer-landholders, element with his own "echo-soundings, searches, landless laborers, and itinerant workers.2 The probes, allurements"(212). Here Heaney borrows people themselves made a central distinction not Joyce's voice to advise his own poetic alter ego only between large absentee landholders and ev- to break the nets of a debilitating, parasitic Irish eryone else but also between those families who cultural discourse. owned any land at all and those who did not. So who are these Irish country people who have The whole concept of an unchanging Irish peas- had such a long and controversial history in Irish antry has been called into question by F. S. L. literature?And precisely what do they represent? Lyons, who suggests that "the general effect of I contend that the portraits of the peasant gen- the economic changes [in Ireland] of the second erated by different Irish , dramatists, half of the nineteenth century was to substitute writers, and antiquarians during the Literary Re- a ruralbourgeoisie for a ruralproletariat" (Ireland vival were often radicallyopposed to one another; 41-42). Likewise, Martin J. Waters argues that in fact, each writer undertook to rewrite or to few aspects of Irish life were unaffected by these reconceptualize the peasant characters imagined massive social and economic transformations: by predecessors and contemporaries. Thus Yeats "The notion, then, of an 'Irish peasantry' with a and Hyde created portraits of the peasant that peculiar ethos somehow remaining outside the not only rivaled each other but aimed primarily dynamics of Irish history... is untenable"(161). at overturning the prevailing English colonial The thirty years between 1860 and 1890 saw a stereotype reflected in the stage Irishman. These major reorderingof the rural class structure. The portraits were in turn rewritten by Synge, even countryside was permanently altered by the as Yeats's, Hyde's, and Synge's were reworked in dominant growth of small-farmer proprietor- divergent ways by Joyce, O'Brien, and Kavanagh. ships, the relentless decrease in population in the The writers' alternative conceptions, however, wake of the , and the virtual destruction were usually underlined by shared assumptions of a viable -speakingcommunity paralleled 1118 The ImaginaryIrish Peasant

"TheBallad Singer." Block printby JackB. Yeats. Collectionof the author. by a significant growth in English-literacy rates. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth cen- These changes indicate that the countryside was turies the Irish peasant was a figure deeply en- going through something like the last stage of ru- coded with social, political, and literary meaning, ral proletarianization (Clark 112-22). Indeed, as and to speak or write about that central image of Malcolm Brown suggests, the agrarian changes Irish identity in the context of the time was to were deep enough to transform the "human na- participate in a special kind of cultural discourse. ture" of the Irish country people (294). That The country people were important to Irish cul- peasants no longer existed as such by the time tural and political nationalists not for their own they were being fiercely "discovered" and por- sake but because of what they signified as a con- trayed by Irish antiquarians and imaginative cept and as a language. To speak about the writers should point up that what mattered to "peasant" was always to speak about something those writers and their urban audiences was not beyond actual rural life. To debate the charac- so much what peasants were but what they rep- teristics of that peasant was to share a vocabulary; resented. This gap or disjunction between the simultaneously, to undermine and attack some- imaginary peasant ("a man who does not exist") one's idea of the peasant was to come uncom- and the real country people illuminates the lan- fortably close to attacking that person's concept guage that informed both Irish culture and, con- of Irish social classes. So much was at stake in sequently, Irish literature. the debate about the people of the Irish country- Edward Hirsch 1119

side that in essence all the major Irish writers To the English public the peasant incarnated the sought to exchange their own portraits of the barbarism and savagery of Irish rural life, be- peasant for the larger cultural language and thus coming an emblem of the Irish national character to "naturalize" or universalize their ideas about itself. The dehumanization of the Irish in English Irish life. The power of the discourse surrounding periodicals (and on the stage) was fiercely chal- Irish country life becomes apparent when one lenged by the alternative tradition in Irish news- remembers that the most common ethnic stereo- papers of portraying the peasant as a noble, type featured in the English comic weeklies and honest, victimized farmer. No dramatization or on the music-hall stage was the Irish peasant, portrayalof Irish peasant life could ever be wholly "Paddy," a comic, quaint, drunken Irish buffoon. free of the looming shadow and presence of the But between 1840 and 1890 the portrayal of the English colonizer. stage Irishman changed dramatically, and, as L. The first task of the was Perry Curtis, Jr., has documented, the stereotypes to dismantle the "Paddy" image, invert the ste- of the late Victorian and early modern era were reotype, and make the peasant a spiritual figure, far more dangerous than the equivalent carica- the living embodiment of the "Celtic" imagina- tures of the mid-nineteenth century. Largely as a result of heavy postfamine emigration into the worst English slums, the rise of the Fenian move- ment in the 1860s, and the dramatic succession of violent agrarian revolts in the west of Ireland, the stage Irishman was reduced in British char- acterizations to a subhuman figure, a "white Negro" portrayed in Punch as a primitive or peasant Caliban. Curtis writes:

The gradualbut unmistakabletransformation of Paddy,the stereotypicalIrish Celt of the mid-nine- teenth century, from a drunken and relatively harmlesspeasant into a dangerousape-man or sim- ianized agitatorreflected a significantshift in the attitudesof some Victoriansabout the differences betweennot only Englishmenand Irishmen,but also betweenhuman beings and apes. (Apes and Angels vii)3

Nor was the likeness between Irish peasants and subhuman creatures limited to English comic weeklies. The overwhelming squalor and poverty in the West during the horrible years of the fam- ine also led English writers to conclude that the Irish existed on a lower rung of the Darwinian ladder. After traveling through Ireland in 1860, , for example, wrote: "An Irish ." Illustration by James A. , from I am hauntedby the humanchimpanzees I sawalong Puck (3 Nov. 1880: 150). The violent, simianized Irish that hundredmiles of horriblecountry. I don't be- Celt dances over the products-including drugs-that lieve they are our fault. I believethere are not only he has gleaned from and America. In the moreof them than of old, but thatthey arehappier, background, John Bull and Uncle Sam confer on how better,more comfortablyfed and lodgedunder our to subdue him. Reproduced from Curtis, Apes andAn- rulethan they everwere. But to see whitechimpan- gels 66, by permission of the Smithsonian Institution zees is dreadful. (Lyons,Culture 12) Press. 1120 The ImaginaryIrish Peasant

tion, a "natural" aristocrat. The Irish Revivalist defined in The Country and the City, the Reviv- writers set out to prove that, in Gregory's polem- alists dichotomized urban and rural life, asso- ical words, "Irelandis not the home of buffoonery ciating cities with "culture" and the countryside and of easy sentiment, as it has been represented, with "nature." Similarly, the "naturalness" of but the home of an ancient idealism" (Irish folk life was contrasted with the mechanical, ma- Theatre 20). That "ancient idealism" was located terial, and industrial development of life in the in the notion of a traditional, unchanging, "nat- metropolis (289-307).4 In Ireland the conjunc- ural" Irish populace. By idealizing peasants-and tion of and romantic - by defining them as the essence of an ancient, of projecting an ancient, national, and unchang- dignified Irish culture-the Revivalists were spe- ing Irish peasant culture deep into the past-went cifically countering the English stereotype. The arm in arm with the project to "[c]all the Muses supernatural and imaginative wealth of home" (Yeats, "Those Images," Poems 600) by the Irish peasant were also posed against the creating a contemporary Anglo-Irish literature modern industrial and commercial British spirit. distinct from Victorian . Thus To "[s]ing of old Eire and the ancient ways," as Yeats could assert that the dream of the Irish Yeats does in his early poem "To the Rose upon peasant "has never been entangled by reality" the Rood of Time" (Poems 101), was always to ("Literary Movement" 94) and that Anglo-Irish sing either explicitly or implicitly against the literature, in styling and rooting itself in a "tra- dominant middle-class English culture. In the dition of life that existed before commercialism, tradition of romantic pastoralism, whose terms and the vulgarity founded upon it" ("Postscript" Raymond Williams has carefully and historically 105), was fundamentally opposed to late Victo-

"Tyrantand Toady." Illustration by ThomasFitzpatrick, from the WeeklyFreeman and NationalPress (17 Sept. 1892).A handsomeagent from the NationalFederation encourages an idealizedIrish tenant, who is beingevicted by the politicianJohn Redmondand a shabbyIrish landlord. Reproduced from Curtis,Apes and Angels79, by permissionof the SmithsonianInstitution Press. Edward Hirsch 1121

nan and early literature: "Con- new Irish literature. It was Yeats's typical move temporary English literature takes delight in to bring them together. Throughout the 1880s praising England and her Empire, the master- and 1890s he created Irish or "Celtic" precursors work and dream of the middle class" ("Literary whom he proclaimed rooted in the ancient folk Movement" 90). This effort was in turn part of culture of the Irish peasantry. In this way he was an even larger project to create and define an mutating a traditional idea of Irish vitality that Irish culture (or an Anglo-Irish culture) distinct was given its key formulation in Matthew Ar- from the dominant English culture. Yeats char- nold's influential Oxford lectures, The Study of acteristically speaks of half-planning "a new (1867). method and a new culture" (Autobiography102). Most important for Yeats-as for every major That project required the writers of the Revival Revival writer to follow-was the necessary link- to generate their own precursors-as Jorge Luis age of homeland and song. In 1887 he praised Borges says all writers do-to "traditionalize" Katherine Tynan for writing on Irish subjects, their work by reviving Irish literary models, con- because "in the finding [of] her nationality, she sequently locating themselves within an indige- has found also herself" ( 120). In late-nine- nous Irish literary and historical context. teenth-century Ireland "finding yourself" was It should not be surprising, then, that as early always tied to finding your national (i.e., non- as 1886 the chief progenitor of the movement, English) self. If, as Yeats believed, the self could the twenty-one-year-old Yeats, himself newly not be wholly circumscribedby nationality, either converted to literary nationalism by John literary or cultural, neither could it possibly be O'Leary, aggressively attacked the "West Brit- understood without nationalist referents. What onism" of Edward Dowden (professor of English distinguished Irish from English writers was a at Trinity College and "the most distinguished complex national identity, and in searching for of our critics") and praised as that identity Irish writers turned, as if naturally, the "greatestIrish " for the "barbaroustruth" to the people they imagined to be most distinc- of his writings (Prose 81-104).5 The idea that Irish tively and authentically Irish: the peasants. This -of which Ferguson was but one exem- phenomenon helps us to account for the sudden plum-was in touch with some kind of deeply omnipresence of the Irish peasant in late-nine- savage or primarytruth, as opposed to what Yeats teenth-century Irish literature and for the cen- called the "leprosy of the modern" (Prose 104), trality of folklore to the modern Irish literary was to serve as one of the touchstones of Revival imagination. thinking. Ferguson's poetry may in actuality have The idea that the peasant represented some had less rootedness and savage folk primitivism pure state of the national culture was itself a ro- than Yeats imagined (or wanted to imagine), but mantic fiction, or an idea that ultimately derived it could nonetheless successfully counter the up- from the philosophy of Herder and the other rooted "luxuriousness" and empty verbal felici- German Romantics, and it came to most young ties of contemporary rival English poets like Irish writers through the compelling personal Edmund Gosse, Andrew Lang, and Arthur Dob- presence and broad cultural nationalism of John son. Similarly, Yeats discovered the myths and O'Leary. In two important speeches-"What legends of the Irish heroic age in Standish Irishmen Should Know" and "How Irishmen O'Grady's (1878-80) and an- Should Feel"-O'Leary forged the link between nounced that O'Grady's"multifarious knowledge indigenous folk forms and the cause of nation- of Gaelic legend and Gaelic history and a most alism, specifically arguing that literature and na- Celtic temperament have put him in communion tionality were inseparable and interdependent.7 with the moods that have [always] been over Irish O'Leary perceived the nearly inexhaustible pos- purposes . ." (Prose 367).6 The contemporary sibilities for a new Irish literature based on tra- (living) folklore of the Irish countryside and the ditional Irish sources, and in directing young Irish ancient (revived by archaeolo- writers to that untapped reservoir of materials, gists and translators) served as dual sources for a he was also pointing the way toward a new lit- 1122 The ImaginaryIrish Peasant

erature. But the idea that peasants embodied ient cultural nationalism. For them the Irish "true"Irish culture had both political and literary peasant not only represented some essential Irish currency in the 1840s, when Thomas Davis identity but seemed wholly Other, an outlook not founded the Nation and directed his readers to shared by urban, middle-class Catholics or by the folk songs and folkways of their native heri- later Catholic writers like Joyce, O'Brien, and tage. (And hence Yeats, who always privileged Kavanagh. Because the Protestant intellectuals "literature" over "politics" and the personality did not see the peasant as a figure out of their of the individual artist over the demands of the own immediate or historical past, they had no audience, found it necessaryto carry on a lifelong trouble in preservingthe ruralarchetype as pagan quarrel-the "de-Davisization" of Irish litera- and primitive rather than as fundamentally ture-with a writer whose patriotic poetry he dis- Catholic. By mystifying an ancient, unchanging liked but whom he admired for trying to "speak folk life, removed from the harsh realities of land out of a people to a people."8) Yeats, who "began agitation and social conflict in the countryside, in all things Pre-Raphaelite," was also turned to they could treat the peasant as a romantic em- folklore by William Morris's wedding of social blem of a deep, cultural, , and signifi- politics and Pre-Raphaeliteliterary forms (Essays cantly anticommercial (or nonmaterialistic) Irish 56-64). Since idealizing the peasantryalways had life. The Revival writers believed that cities, es- nationalist political as well as cultural implica- pecially English cities like , represented tions, the fiction of an original Irish culture in- modernity and commercialism, whereas rural carnated in peasant life motivated not only the areas, especially the landscape of western Ireland, development of Anglo-Irishliterature but also the were free from commerce and materialism. That emergence of the Gaelic League ( 1893). Douglas is, life in the countryside was "natural" and Hyde, its founder and first president, thought of therefore exempt from the material concerns of the league as "non-political and non-sectarian," "culture." Similarly, "individuals" lived in the but Padraic Pearse called it, with only partial cities, but the "folk" lived in the country. Thus overstatement, "the most revolutionaryinfluence the Revival writers projected a group of rural that has ever come into Ireland"(Mansergh 246- people who were not, to any significant degree, 48).9 The mythologized peasant also energized what Yeats called "individuated." Country life the Gaelic Athletic Association (founded by Mi- was characterized by its orality, organicism, and chael Cusack in 1884), which banned all English closeness to nature. By being paganized, the Irish games and dances as unpatriotic and "revived" peasant was also turned into a figure of origins, hurley and other Celtic games and pastimes. of vital and abundant life freed from the con- These democratic movements contributed to the straints of and the "moral law." It growing revolutionary spirit of what the nation- was a characteristiclate-nineteenth-century Irish alist editor of the Leader, D. P. Moran, dubbed literary argument (one Yeats used, for example, "Irish Ireland." It is not surprising that a news- at his first meeting with the young Joyce) that, paper called the Irish Peasant emerged between to escape from solipsism and abstraction, indi- 1903 and 1906, edited for a middle-class Catholic vidual artists should substantiate their work in readership by W. P. , a Gaelic League en- the communal stories and mythology of the il- thusiast.'0 Peasant life was always projected to literate folk. Deliberate literary artists could the center of the attempt to regenerate and trans- escape their own mentality, the highly individ- figure Ireland. ualized and potentially sterile "world of ideas," While most of the important writers and cre- by seeking out the abundant and unself-conscious ators of the Irish Literary Revival were Anglo- images of the popular tradition. As Synge put it Irish Protestants (Yeats, Gregory, Synge, Hyde), in his preface to The Playboy of the Western the rural country people, "the folk" that intensely World: interested them, were all Catholics. These Anglo- Irish Protestant writers were also separated from In Ireland,for a few yearsmore, we have a popular a large segment of their own class by their incip- imaginationthat is fieryand magnificent, and tender; Edward Hirsch 1123

so that those of us who wish to write startwith a of nationalist Catholic who also chancethat is not givento writerswhere the spring- thought that everything originally Irish came time of the local life has been forgotten,and the from contact with the soil but whose political harvestis a and the strawhas been memory only, and economic aspirations had little to do with a turnedto bricks. (Plays 53) "[d]ream of the noble and the beggar-man." Although most of the Irish Literary Revival It is a to this for "rootedness" corollary quest writerswere Anglo-IrishProtestants, most of their that the individual almost always a artist, product home audience-the audience that frequented of town life, could the acute self-con- escape the , for example-was composed sciousness of too much in the mind living (what of middle-class Catholics. This new Catholic Yeats saw as the fate of the Rhymers) by turning middle class formed a ready market for Irish lit- to the popular traditions of people who lived al- erature in English and played a key role in the most in their bodies and whose folk- exclusively origins and rapid development of the Literary lore seemed to constitute an endless succession Revival (Costello 18). But Catholics, especially of without ideas. The association of the images middle-class Catholics, associated the peasant with a under- country spiritualized physicality with a strong and debilitating sense of cultural lined the Revival idea that "all art should be a inferiority, and they were at least partially Centaur in the lore its back and finding popular ashamed of their own rural background. The its strong Also legs" (Yeats, Autobiography 229). country people never referred to themselves as implicit was the belief that the natural popular "peasants"constituting a "peasantry,"terms they tradition itself lacked discriminating intelligence found derogatory and condescending. In Seamus and, to achieve or "culture," required greatness, O'Kelly's novel Wet Clay (1922), for example, a the shaping hand of a literary artist. As Yeats young American returns to Ireland to learn the formulated this notion to Joyce, "When the idea ways of the land. In one scene he tells his cousin, which comes from individual life marries the im- an Irish farmer, and his Gaelic-speaking grand- that is born from the one age people gets great mother that he has followed his blood and be- art, the art of , and of and Shakespeare, come a peasant: of Chartres Cathedral" (Ellmann 89). With this concept in mind one can understandthe structure "A what?"the old womanasked. of behind Yeats's celebrated stanza in feelings "A all are we not?" "The Revisited": peasant-we're peasants, Municipal Gallery "Faith,I neverknew that until you came acrossthe ocean to tell us," the old woman said. John Synge,I and AugustaGregory, thought All that we did, all that we said or sang The Irish farmer then to the American: Must come from contactwith the soil, from that explains Contacteverything Antaeus-like grew strong. We threealone in moder times had brought "We never call ourselvespeasants. It was always Everythingdown to that sole test again, The People. Take the wordingof our ritual:'The Dreamof the noble and the beggar-man. Land for the People.''The People'sRights.' 'Clear (Poems603) the Ranches of the ; Make Room for the People.'. . ." (qtd. in Kiely 24) The final three lines of this stanza emphasize the heroic isolation and shared ideology of Yeats, The word peasant was also in disrepute in Synge, and Gregory ("[w]e . .. alone in mod- middle-class Catholic Dublin (MacLohlainn 19- ern times"), as well as the essential traditional 20), because for middle-class Catholic Dubliners purity of an enterprise that once more brings the so-called peasant was almost always a figure "[e]verythingdown to that sole test." At the same out of their own recent family past.l Many time, a literary ideal is translated into terms that Catholic Dubliners affected English manners, resonate with a (nostalgic) politics of patronage. styles, and habits, stigmatizing the Gaelic lan- These lines specifically exclude the large group guage and peasant customs as a badge of social 1124 The ImaginaryIrish Peasant

inferiority and backwardness. Their insecurity land" (1892) was powerful because it pin- suggests that as colonials they had internalized pointed-though not exclusively for Catholics- English attitudes and stereotypes. But because the typical ambivalence of people who had ceased they were also nationalists, they liked to idealize "to be Irish without becoming English": and sentimentalize their roots, and they were es- pecially vulnerable when attacked for their "West It is a fact,and we mustface it as a fact,that although Britonism." This new Anglicization left the theyadopt English habits and copyEngland in every Catholic Dubliners with the painful feeling that way,the greatbulk of Irishmenand Irishwomen over they had no identity, that they had lost their na- the whole worldare knownto be filledwith a dull, tive culture without being subsumed by English ever-abidinganimosity against her, and-right or customs and culture (Watson 20). The sense of wrong-to grievewhen she prospers,and joy when belonging to a fragmented or broken culture is she is hurt. (154) famously summed up in Stephen Dedalus's dis- cussion with the English dean of studies in A Por- In her autobiography, the Anglo-Irish writer trait of the Artist as a Young Man: makes the useful observation that whereas the politicians had promised and The languagein whichwe arespeaking is his before failed to deliver Ireland for the Irish, "Irishness it is mine. How differentare the wordshome, Christ, for the Irish was the Gaelic League's promise, ale, master,on his lips and on mine!I cannotspeak subtler and more essential" (400). or write these words without unrest of spirit. His Lower-middle-classand middle-class Catholics so familiarand so will be language, foreign, always in Dublin shared a discomfort with peasant life for me an acquiredspeech. I have not made or ac- as all too Irish, but at the same time idealized ceptedits words. voice holds them at they My bay. My that life rise of the Gaelic and the soul fretsin the shadowof his language. (189) (the League mass appeal of the Gaelic Athletic Association were in some manifestations of that ideal- One way to deal with a debilitating sense of cul- ways understood that the could tural alienation was to turn a Joycean arrogance ization). They peasant be turned into an emblem not of Ireland's against Ireland's native culture. Another way was only victimization and but also of its to engage in a permanent conflict with that cul- nobility igno- and shame. As Watson ture. Dedalus's diary entry on the penultimate rance, vulgarity, George middle-class who had a page of Portrait summons up the old man that notes, many Catholics, Mulrennan had interviewed in the west of Ire- basic evolutionary idea of their own progress, land: "did not like being reminded that Ireland was an overwhelmingly rural or peasant society" (25). the structure of urban associated I fear him. I fear his redrimmedhorny eyes. It is Again, feelings with him I must struggleall throughthis night till with peasant life is made clear in Portrait when day come, till he or I lie dead,gripping him by the Dedalus thinks of an emblematic peasant woman sinewy throat till.... Till what? Till he yield to first as a "type of her race and his own" (thus me? No. I mean him no harm. (252) associating himself with the woman) and then as "a batlike soul waking in consciousness of itself That old man in a mountain cabin is whom (and in darkness and secrecy and loneliness" (183). In what) Dedalus is fleeing. Dedalus's view the woman is a figure of the Irish A more commonly "patriotic" path was the unconscious associated with something dark, idealization of the native culture. Because urban lonely, beckoning, shameful. The engendering of Catholics were sensitive about belonging to an the peasant is crucial here. Whereas the colonizer "inferior" culture, many of them were especially is associated with invulnerable masculine susceptible to pleas, like Douglas Hyde's, to "cul- strength, the colonized is associated with a guilty tivate what they have rejected, and build up an and dangerous female secrecy and vulnerability. Irish nation on Irish lines." Hyde's influential "Worst of all," as Deane says in summarizing the speech "The Necessity for De-Anglicising Ire- colonial stereotypes of the barbaricIrish peasant, Edward Hirsch 1125

"he is sometimes a she" ("Civilians and Barbar- a sense of pride in a native culture and fit in well ians" 40). Edna O'Brien summons up a host of with their social and economic aspirations. The conventional associations when she characterizes move to cultural nationalism was especially sig- Ireland as "a woman, a womb, a cave, a cow, a nificant in the demoralized wake of Charles Rosaleen, a sow, a bride, a harlot, and, of course, Parnell's fall from power and the sudden impos- the Hag of Beare" (11). This engendering was sibility of parliamentary reform (home rule). As also part of Catholic Dublin's painful ambiva- Yeats often testified, the literary movement itself lence about "peasant" life. crystallized after the bitter controversy over the For the Catholic middle class, however, the Parnell : Irish country person functioned as a particularly of all important autochthonous myth, the source The modemliterature of Ireland,and indeed all that authentic Irish life. The peasants symbolized co- stir of thoughtwhich preparedfor the Anglo-Irish lonial dissent: Because they were physically warbegan when Parnellfell from power.A disillu- rooted in Irish soil, they established irrefutable sioned and embitteredIreland turned from parlia- property rights and economic claims to Ireland mentarypolitics; an event was conceived,and the against the English colonizer. Michael Davitt's racebegan, as I think,to be troubledby thatevent's Land League, founded in 1879, distinctly fostered long gestation. (Autobiography378) and powerfully motivated this economic myth. The Land League argued that the peasants had In Hugh Hunt's words, "Ireland'snational theater once owned all the land in Celtic Ireland before was born of a short-lived marriage between po- they were displaced by English settlers. By pro- litical and cultural nationalism in the form of the jecting an economic aspiration for the future into Celtic . . . Revival" (11). Thus was a constella- the ancient past, the league helped to politicize tion of Anglo-IrishProtestant writers and middle- the country people around the idea of their his- class Catholic nationalists brought together. torical rights to the land. The league strengthened However, the Catholic audience for that new the concept of the peasant as a victim of English modern literature could easily feel betrayed by imperialism. Consequently, it spurred and esca- Anglo-Irish Protestant writers who had a signif- lated the breakdown of the countryside from a icantly different structure of feelings about Irish realm of large estates to one of small plots and life (see C. C. O'Brien 48-79; Lyons, Culture 13, landholdings, in the process yoking the agrarian 28). Certainly this attitude helps to account for reform movement to the nationalist enterprise the enthusiastic creation and welcome develop- (see Davitt for a primary account of the league; ment of the National Theatre, which was then two of the many secondary accounts are Palmer's riddled with controversies over plays like The and Lee's). The Land League's propaganda was Countess Cathleen, In the Shadow of the Glen, also effective in reversing and inverting the figure and The Playboy of the Western World.All these of the "primitive" peasant. This economic myth controversies centered on the dramatization of of the peasant differed from the myth of the peas- the Irish peasant. In their 1906 pamphlet Irish ant promulgated by the Anglo-Irish Protestant Plays, for example, the Abbey playwrights sug- Revivalists, who spiritualized the peasants by de- gested that they had broken with previous stagings materializingthem, turning them into an emblem of traditional Irish life and had instead "taken of natural, antieconomic people. So, too, did the their types and scenes direct from Irish life itself": paganization of the peasant depart from the mid- dle class's necessary view of an orthodox, un- Thislife is richin dramaticmaterials, while the Irish impeachable Catholicism. In this peasant way, peasantryof the hills and coast speakan exuberant the was invested with peasant figure divergent language,and have a primitivegrace and wildness, interests and values. due to the wild country they live in, which gives The middle-class Catholics of Dublin formed their most ordinarylife a vividnessand colour un- a ready audience for the Irish theater movement knownin more civilisedplaces. because the idealization of the peasant instilled (qtd. in Clarke 121)12 1126 The ImaginaryIrish Peasant

Consequently, the recurrent objection to these Thomas Crofton Croker and fiction writers like plays and to Synge's work in particular was that, , revises the (reductively) polit- in Daniel Corkery's summary charge, the "plays ical peasant of Thomas Davis and the other writ- were not Irish plays inasmuch as they misrepre- ers of the Movement, and sented the Irish peasant" (Hogan and Kilroy 44; empiricizes his occult and romantic interests in see also Hirsch, "Gallous Story"). The special vi- a rural community. Folklore provided Yeats with ciousness and bitter frequency with which this the public material for other systems of corre- charge was leveled at Synge suggest that to "rep- spondence as well as for his own private symbol resent" or "misrepresent" the peasant was to system. As a writer committed to imaginative project a "representation" or "misrepresenta- nationalism, Yeats used the unmined body of tion" of Ireland itself and consequently to project Irish materials to root an idiosyncratic symbol or call into question one's own essential Irish system in a common and communal mythology, identity. But all representations were in some in effect tying his work to the efforts of writers ways misrepresentations.The very idea that some and scholars all over Ireland. As an Anglo-Irish nonindividuated or typical Irish peasant existed Protestant, a cultural nationalist, and a romantic was itself a necessary urban fiction. occultist in search of a truer faith than Christian- The complex literary, social, and political ma- ity, Yeats discovered in folklore a way to locate trix of feelings about Irish rural life provides a his work in a historically "real"community. And historical perspective on the peasant's figuration so his unique syncretism of romantic and occult by five major Irish writers: Yeats, Synge, Joyce, ideas conjoined with a culture's interest in na- O'Brien, and Kavanagh. Each of these writers tional folklore. In Poundian terms, and despite created an imaginary peasant in opposition both his own highly personal and evolving philoso- to the idealized peasant of middle-class Catholic phy, Yeats was working at the center of an Irish Dublin and to the peasant figures portrayed by vortex. 13 previous writers. Similarly, each justified his Synge's ethnographic and dramatic work project by satirizing earlier models of peasant life stands as a second major literary refiguration of and positing his own as an empirical reality. This the peasant. Indeed, almost all Synge's work is pretense to realism was a way of invoking "pres- dependent on his rewriting of the Irish country ence" and giving special authority to one's own people. Defining the Literary Revival, Synge view of Irish country life. In effect, each writer writes, "The intellectual movement that has was turning a personal mythology into a national taken place in Ireland for the last twenty years public code and moving an otherwise marginal has been chiefly a movement towards a nearer literary activity into the center of Irish culture. appreciation of the country people, and their The heavy critical emphasis on Yeats's late Ro- language . ." (Prose 367). Synge's work begins manticism and Joyce's innovative European with a Darwinian shock of recognition, and his has sometimes obscured the need to journey to the represents a quest understand the national public code-the lan- for a natural community to replace an absent guage of Irish culture-if one is to read modern center, the death of a transcendental God. Synge Irish literature. shared with Yeats an ideology of romantic prim- Yeats's early work was a daring and major re- itivism, but his stories of the wildness, violence, figuration of the Irish peasant. Indeed, every Irish cruelty, and verbal extravagance at the heart of writer since Yeats has had to contend with his peasant life subtly revised the way in which the revisionary portrait. In a wide variety of songs peasant had been previously spiritualized. His and ballads, plays and stories, folktale collections, ethnography of the Aran Islands and his later ef- literary sketches, reviews, and essays, Yeats dra- forts to get away from a purely "Cuchulainoid" matically reversed the stereotype by radically national theater, especially in his brilliantPlayboy spiritualizing the native country people. His pro- of the Western World, were also attempts both lific early work publicizes and rethinks the peas- to revise the Yeatsian spiritualization of the ant of nineteenth-century antiquarians like peasant and to undermine and attack the urban Edward Hirsch 1127

middle class's flattened portrait of the noble Irish distanced as a completely different physical type, farmer (an inversion of the stage stereotype). At someone wholly Other. the same time, Synge's work continued to ro- The grossness of an all too physical peasant in manticize the naturalness, , and rich Stephen Hero and Portrait was a direct attack on linguistic plenitude of Irish peasant life. For the nationalists, but it was also a sideways revision Synge, the peasant served as a substitute or met- of the Yeatsian mystifications of peasant life that onym for some original, authentic "human na- encompassed Synge as well. For example, Arthur ture." As Yeats's poem "In Memory of Major Power reports Joyce's opinion of Synge's work: Robert Gregory" suggests, Synge believed he had come I do not care for it, he told me, for I think that he wrotea kind of fabricatedlanguage as unrealas his characterswere unreal.Also in the Towards certain my experience nightfallupon set apart in Irelandare a different from In a most desolate peasants very people stony place, what he made them out to be, a hard, and Towards a race crafty nightfallupon matter-of-factlot, and I never heard of them Passionateand like his heart. any simple usingthe languagewhich Synge puts in theirmouths. (Poems325) (33-34)

Similarly, Synge writes, "I felt that this little cor- Similarly, the Cyclops episode of per- ner on the face of the world, and the people who manently and mercilessly set out to expose the live in it, have a peace and a dignity from which racism and provincialism of the Citizen's patriotic we are shut for ever" (Prose 162). idea of a Gaelic-speaking peasantry that he knew Joyce's strategic literary move-his contribu- nothing about. (The model for the Citizen, Mi- tion to the discourse about the peasant-was a chael Cusack, may be read as an emblem of the glancing demystification of the figure. In a key Irish Ireland movement itself.) But to rematerial- argument with the nationalist Madden in Stephen ize and re-Catholicize the overly spiritualized Hero, Joyce's autobiographical stand-in denies peasant of the Celtic twilight, Joyce flattened the the uniqueness of the Irish peasant: "One would peasant's character, describing it as crassly ma- imagine the country was inhabited by cherubim. terialistic and slavishly superstitious, totally lack- Damme if I see much difference in peasants: they ing in redeeming virtues or values. Joyce himself all seem to me as like one another as a peascod subtly revised this view-and deepened his sense is like another peascod . . ." (54). of the "primitive" life in the west of Ireland-in When Madden speaks of the "admirable type "The Dead." Indeed, the dichotomy between the of culture" and the "simple life" of the peasant, "overcivilized" city (the East, Dublin) and the Daedalus counterposes the "mental swamp" of passionate, underdeveloped country (the West, that same peasant: "a life of dull routine-the , the Aran Isles) is paramount to any calculation of coppers, the weekly debauch and reading of "The Dead." In some fundamental the weekly piety-a life lived in cunning and fear way, Joyce was not primarily interested in ren- between the shadows of the parish chapel and the dering life in the countryside; rather, he was fully asylum!" (54-55). The ways in which the peas- preoccupied with the embracing humanity and ant's closeness to nature had been romanticized "scrupulous meanness" of a city like Dublin. But were undoubtedly hovering in the background it is a sign of the power of the national cultural when Joyce sent Daedalus into a railway car to discourse in Ireland that he nonetheless found it encounter the "offensive" smell and "odour of necessary to project and dismantle the central debasing humanity" (238). Less convincing is the figure of the Irish peasant. later affirmative statement that "[i]t was in the O'Brien's extravagant antipastoral comedies constant observance of the peasantry that Ste- may be read as a fourth stage in the successive phen chiefly delighted" (244), though the passage literary refigurations of the peasant. Fluent in does show something of Joyce's ambivalence. For Gaelic, O'Brien was an accomplished, idiosyn- Daedalus-as for Joyce himself-the peasant is cratic stylist of the languagewho characteristically 1128 The ImaginaryIrish Peasant

used his linguistic skills to parody and unmask O'Brien lacks an international reputation, the previous portraitsof peasant life. By taking Myles reason may be that his work concentrates on dis- na Gopaleen as his nom de plume-the name of mantling the literature of Ireland rather than on the most despised of nineteenth-century music- creating a revisionary "European" oeuvre equal hall buffoons, the character from Dion Bouci- to the poems of Yeats, the plays of Synge, or the cault's stage Irish The Colleen fiction of Joyce. While is the post- Baun-he mockingly reversed the traditional Joycean Irishwriter whose work most successfully stereotype and turned the satirized into the sat- avoids the constraints of a defining Irish literary irist, the comic figure into the author himself tradition by radically denying any antiquarian (Kiberd 463). As Myles, O'Brien witheringly par- referents ("not for me all these Deirdres and odied the various sentimentalizations of the Maeves and Cathleens," he says repeatedly [Bair peasant in Irish cultural discourse, including a 106]),'5O'Brien is the writerwhose fiction is most popular spate of autobiographies by country dependent for its effects on previous Irish literary people.14 Especially galled by Synge's work, he tradition. He has the fate of being the most major took Joyce's distaste one step furtherand asserted belated prose writer to stay in Ireland. that "nothing in the whole galaxy of fake is com- Kavanagh's adversarialrelation to the Revival parable with Synge. . . . Playing up to the for- parallels O'Brien's, for both writers felt savage eigner, putting up the witty celtic act, doing the indignation over the literary falsifications of Irish erratic but lovable playboy, pretending to be mo- rural life. As the son of a shoemaker in Innis- rose and obsessed and thoughtful-all that is keene, county Conoghan, as a self-educated wearing so thin that we must put it aside soon in Catholic poet who grew up in the countryside, shame as one puts aside a threadbaresuit" (Myles and as a Northern Irish parish writer who was 234). Myles's strategy was to collapse the Brit- often condescended to as a "peasant"poet during ish music-hall Paddy and Synge's revisionary his years in Dublin (especially after the false pas- portrait. toralism of his first book, Ploughman and Other The enormous gap between the Gaelic Poems [1936]), Kavanagh entered the discourse League's idealized peasant and the harsh reality of Irish literature with a deep insecurity and a of rural life is the given subject of Myles's novel furious sense of belatedness. "My misfortune as in Irish, An Beal Bocht (The Poor Mouth). The a writer," he once declared, "was that atrocious author continually returns to the misery of the formula which was invented by Synge and his country people and the squalor of their living followers to produce an Irish literature"(Warner conditions, and he mercilessly sends up the sen- 28). Kavanagh particularly despised Synge's timentalized poverty portrayed by folklorists and peasants as "picturesque conventions" speaking nationalists-"the very best poverty, hunger and a phony language, and he argued that the - distress" (88): wright provided "Irish Protestants who are wor- ried about being 'Irish'with an artificialcountry" It had alwaysbeen said that accuracyof Gaelic (as (Warner 81). In his autobiography, he advanced well as holinessof spirit)grew in proportionto one's the argument by asserting that the entire "so- lack of worldlygoods and since we had the choicest called Irish Literary Movement which purported povertyand calamity,we did not understandwhy to be Irish and racy of the Celtic soil was a thor- the scholarswere interestedin any half-awkward, ough going English-bred lie" (Self Portrait 9). perverseGaelic which was audiblein otherparts. Only by destroying the persistent Revivalist fic- (49) tions about rural life could Kavanagh clear a space for his own indigenous poems. O'Brien's other fiction is also obsessed with the In a major antipastoral work, "The Great falsifications of Irish cultural and political na- Hunger" (1942), Kavanagh paints a harsh, re- tionalism; indeed, his tour de force, At-Swim- visionary portrait of life in the Irish countryside Two-Birds, fully enacts the Irish writer's preoc- as economically oppressive, sexually repressed, cupation with rewriting . If and emotionally stunted. It simultaneously in- Edward Hirsch 1129

dicts the brutalities of small-farm life and attacks been forced to come to terms with the Yeatsian Revivalist sentimentalizations of that life. Kava- figuration of the Irish peasant, Kavanagh's de- nagh's main character,Patrick Maquire, is a rural mystification of the Revivalist myths and his sus- incarnation of Joyce's spiritually paralyzed char- tained commitment to the unromanticized acters in Dubliners (D. O'Brien 23). In the thir- particularsof rural experience have proved fruit- teenth section of the poem, Kavanagh satirizes ful to subsequent Irish poets. This circumstance the idea of a contented, illiterate peasant who has also helps to account for the enormous disparity no worries and who plows and sows in "his little between Kavanagh's reputation outside and in- lyrical fields." The second stanza takes aim di- side Ireland.16 Seldom considered important rectly at Yeats's "Municipal Gallery Revisited": abroad, Kavanagh's work provided a useful and necessary alternative opening for Irish poets at Thereis the sourcefrom which all culturesrise, home, especially for the group of Northern poets And all religions, who emerged in the 1960s under the tutelage of Thereis the pool in which the poet dips Philip Hobsbaum: Seamus Heaney, James Sim- And the musician. mons, , Michael Longley, and oth- Withoutthe peasantbase civilisationmust die, ers. After Kavanagh, it fell to writers with their Unless the clay is in the mouth the singer's origins in , as Fintan O'Toole has written, singingis useless. "to try to show the cruelty and ignorance of the previously idealised peasantry"(21).17 Thus John Kavanagh's poem is a full-scale Joycean assault Montague's statement that "The Great Hunger" on the idea of the peasant as "the unspoiled child is a poem whose "breathtakinghonesty of vision" of Prophecy," as the source of all value and virtue, changed the course of Irish (Quinn 106) as a natural man "only one remove from the rhymes with Deane's idea that Kavanagh "de- beasts he drives" (Collected Poems 52). flected the Yeatsian influence by replacing the Kavanagh further developed his ethnographic notion of the region, Ireland, with the notion of poetics in his rural novel TarryFlynn (1948) and the parish" (Celtic Revivals 16). Deane's idea, in in his two books of poems, A Soulfor Sale (1947) turn, parallels Heaney's statement that "Kava- and Come Dance with Kitty Stobling (1960). nagh's work probably touches the majority of Ir- Kavanagh's famous distinction between paro- ish people more immediately and more chialism and provincialism animates all his ma- intimately than most things in Yeats" ("Sense of ture work: whereas the provincial tries to live "by Place" 137).18 What motivates all these affirma- other people's lines," the parochial relies on self- tions of Kavanagh's importance is the sense that sufficiency and a fully grounded vision. Heaney Kavanagh replaced the Literary Revival's ro- has argued that there is a subtle sea change in mantic pastoralism with a more genuine and Kavanagh's later work, especially in his poem ethnographically accurate depiction of rural life. "Epic" and in his Canal Bank . Heaney's Yeats, Synge, Joyce, O'Brien, and Kavanagh view is that in these poems Kavanagh's places formulated, destroyed, and reformulated the exist less as "documentary geography" than as character of Irish peasant life. Since to reconcep- "transfiguredimages, sites where the mind pro- tualize the peasant was to control and rewrite the jects its own force" ("Placeless Heaven" 5). It is essential Irish image, the source of all authentic the meditative intelligence that gives value to the Irish culture, each revisionary portrait of the places and not the other way around. Thus Kav- peasant privileged itself and tried to establish its anagh, like Heaney himself, becomes more than own empirical authenticity by turning culture just a "parishioner of the local" ("Sense of into nature and thus providing, in Roland Place" 148). Barthes's terms, a natural justification for a his- Kavanagh is the most important Irish poet to torical and literaryintention. In other words, each follow Yeats, and yet his work has often been of these five writers projected his own ideological overshadowed by Yeats's towering achievement. complex of values, beliefs, and feelings into the Because every Irish poet in the past century has character of the peasant and then defined (and 1130 The ImaginaryIrish Peasant

defended) the figure he had put forward as un- write about that figure was always to speak or changing and "natural." What Barthes states write about something far beyond the local real- about a tree (a "fact" of nature) may also be ap- ities of country life. To turn the peasant into a plied to the naturalness (the basic "human na- figure of writing was to participate in an Irish ture") of the Irish peasant created and re-created cultural discourse well removed from the world by Irish writers: of rural production. It was also to place one's work firmly inside that central national and cul- Every object in the world can pass from a closed, tural discourse. By implication, to define an idea silent existence to an oral state, open to appropriation of the Irish peasant was to define an idea of Ire- by society, for there is no law, whether natural or land itself. not, which forbids talking about things. A tree is a tree. Yes, of course. But a tree as expressedby Minou Drouet is no longer quite a tree, it is a tree which is decorated, adapted to a certain type of consumption, laden with literary self-indulgence, revolt, images, in short with a type of social usage which is added Notes to pure matter. (109) 1 See Mark PatrickHederman and RichardKearney's Crane The key difference between a tree and a peasant Bag Book and Field Day Theatre Company's Ireland's Field of course is that, in a thousand ways-through Day, which brings together six individual pamphlets and an their stories, traditions, songs, houses, and cus- afterword by Thomas . As Dillon Johnston sum- toms-the can and do for marizes, "It is the objective of the Field Day essays-especially country people speak those Richard and Declan Kiberd-to themselves. One to the of by Deane, Kearney, way interpret corpus raze the monumental myths of the literary and nationalistic their folklore is as a collection of "stories" that revival (perhapsI should say the 'so-calledrevival') in an appeal they tell to themselves about themselves.'9 The for revisionary politics and literature which would be 'un- literary sketches, ballads, short stories, plays, po- blemished by Irishness,' as Deane says, 'but securely Irish' " also Deane's and "Irish litical tracts, and romantic of the (173). See "LiteraryMyths" Poetry." ethnographies Terence Brown a useful overview in "Yeats." Irish Revival served an central provides Literary equally Deane writes, "The oppressivenessof the traditionwe inherit but somewhat different function. (The gap be- has its source in our own readiness to accept the mystique of tween literary renditions of the country people Irishness as an inalienable feature of our writing and, indeed, and the country people's stories of themselves of much else in our culture.That mystique is itself an alienating can be measured Yeats's force. To accept it is to become involved in the spiritualheroics easily by comparing, say, of a Yeats or a to believe in the incarnation of the and Aran Islands with Pearse, Mythologies Synge's nation in the individual. To reject it is to make a fetish of memoirs like Tomas O Crohan's Islandman exile, alienation and dislocation in the manner of Joyce or [1929], Maurice O'Sullivan's Twenty Years Beckett. Between these hot and cold rhetorics there is little A-Growing [ 1933], 'sPeig [ 1936], and room for choice" ("Heroic Styles" 57-58). 2 Eric Cross's reminiscence The Tailor and See Samuel Clark, Social Origins, and BarbaraL. Solow, Ansty Land for detailed discussions of the socioeconomic The Irishwriters' task was not Question, [ 1942].) necessarily discriminations and changes in the Irish countryside during to create faithful or accurate ethnographic de- the latter part of the nineteenth century. scriptions of rural life, though sometimes their 3Also useful are Curtis's Anglo- and and works posed as literary ethnographies. In The RichardNed Lebow'sWhite Britain and BlackIreland. Politics James Turner the 4 See also Williams's discussion of the development of the of Landscape, puts terms and traditionin matter in terms of rural literature: "Here folk culture,peasant, Keywords. nicely 5 Dowden, a close friend of Yeats's father, was reflecting is the central ideological fact of rural literature: the prevailing Anglo-Irish intellectual opinion when he wrote it succeeds as description the more it approaches in 1882, "I am infinitely glad that I spent my early enthusiasm identity with the world of rural production, but on Wordsworth and Spenser and Shakespeare and not on it is as literature because it anything Ireland ever produced" (183-84). It was precisely meaningful precisely this that Yeats set himself For the next is not that because it over and position against. stage world, triumphs of their debate, see Yeats's Uncollected Prose 346-49. obliterates it" (195). So much was invested in 6 In an 1895 review, Yeats also stated that O'Grady'sHistory creating the Irish peasant because to speak or oflreland, Heroic Period, published in 1878, was "the starting Edward Hirsch 1131

point of what may prove a new influence in the literature of 0 Grianna) and the memoir by Tomas O Crohan, The Is- the world . ." (Prose 350). landman (1929), by comically repeatingtheir most celebrated 7 Yeats often cited O'Leary's idea that there was a strong cliches. See Poor Mouth 125-26. interconnection between nationality and literature. See, for 15Beckett's early novel Murphy (1938) may be the excep- example, Yeats's Letters to the New Island 75-76, 103-04. tion. Beckett uses Murphy-his eponymous, anti-Irishhero- For a useful discussion see Daniel Hoffman 21-22. to take special aim at the Literary Revival. Murphy's final 8 In "A General Introduction for My Work" (1937) Yeats wish is to have his ashes flushed down the WC during a per- notes that when O'Leary first gave him the poems of Thomas formance at the Abbey. See Maureen Waters 110-22. See also Davis and other writers associated with the Nation, he saw Beckett's famous pseudonymous attack on antiquarian ele- even more clearlythan O'Learythat they were not good poetry; ments in Irish literature, "Recent " (Belis). nonetheless he admired these authors because "they were not 16 Deane writes that Kavanagh "is so obviously a lesser poet separatedindividual men . .. behind them stretched the gen- than Yeats and yet he is also so obviously more influential in erations" (510). Irelandthat one is hardput to define his attaction or his quality. 9 Hyde was president of the Gaelic League from 1893 to I should say that Kavanagh marks a disappearance of two 1915, when he was defeated by the Sinn Fein wing on the things which had marked the best literature of the Revival- issue of the league's position toward a "free Ireland." Thus the link between it and classical antiquity and its convention his ambition to "use the languageas a neutral field upon which of the relationship between author and " ("Irish all Irishmen might meet" finally gave way to what he called Poetry" 10). "the apotheosis of Sinn Fein." Hyde's essay "The Irish Lan- 17O'Toole continues, "Patrick Kavanagh in The Great guage Movement: Some Reminiscences" suggeststhat he later Hunger or Flann O'Brien in An Beal Bocht had already ef- came to recognize the major role that the league played in fectively attacked the notion of a pure and happy peasantry, the struggle for Irish independence: "The movement which but there was nothing in the literature with the same deep has resulted in the establishment of our Government is the aversion to the peasantry per se as is found in, say, James descendent of the Gaelic League, and the Gaelic League goes Simmons's 'Peasant Quality' or in Michael Longley's 'Mayo back to , to ancient Ireland for its inspiration. Monologues'" (21). . .The Gaelic League grew up and became the spiritual 18 Heaney once told Caroline Walsh that Kavanagh's great father of Sinn Fein, and Sinn Fein's progeny were the Vol- achievement was "to make our subculture-the rural out- unteers, who forced the English to make the treaty. The Dail back-a cultural resource for us all; to give us images of our- is the child of the Volunteers, and thus it descends directly selves" (Corcoran20). In "The Sense of Place" Heaney writes, from the Gaelic League, whose traditions it inherits" (qtd. in "Kavanagh'sgrip on our imaginations stems from our having Dunleavy 30). For a discussion of Pearse's ideas about the attended the intimate hedge-school that he attended" (137). Irish-languagemovement and the relation between language For a full account of Heaney's debt to Kavanagh,see his "From and nationalism, see Porter. Monaghan to the Grand Canal" and "Placeless Heaven." For 10For Moran's views of Irish Irelandism ("Thou shalt be an extended discussion of Kavanagh'sprovincialism and how Irish:thou shalt not be English" [28]), see "The Battle of Two it has influenced subsequent writers, see Michael Allen. 19 Civilizations." Donal McCartney's discussion of the devel- My phrasing here is borrowed from Clifford Geertz 448. oping concept is especially useful. For Ryan's views, see The Pope's Island. 1 See also Conor Cruise O'Brien, States of Ireland 60, and Desmond Fennell, "The Movement" 75. Al- Works Cited exander J. Humphreys's study of "new Dubliners" confirms that even in the middle of the twentieth century a full quarter of Dublin's consisted of population first-generationimmigrants Allen, Michael. "Provincialism and Recent Irish Poetry: The into the In 1949 116 of 58 city. Humphreys's sample, parents Importance of Patrick Kavanagh." Dunn 23-36. 36 of the been Dubliners, only parents had born and raised Bair, . "Samuel Beckett's Irishness." Hederman and in whereas 61 were the children of Dublin, farmers. Kearney 101-06. 12 Clarke calls the most "peasant plays" popular form of Barthes, Roland. Mythologies. 1957. Ed. and trans. Annette drama at the Abbey and lists thirteen of them written by eight Lavers. New : Hill, 1972. different Abbey playwrightsbetween 1901 and 1908. She takes Belis, Andrew [Samuel Beckett]. "Recent Irish Poetry." the dramatists at their word that these plays "arose as an at- Bookman Aug. 1934: 235-36. Rpt. in tempt on the part of playwrights to show a true picture of 4 (1971): 58-63. Irish life to Ireland and the world" (1). Borges, Jorge Luis. "Kafka and His Precursors."Labyrinths. 13 In ABC of Reading Pound asked, "What was there to the Ed. Donald A. Yates and James Irby. New York: New Celtic Movement? Apart from, let us say, the influence of Directions, 1964. 199-201. ballad rhythms on Yeats's metric?" (80). For a fuller account Bowen, Elizabeth. Bowen's Court. New York: Knopf, 1942. of Yeats's debt to folklore, see Edward Hirsch, " 'Contention Brown, Malcolm. The Politics of Irish Literature: From " Is Better Than Loneliness.' Thomas Davis to W. B. Yeats. Seattle: U of Washington 14 Myles particularly satirizes the novels of Maire (Seamus P, 1972. 1132 The Imaginary Irish Peasant

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