A rich body of mythology and literature has grown around the Celtic ritual known as the Feis of Tara or “marriage of sovereignty”—ancient ceremonies in which the future king pledges to care for the land and serve the goddess of sovereignty. Seamus Heaney, whose writing has attracted the overwhelming share of critical attention directed toward contemporary Irish poetry, has engaged this symbolic tradition in some of his most significant—and controversial—work.
Seamus Heaney and the Emblems of Hope explores Heaney’s use of the family of sovereignty motifs and redresses the imbalance of criticism that has overemphasized the theme of sacrifice to the detriment of more optimistic symbols. Moreover, Moloney reviews the development of the marriage motif in Irish poetry from the ninth to the twenty-first centuries with a focus on Heaney’s adaptations from The Frenzy of Sweeney and The Midnight Court and on the work of such poets as Kinsella, Montague, Boland, and Ní Dhomhnaill. Karen Marguerite Moloney examines the central role that Heaney assigns the Feis of Tara in his response to the crisis of Ulster and to the general spiritual bankruptcy of our times, showing in his verse how the relationship of the male lover to the goddess—particularly in her more repugnant guises—serves as prototype for the humility and deference needed to repair the effects of English colonization of Ireland and, by extension, centuries of worldwide patriarchal abuse.
Through close, sustained readings of poems previously overlooked or misinterpreted, such as “Ocean’s Love to Ireland,” “Come to the Bower,” and “Bone Dreams”—poems that Irish feminist critics have deemed flawed and distressingly sexist—Moloney refutes views that have long stood unchallenged. She also considers the direction of Heaney’s more recent poems, which continue to resonate to the twin demands of conscience and artistic integrity.
An impeccably researched and immensely readable work, Seamus Heaney and the Emblems of Hope reveals that Heaney’s poetry offers a reverence for archetypal femininity and Dionysian energy that can counter the sterility and violence of postcolonial Irish life. Moloney shows us that, in the tradition of poets who preceded him, Heaney turns to the marriage of sovereignty to encode a message for our times—and to offer up emblems of hope on behalf of us all.
In a work of surprising range and authority, Deborah Forbes refocuses critical discussion of both Romantic and modern poetry. Sincerity's Shadow is a versatile conceptual toolkit for reading poetry.Ever since Wordsworth redefined poetry as "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings," poets in English have sought to represent a "sincere" self-consciousness through their work. Forbes's generative insight is that this project can only succeed by staging its own failures. Self-representation never achieves final sincerity, but rather produces an array of "sincerity effects" that give form to poetry's exploration of self. In essays comparing poets as seemingly different in context and temperament as Wordsworth and Adrienne Rich, Lord Byron and Anne Sexton, John Keats and Elizabeth Bishop, Forbes reveals unexpected convergences of poetic strategy. A lively and convincing dialectic is sustained through detailed readings of individual poems. By preserving the possible claims of sincerity longer than postmodern criticism has tended to, while understanding sincerity in the strictest sense possible, Forbes establishes a new vantage on the purposes of poetry.
Singing the Chaos: Madness and Wisdom in Modern Poetry combines both a historical and a critical approach toward the works of major British, American, French, German, and Russian poets. Comprehensive in scope and arranged chronologically to survey a century of high poetic achievement, the study is unified by Pratt's overriding argument that "modern poets have endowed a disintegrating civilization with humane wisdom by 'singing the chaos' that surrounds them, making ours a great age in spite of itself."
In developing this central theme, Pratt brings alive the energy, the freshness, and the originality of technique that made Baudelaire, Pound, Yeats, Rilke, Eliot, and others the initiators of the revolution in poetry. He brings a more complete, clearer perspective to other major themes: modernism as an age of irony; poets as both madmen and geniuses; the modern poet as tragic hero; the dominance of religious or visionary truths over social or political issues; and the combination of radical experiments in poetic form with an apocalyptic view of Western civilization. His detailed treatment of the Fugitive poets and his recognition of their prominent role in twentieth-century literature constitute an important historical revision.
Brilliantly informed, insightful, and, above all, accurately sympathetic to the points of view of the poets Pratt presents, Singing the Chaos is that rare book that belongs on all shelves devoted to modernist poetry.
As we enter a new millennium ruled by technology, will poetry still matter? The Song of the Earth answers eloquently in the affirmative. A book about our growing alienation from nature, it is also a brilliant meditation on the capacity of the writer to bring us back to earth, our home.In the first ecological reading of English literature, Jonathan Bate traces the distinctions among "nature," "culture," and "environment" and shows how their meanings have changed since their appearance in the literature of the eighteenth century. An intricate interweaving of climatic, topographical, and political elements poetically deployed, his book ranges from greenhouses in Jane Austen's novels to fruit bats in the poetry of Les Murray, by way of Thomas Hardy's woodlands, Dr. Frankenstein's Creature, John Clare's birds' nests, Wordsworth's rivers, Byron's bear, and an early nineteenth-century novel about an orangutan who stands for Parliament. Though grounded in the English Romantic tradition, the book also explores American, Central European, and Caribbean poets and engages theoretically with Rousseau, Adorno, Bachelard, and especially Heidegger.The model for an innovative and sophisticated new "ecopoetics," The Song of the Earth is at once an essential history of environmental consciousness and an impassioned argument for the necessity of literature in a time of ecological crisis.
This volume provides a generic description, based on a formal analysis of narrative structures, of the Middle English noncyclic verse romances. As a group, these poems have long resisted generic definition and are traditionally considered to be a conglomerate of unrelated tales held together in a historical matrix of similar themes and characters. As single narratives, they are thought of as random collections of events loosely structured in chronological succession. Susan Wittig, however, offers evidence that the romances are carefully ordered (although not always consciously so) according to a series of formulaic patterns and that their structures serve as vehicles for certain essential cultural patterns and are important to the preservation of some community-held beliefs.
The analysis begins on a stylistic level, and the same theoretical principles applied to the linguistic formulas of the poems also serve as a model for the study of narrative structures. The author finds that there are laws that govern the creation, selection, and arrangement of narrative materials in the romance genre and that act to restrict innovation and control the narrative form.
The reasons for this strict control are to be found in the functional relationship of the genre to the culture that produced it. The deep structure of the romance is viewed as a problem-solving pattern that enables the community to mediate important contradictions within its social, economic, and mythic structures. Wittig speculates that these contradictions may lie in the social structures of kinship and marriage and that they have been restructured in the narratives in a “practical” myth: the concept of power gained through the marriage alliance, and the reconciliation of the contradictory notions of marriage for power’s sake and marriage for love’s sake.
This advanced, thorough, and completely original study will be valuable to medieval specialists, classicists, linguists, folklorists, and Biblical scholars working in oral-formulaic narrative structure.
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