Let us begin this lecture with a simple geographical fact. Ireland is an island off the coast of Europe, facing, across three thousand miles of ocean, towards America. Anything grown there, whether animal, vegetable, or mental, is bound to be affected by its geographical position and consequent climate. An Irishman may travel, but the memory of his maternal landscape persists. So Denis Devlin, the most resolutely cosmopolitan of recent Irish poets, and the one whose name will be most invoked in this essay, can begin one of his finest love poems - Renewal by Her Element - with an image of
and end with a cadence like Austin Clarkes Pilgrimage:
Although the poem between owes more to modern French love poetry, Aragon or Eluard, than to anything in the English or Irish traditions. it curves back to these primal, very Irish images.
But while accepting that they are marked by Ireland, our countrymen have a long habit of exile, most often through necessity, but also through curiosity. It seems to me significant that the first two poets whose names are recorded in our literary history (after the mythical Amergin, the bard of the Milesians) were both exiles. Columcilles only real subject  matter was his native country but he might not have described it with such longing if he had been able to return.
And then we have Sedulius Scottus, who was in charge of the cathedral school at Liege in the middle of the Ninth Century, together with four other charioteers of the Lord, lights of the Irish race. I am not competent to judge his position in Medieval Latin poetry, but what strikes one in the poem on his patron, Bishop Hartgars palace - Testri tecta nitent luce serona - is the ease with which he moved against this international background. And why not, when the most original philosopher of the period was an Irishman, John Scotus Erigena, and a scholar-poet like Sedulius could establish himself, as Professor James Carney, his translator, says, as a social personality, the friend of emperors and high ecclesiastics:
All this may seem far removed from the problems of contemporary poetry but what I am trying to show is that while Irishmen often have to leave Ireland to learn, there was a period when they went to teach as well, when they formed a natural part of European civilization. The decline of the Irish Church, and successive invasions, may have obscured this  relationship, but it could be of relevance again today. For in the first half of the twentieth century, Joyce in prose, and Synge and OCasey in the theatre, re-established Ireland as a presence in world literature, a proud tradition still maintained by Beckett. The only literary art in which we have not made our presence felt is the one in which we are supposed to excel; this is, poetry. Yeats apart, there is no Irish poet who is accepted as an international figure, in the way that Pablo Neruda is, or Octavio Paz, or Ungaretti.
I place Yeats apart because his position is, as always, a richly ambiguous one. In my only conversation with Auden, I remember wondering how Yeats had managed to live and work in Dublin, enduring the daily spite of this unmannerly town. Auden dryly remarked that, if one looked at the career of Yeats, it was extraordinary how often he was out of Ireland. The years in Woburn buildings we know of, and his association with the Rhymers Club. But we should also remember that, despite his poor French, Yeats had not only read Mallarmé (from whom he got the title The Trembling of the Veil) but visited Verlaine, and attended, however reluctantly, the first night of Jarrys Ubu Roi.
Now Yeats may have learnt from the symbolist movement, but even his long friendship with Ezra Pound did not make him part of the international movement in modern poetry. He might learn from his juniors how to make his language more active but he remained faithful to what he regarded as the great traditional themes of poetry. We were the last romantics, he said grandiloquently. This is part of the ambiguity I spoke of; there is also the significant fact that he is very little read in Europe; Eliot, and more recently, Pound, are much better known. This is partly due to the absence of good translations, a situation which is being remedied, but also the seeming archaism of his subjects. It may well be that the later Yeats, the great meditations on politics and history, will only enter the European consciousness as the great wheel dips down towards the end of the century. I met a brilliant Yugoslav poet recently, who explained how his translation of the Byzantium poems had created a whole new school of  poetry in Serbo-Croat. As we are sadly learning again, few writers have given better expression to post-revolutionary disillusion:
Louis MacNiece is the only Irish poet to form a natural part of the English literary scene; after Auden he was the most gifted poet of the Thirties. Their collaboration in Letters from Iceland is an example of poetry confronting the trouble of a period as they arise. The precedent of Byron a capital for both of them (MacNeice pays homage to him in Cock of the North) with his wide ranging, almost novelistic gift. But Byron was much more of a European phenomenon than MacNiece or even Auden, ever succeeded in being, and those who present him as a corrective example to more locally based Irish poets tend to forget this. So far as I know, Louis MacNeice has rarely been translated into another language, and even in America, his reputation has never been high.
I am not denying his sensibility, nor the obsession with transience and death which is his most moving central theme. I am just saying that his work is very much in the nonexperimental tradition of English modern poetry, and, as such, nearly unexportable. Paradoxically though, the one aspect of his influence which seems to me particularly healthy is his diversity of landscape: the ease with which Northern poets, like Seamus Heaney and Derek Mahon, seem to move in the outside world may well derive from MacNeices restless photographic eye. Few American poets, for instance, could equal his description of New York in Refugees where the skyscrapers
and the trains (it was before the destruction of Penn Station) leave from stations haughty as cathedrals.
To sightsee, though, is not necessarily to accept the influence of another culture: for MacNeice Spain, Greece, India are backgrounds against which he defines his personal problems.
It is interesting to compare his Indian poems with one by another Irish poet of the same generation describing a great Buddha head at the Cambodian temple of AnkHor Vat:
The great interest of Denis Devlin is that he is the first poet  of Irish Catholic background to take the world as his province. The initial influence on his work was French; there was that extraordinary project he formed, with Niall Montgomery, of translating modern French poetry into Gaelic. And in his first volume the aesthetic is a blend of poesie pure and surrealism, with the poem as a sequence of images, without reference to anything outside itself, without an obvious plot or story. This passage, for example, joins the spray of a fountain, with the memory of someone playing the spinet, the connection being, not so much in the mind as the senses of a hidden observer, perhaps the poet:
Samuel Beckett has compared this passage to a late poem by Holderlin, which was heady praise for a young poet. And Devlin had studied German romanticism, from Goethe through Novalis to Holderlin, as well as a good deal of Italian and Spanish poetry. The plangent opening of Meditation at Avila shows the influence both of St Teresa and St John of the Cross:
What makes the poems in his second volume more accessible is their increasing case both in line and language, something  he certainly learnt from his American contemporaries. During his period as first secretary in Washington he made friends with Allen Tate and Robert Penn Warren, who subsequently edited the American edition of his Selected Poems, and he could hardly help but be familiar with the great generation that preceded them, poets like Stevens, Eliot, Hart Crane (whose dense style resembles Devlins), and Cummings. The result is this new kind of colloquial vigour:
It is when this case is matched by an important theme, often a religious one, that Denis Devlin nears greatness. We may not have produced a Catholic novelist in Ireland, but in certain poems of Austin Clarke and Denis Devlin our racial drama of conscience smoulders with intellectual passion:
I have preferred to concentrate on Denis Devlin as the most dedicated poet of his generation, and one whose work suggests possibilities for the future. In ways that are difficult to define (perhaps because the imperial habit dies hard, and the British Council is a more subtle version of the Pax Britannica) an Irish writer has a better chance of being a European than an Englishman. Samuel Becketts first poem, for example, was a monologue on Descartes, and we know where that led him. And his friend Brian Coffeys translation of Mallarmés greatest poem has never received the attention it deserves, as  a possible example of non-iambic structure, of the use of the page in a kind of musical notation, all this before Charles Olson was pupped:
Because of the potent example of James Joyce, the Dublin poets of the early Thirties tended to be French - influenced and apolitical. The long career of Ewart Milne, now that he has turned to anti-Communism, seems only to illustrate the savage little epigram of Robert Frost:
But he was one of the few Irish poets to assume a revolutionary Marxist position, and to strive for a kind of popular poetry, derived perhaps from the example of Lorca. He has travelled widely and his vision of The Martyred Earth is a moving piece of rhetoric:
The apocalyptic vision is carried even further in A Place of Testament
And his rebuke of his contemporaries in Deirdre and the Poets could be a light-hearted version of my present theme:
The most genuine political poet of the Thirties was Charles Donnelly, who died in Spain at the age of twenty-three. Clearly he owes a lot to Audens clinical style, but he was not playing with the idea of the inevitable increase in the chances of death, but preparing for it, in case it should be his own. I must confess that I find his last poem, which was posted up for the Lincoln Battalion on what they called The Lincoln Wall Newspaper, after he was killed on the 27 February, 1937, exceedingly moving, the most mature expression we have of that martyrs urge which lies at the heart of revolutionary action. Especially Irish revolutionary action; it is the kind of poem Pádraic Pearse should have written -
Donagh Mac Donagh, who knew Charles Donnelly at the University, wrote an elegy for him. He also wrote poems on modern European history, like Fontainbleau:
But that was when he was young, and here we strike against a dismaying aspect of our literature, our tendency to regress from an advanced position. Thus Mac Donaghs early work was intellectual and urban (he wrote his M.A. thesis on Eliot) but he gradually retreated to a simplified version of the Irish tradition. Again I am not saying that Ezra Pound is necessarily more important than Egan Ó Rahilly for an Irish poet (one has to study both) but the complexity and pain of The Pisan Cantos are certainly more relevant than another version of Preab San Ól.
Another false trail, from the point of view of this lecture, is the work of W. R. Rodgers, the parson poet from Co. Armagh. His Awake! and Other Poems appeared in 1941 and its cascade of language might almost have been a warning to other Irish poets, caught in a neutral backwater:
And sure enough, there were poems with Audenesque titles like Directions to a Rebel, War-Time, and even End of a World. According to those close to him, however, Rodgers had not read Auden, or even Hopkins, which is astonishing: can one imagine a physicist, however remote, who had never heard of Neils Bohr or Schrodinger?
The scientific analogy is always partly false, but does illustrate my point: if one is going to be influenced by contemporary poetry outside Ireland, it should be at first hand and not  by hearsay, years after the event. Having participated in one of the early readings of Howl, I found it depressing when the Ginsberg wave broke over Ireland a decade later, drowning many potential young poets. There are always those writers, like Dylan Thomas or even Patrick Kavanagh, who are so possessed by a private vision that their only real task is to protect it. But we increasingly move in a world which is both local and international, and in poetry, as in science, there is nothing so irrelevant as repeating someone elses experiments.
The best work of W. R. Rodgers, therefore, seems to me to be in his second book, a handful of religious and love lyrics which are colloquial in diction, but traditional in imagery. But the necessary task of providing Ireland with a contemporary poetry still had to be continued. Now that Austin Clarke has blossomed in his seventies, one tends to forget how reactionary his critical position was in those years, anything experimental being gloomily described as modernism. The main opposition to the new-Gaelic lobby during and after the war years was Valentin Iremonger, whose jazzy rhythms and use of urban slang can be seen in Icarus:
More effective, because less programmatically modern, was his beautiful adaptation of John Crowe Ransoms Bells for John Whitesides Daughter to record another, very Irish death:
And then, in the late Fifties, Irish poets began to write, without strain, a poetry that was indisputably Irish (in the sense that it was influenced by the country they came from, its  climate, history and language) but also modern. If I say that Auden was the liberating example I may seem to be contradicting myself, but by then he was no longer a contemporary, but an established phenomenon, looming over the English scene like a latter-day Dryden. Besides, the subject matter was so different: when Thomas Kinsella adapted one of the masters most typical stanza forms for his love poems, A Lady of Quality, it became both a homage and a comparison:
Kinsellas success encouraged others, and by the middle of the following decade, Irish poets had begun to filter into most modern anthologies; particularly those edited by American critics, like Untermeyer and Rosenthal: the latter devoted a whole section to Irish poetry in his study, The Poets. A climate had been created in which the rediscovery of Austin Clarke had almost become inevitable; in July 1959, I wrote in Poetry that his general subject, Irish Catholicism and its emotional malformations, is no longer a local phenomenon, as modern American and Australian politics surely indicate. Technical interest is not lacking; Clarkes adaptation of techniques from Gaelic verse to encompass the Irish Catholic subject parallels modern experiment elsewhere. A collected volume of his later work from Pilgrimage onwards, would, I think, reveal a talent as considerable as that of Tate, Ransom, or Muir.
The rest is literary history, but the comedy of Mr Clarke, the most implacable opponent of modernism. in Ireland, being accepted, like Yeats, as a late recruit to international literature should not escape us. The argument was always a false one, since the terms are not exclusive, and the wider an Irishmans experience, the more likely he is to understand his native country. So Pearse Hutchinsons translations from the Catalan,  as well as being good poetry, directly illustrate the problems of a minority culture. And in the image of The Dying Gaul, Desmond OGrady, who lives in Rome, finds a point of entry into our racial history. I have already mentioned the naturalness with which Northern poets respond to the outside world, I am thinking of Derek Mahons Canadian poems, Seamus Heaneys lovely poem about driving through France:
And in Conversations in Hungary, August 1969, John Hewitt finds himself discussing the problems of Belfast in a modern context:
The attentive reader will have noticed that, with the best will in the world, I have began to equate international travel and international poetry; it is a measure of my ambivalence about my subject. Although Irish poetry seems to me in a more healthy state than at any time since the beginning of the century, it is still in many ways a conventional, non-experimental poetry. Ironically enough, our freest metrist is Austin Clarke, but his high spirits show more in his mastery of forgotten stanza forms, than in any creation of new ones. The majority of Irish poets write as though Pound, Lawrence, Williams had not brought a new music into English poetry, as though the iambic line still registered the curve of modern speech. Thus the powerful midsection of Thomas Kinsellas Nightwalker is muffled by the old-fashionedness of its form, and what should have been a cautionary parable for all emerging nations (for  nothing resembles one post-revolutionary civil war more than another) remains too heavy in movement and reference; he has discovered a new subject, but not, I feel, a new metric to energize it.
And this is where the example of Denis Devlin seems to me important. He was not completely successful in his efforts (because he did not publish enough his language lacks ease, and there is a vein of sentimentality in poems like The Heavenly Foreigner) but he wanted to write a poetry that would be as good as the best anywhere in the world. Like a composer or a painter, an Irish poet should be familiar with the finest work of his contemporaries, not just the increasingly narrow English version of modern poetry, or the more extensive American one, but in other languages as well. In his Envoy Diary Patrick Kavanagh declared that, as far as he was concerned, Auden was an Irishman. Less extravagantly, I would say that my contemporaries are not just the Irish poets I admire, but those with whom I feel an affinity elsewhere, Ponge in France, Octavio Paz in Mexico, Gary Snyder and Robert Duncan in San Francisco. I seem to be advocating a deliberate programme of denationalization, but all true experiments and exchanges only serve to illuminate the self, a rediscovery of the oldest laws of the psyche. For years I had been trying to find the rhythm in which to write a public poem, something that I could place beside Robert Duncans great meditations on contemporary America, and not feel ashamed. When it finally came, it took the shape of a broken line, with two beats on either side of the caesura. Like the explorers of the Northwest Passage, I had gone round the world in order to discover the oldest metric in English, the only public one, the Anglo-Saxon line. And the poem contained one of the most personal passages I had ever written; I will end with it now because it is about exile and return, and my earliest awareness of the relationship between the outside world and Ireland