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The Irish Poet and the Natural World: An Anthology of Verse in English from the Tudors to the Romantics
The Irish Poet and the Natural World: An Anthology of Verse in English from the Tudors to the Romantics

Our Price:39.00
Authors: Andrew Carpenter and Lucy Collins
Affiliation: University College Dublin
Publication Year: Hardback March 2014
Pages: 430
Size: 234 x 156mm

ISBN: 9781782050643

This annotated anthology of poems makes available a rich variety of Irish texts depicting the relationship between humans and the environment between the years 1580 and 1820. More than a hundred poems are printed here, together with an extensive critical introduction, notes on each text, and a full bibliography. All the poets whose work is represented were born in Ireland or are identified as Irish.

As well as re-publishing the work of major poets such as Oliver Goldsmith, Laurence Whyte and William Drummond, this anthology includes many works by little known or anonymous authors. This volume also reflects current scholarship on the relationship between literature and the environment, enriching our understanding of attitudes in pre-Romantic Ireland towards changing landscapes and agricultural practices, towards human responsibility for the non-human world, and towards the relationship between nature and aesthetics. As well as adding considerably to existing knowledge of the printing and reading of poetry in Ireland during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, this anthology also traces the developments in sensibility in Irish poetry during this period, offering new perspectives on the advent of Romanticism in England and on the ways in which this revolutionised the relationship between nature and representation. The anthology fulfils the dual purpose of making a significant contribution to the study of literature and the environment, and of expanding our understanding of Irish writing during the period.

Andrew Carpenter Emeritus Professor of English, University College Dublin, General Editor, The Art and Architecture of Ireland, Royal Irish Academy/ Yale University Press.
Lucy Collins is a Lecturer in English Literature, University College Dublin.

Average Rating: Average Rating: 5 of 5 5 of 5 Total Reviews: 2 Write a review »

  2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
5 of 5 The Irish Poet and the Natural World September 9, 2014
Reviewer: Andrew Hadfield, The Irish Times from UK  
The relationship between man and the natural world forms a central strand in most literary traditions. Nature poetry and philosophical and scientific poetry about the natural world has been particularly important in Irish literature in Irish and in English. This excellent and varied anthology charts the history of such interactions from the mythologising of the landscape by the New English colonial settlers to the romantic celebrations of the wild beauty of Ireland's rocks and coasts, most famously the Giant's Causeway, which rose to prominence as the natural world was celebrated for its strangeness and indifference to human activity.

We travel the long journey from John Derricke's contemptuous observations of Ireland, which try to show that the Irish are so naturally savage that they prefer to dwell as far from civilisation as they can, seeking out the notorious Devil's Arse peak as a preferred resting place, to Anna Liddiard's more positive celebration of the Irish landscape from the top of Mount Leinster, which affords the prospect of 'countless crops of corn, / Waving in light, brushed by the breeze of morn'
The Irish Poet and the Natural World can be read as a survey by the reader eager to understand how poets understood the changing relationship between writers and their environment, or sampled at random. The anthology charts a number of changes, one of the most significant being the transformation of attitudes to animals.

While a number of early poems, such as the anonymous The Cock, which celebrates cockfighting, have a casual and instrumental view of nonhuman creatures, others, such as James Orr's The Bull-Beat, roundly condemn cruelty to animals, and affirm sympathy for the stricken creature:

Confin'd amid th'assembling crowd,
Sedate and sad, the victim stands;
The mastiff eyes the man of blood,
And panting, waits his fell commands;
And lo! Keen rushing from the slip,
The lordly brute they fiercely grip.

There are a number of splendid poems in Ulster Scots, including Francis Boyle's Address to the Cuckoo (circa 1795). As the editors slyly note, Boyle had 'a boisterous sense of humour', and after spending most of the poem welcoming the cuckoo's return, the poet concludes that the creature will be exhausted and hoarse with its annoying singing by June, leaving behind an unwanted, unprotected child: 'Thou lea'st a scabby get behin' / To whinge and greet, / Without a feather on its skin, / To turn the weet.'

The weaver poet Samuel Thomson was equally sympathetic in his To a Hedge-hog (1793), urging the ugly creature ('Thou grimest far o'grusome tykes') to make itself scarce before his dog, Collie, arrives. James Henderson's The Woodcock (1784) is more obviously sentimental and morally outraged in its lament for the bird, callously shot for sport.

Other poems celebrate scientific achievements and knowledge, such as John Corry's Air: An Ode, which begins in a hail of exclamation marks: 'Spirit of Life! Vivific Air! / Thou breath of Heav'n, that Earth surrounds!' before the poet turns to the dash for punctuation.

His work was popular with the United Irishmen, who clearly shared his modern sentiments. Air is celebrated for the great benefits it confers on mankind, such as music, as well as its sublime power in creating natural disasters: 'Where subterraneous vapours swell / 'Tis the expansive force of Air / Doth the dire Earthquake's rage impel, /Which can in fragments regions tear.'

God and the universe
James Creighton's Prospect of the Lake Erne (1791) concentrates more on reason and control in its celebration of God's ability to order the universe, which, if read correctly, will provide proof of his benign presence: 'Each blade of grass, each flow'r, each shrub, each tree, / Will point us out the hand of DEITY.'

Much earlier (1626) Lady Ann Southwell's mock elegy for her still living friend, The Countess of Londonderry, imagines the countess being able to answer all the questions that elude those still on earth: 'Whether the stars be Knobbs upon the spheres? / Or shreds compos'd of Phoebus goulden hayres?'

There are many magnificent poems about sea voyages and storms, including James Sterling's bracing reflections of whaling off the Donegal coast.

One of my favourites is Richard Head's wry A Great Sea-Storm Describ'd (1674). The poem acknowledges the terror of the storm in a series of homely metaphors. Foundering in heavy seas, the ship was 'Like a Toast drown'd within a Tub of Ale', which is not an image of a boozy breakfast but a description of the 17th-century drinker's practice of dunking toast with sugar and nutmeg in his beer. The poor travellers fear that they are becoming one with the natural world that threatens to engulf them:

The fear of being drowned, made us wish
Our selves transpeciated into Fish.
Indeed this fear did so possess each one,
All look't like Shotten-Herring, or Poor-John

A note points out that 'shotten herrings' were weak creatures that had just spawned; 'Poor-John' was small dried salted cod.

Payne Fisher's 1645 poem On a Dangerous Voyage Twixt Mazarine and Montjoy is a more sobering account of the dangers of sea travel, with its well-placed classical allusions. While Head's travellers want to become anaemic fish, Fisher's imagine that they are sailing to the underworld: 'Some, voyd of sense, grew giddy; these forgot / Themselves, and took the Bark for Charon's Boat.'

The Drogheda poet Henry Jones more prosaically laments the destruction of a crop of peas by a nasty storm in 1744, the sad fate of a poor Irishmen trying to vary his diet from that of the potato.

A number of poems relate man's relationship to the natural world to pressing social concerns. An anonymous poem of 1781, addressed to the earl of Carlisle, the incoming lord lieutenant, warns the chief governor of the evils of landlords and the oppression they cause throughout the island and urges him to restore its opposite: 'Let Toleration! - human Nature's Friend, / Its peaceful Freedom and Indulgence send.' In doing so he will 'make this Land a Paradise regain'd'.

Henry Brooke's long poem Universal Beauty (1735) is 'the most significant philosophical poem written by an Irish writer in the 18th century' and stands up well to Alexander Pope's An Essay on Man.

The Irish Poet and the Natural World is by turns moving, instructive, enjoyable and amusing. The editors have taken their task seriously and provide helpful, unobtrusive notes and glosses for the poems, and useful paraphrases for more difficult works in Ulster Scots. Most of all they are to be congratulated for their terrier-like work in uncovering so many hidden literary gems and bringing them into the light.

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  2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
5 of 5 The Irish Poet and the Natural World: An Anthology July 3, 2014
Reviewer: Rory Brennan, Books Ireland from Ireland  
The editors of this collection from the late sixteenth to the early nineteenth century have edited and annotated their selection with skill, including judicious footnotes and succinct biographical notes. This is both a relief and a pleasure, making this a work one wants to dip into and flick back and forth, as indeed the editors would wish us to do...this lively, wide-ranging and superbly selected anthology.This is a book to take down from the shelves often.

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