Term Paper: Irish Writers Jonathan Swift, James Joyce

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Irish Writers

Jonathan Swift, James Joyce, and John Butler Yeats

It is said that the Irish fascination with words is rooted in the feasting halls of Celtic chieftains where the roving bard, one of the most respected members of society, would be met with great celebration, for he knew all the old stories and family histories (Ireland Pp). When Saint Patrick arrived, he gave the storytelling Irish the greatest treasure they could imagine, the written word (Ireland Pp). Patrick founded some 385 churches and schools where thousands learned to read and write, thus, transforming Ireland from a country with no alphabet to a land of scholars and writers (Ireland Pp). By the end of the fifth century, poems, songs, sagas, and illustrated manuscripts poured forth from the vast oral tradition (Ireland Pp). It was William Butler Yeats who more than a century ago said, "If you want to know Ireland, body and soul, you must read its poems and stories," and he was right, for nothing is dearer to the Irish heart than the words of a dynamic storyteller (Ireland Pp). So esteemed are the Irish bards, that one writer who found his way to Yeats, Jonathan Swift and James Joyce, confessed that he read them, "because no writer, and no educated human being, could not read them" (Bearing Pp). Each author, Yeats, Swift, and Joyce is indelibly intertwined with their native Ireland.

Edna O'Brien writes in her biography of James Joyce that of all the great Irish writers, Joyce's relationship with his native country "remains the most incensed and yet the most meditative" (O'Brien 15). He was determined to etch his birthplace into the consciousness of the world by reinventing the city of Dublin where he had been "marginalized, laughed at and barred from literary circles" (O'Brien 15). According to O'Brien, to say that Joyce was an angry young man is an understatement, "he was volcanic" and in one of his early verses even likened himself to a stag whose antlers were charging upon the land (O'Brien 15).

While Yeats believed that the spirit of the ancients was his birthright and the inspiration of his poetry, Joyce's birthright, writes O'Brien, was "plaster virgin in Fairview, perched fowl-wise on a pole...a confraternity of rotting souls" (O'Brien 15). His anger was rooted not only in Church but in the very circumstances of his childhood, living in twelve or thirteen different houses as the family's financial fates declined, Joyce referred to his childhood homes as "those haunted inkpots" (O'Brien 2). When his younger brother George was dying in the house from peritonitis and crying out that he was too young to die, Joyce sat at the piano and played a tune which he had composed for a Yeats poem (O'Brien 9). He regarded the lyric as the most beautiful he had ever read, "who will go drive with Fergus now - and pierce the deep wood's woven shade..." (O'Brien 9).

Upon viewing the corpse, Joyce noted that the blue of his brother's eyes was still visible under the lids that had been closed too late, and it is this eerie tenderness with which his stories, Dubliners, would be infused was something he kept to himself (O'Brien 10).

Identifying with his contempt for falsity and hypocrisy, Joyce once wrote to Ibsen's translator that the author had set an example to him to walk in the light of his inner heroism (O'Brien 11). "But we always keep the dearest things to ourselves," Joyce wrote, "a telling confidence," O'Brien writes, "and a poignant admission of how emotionally bereft Joyce really was" (O'Brien 11).

Marvin Magalaner writes that critics are sharply divided on Joyce's relationship with Ireland and that most literary critics should see his writing in literary perspective and that not even Joyce's words themselves may be accepted without question (Magalaner 20). Most believe that he thought poorly of his birthplace and Francini-Bruni, once a friend of Joyce's, quotes Joyce as saying that "the Emerald isle is a field of thorns...hunger, syphilis, superstition, alcoholism" (Magalaner 20). Joyce went on to say that Ireland had sprouted Puritans, Jesuits and bigots, and that the Dubliner was of the "mountebank race" and the most useless and inconsistent, however, "Ireland is still the brain of the United Kingdom" (Magalaner 20). From statements such as that it is easy to understand why critics are divided over Joyce's relationship with his mother country.

Although exiled for decades, Joyce apparently never truly lost his affection for Ireland, not matter his prose. Magalaner writes that according to his Irish friends, the first question he would ask of any visitor was whether they were from Dublin, and if so, they would be immediately escorted in to see him, and moreover, his wife claimed that his room was filled with Dublin papers (Magalaner 22). It seems that for Joyce, Ireland was like a first love that had ended tragically, but one that could not be forgotten, and remembered with bitter sweetness.

While Joyce may have been shunned and discouraged by the Dublin literary circles of his day and lived in emotional turmoil regarding his native country, Yeats embraced Ireland and for the most part was embraced by her. In 1891, he and T.W. Rolleston formed the plans for an Irish Literary Society in London to publicize the idea of Irish culture (Peterson 28). A few months later in May 1892, Yeats founded the National Literary Society in Dublin to attract those who had become disenchanted with Irish politics (Peterson 28). Yeats believed that politically divided Dublin could become the intellectual capital of Ireland and even sent Maud Gonne throughout the Irish countryside to form new branches of the society (Peterson 28). A few years before he had formed the Rhymers' Club in London which included such accomplished poets as Lionel Johnson, and Ernest Dowson, however, now a bit older he sought an Irish voice for his poetry (Peterson 29). Thus, the Irish Literary Society began meeting in the quarters of the Rhymers' Club, "which Yeats believed all along should be dominated by the Celtic vision" (Peterson 29).

Yeats truly loved Ireland, however, the politics was a different matter. By the first decade of the twentieth century, his antagonism for Dublin's public officials and press intensified when the Dublin corporation refused Hugh Lane's offer to donate his priceless collection of impressionistic paintings to the Irish people, provided if a suitable place could be found or constructed in Dublin for their showing (Peterson 36). The bitterness of this blow to his vision of Unity of Culture is reflected in the lyrics of "The Green Helmet and Other Poems," and "Responsibilities" (Peterson 36). In these poems, Yeats expressed his now fierce hatred for Ireland's catholic middle class and his pride in joining with those "honour bred" for higher things (Peterson 36).

In 1915 Yeats' identification with the Protestant Ascendancy and his hatred for the Dublin crowd intensified with the news that Hugh Lane had gone down with the Lusitania (Peterson 37). For this meant that the paintings would remain in London, for no one had witnessed the codicil to Lane's will regarding their return to Ireland if a suitable place could be found (Peterson 37). That same year, Yeats flirted with knighthood, but turned it down for fear that his enemies would say that he had forsaken Ireland for a ribbon (Peterson 37).

Although Yeats spent considerable time in England, his love for his native country rarely wavered. When the Irish patriots seized the building in Dublin on the Monday after Easter 1916, Yeats responded with the powerful political poem "Easter 1916" (Peterson 38). In 1922, as Ireland headed into a civil war between the Free State and the Republican party, Yeats supported the new government, first as a delegate to the Irish Race congress in Paris, and later the same year was appointed a member of the first Irish Senate (Peterson 41). Yeats also received an honorary degree from Trinity College in 1922 and in 1923 was named the winner of the Nobel Prize (Peterson 41). He also officially adopted the Abbey as the Irish State Theatre and took an active role in forming an Irish Academy of Letters, writing a new copyright act, striking a new Irish coinage, and bringing about improvements in education (Peterson 41).

Yeats deplored modern education and made his comparison between the Protestant appointees to the Senate and the elected man, "emotional as a youthful chimpanzee, hot and vague" (Tuohy 218). He finds that the Irish mind has still "an ancient cold, explosive detonating impartiality" while the English mind has "turned into a bed-hot harlot" (Tuohy 218).

From 1708 to 1714, Jonathan Swift was in London, having been sent there as a petitioner for the Irish Church (Hunting 20). First involved with the Whigs, he later went with the Tories, being a man of an innately conservative bent (Hunting 20). Having served his party brilliantly, Swift expected the reward of a deanery or bishopric in England, however, instead, he was given a… [END OF PREVIEW]

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