Thomas Moore, J. J. Callanan, James Clarence Mangan
In 1801, the Act of Union came into force, stripping Ireland of its own parliament and bringing the country under direct control of Westminster; thus it was dissolved into perhaps the greatest European empire after that of Rome. Over the following century it would shed its native language and adopt English. Even after achieving independence 121 years later, it would keep English as its first language de facto (though Irish would be designated the first official language in 1937); it would also keep the principles of English law at the centre of its jurisprudence. Of course, English had been a native language in Ireland for almost a millennium, but only in parts of the Pale on the east coast. Now, within a century, it spread westwards across the whole country, leaving only small pockets of Gaelic speakers on the Atlantic shores. After a slow start in the nineteenth century, when there was little of great literary worth, Irish writers were at last completely at home in English, and produced some of that language's greatest works in the twentieth century. The claim was occasionally made that the national spirit had been brought over from Gaelic into English. However, Irish speakers themselves rarely confirmed such a smooth conveyance of the national spirit. As the novelist Tomas O Duinnshleibhe made one of his characters remark:
Tig le naisiun an tsaoirse a chailleadh agus a ghnothu, agus a chailleadh agus a ghnothu aris agus aris eile, ach da gcaillti an teanga ni bheadh fail ar ais againn uirthi. Ni thig le tir ar bith a teanga a chailleadh gan a hanam a chailleadh agus nuair a bhionn an t-anam caillte ta deireadh lei mar naisiun.1
It is ironic that many writers who claimed that the spirit of Gaelic literature and culture was transferred to the Anglophone literature of Ireland had scant idea of the real contours of Irish literature and would not be able to understand the passage quoted here. It is perhaps just as well for them, as they would find cold comfort in its message.
These facts suggest that this chapter should not be titled 'The appearance of Ireland' but 'The disappearance of Ireland'. But the disappearance I have outlined above set a counter-motion going. As Robert Welch remarks: 'In the nineteenth century the strategy was to invent as many Irelands as possible. Because there was no Ireland, because there was no language, no system for it, then it was as well to try out as many possibilities as the brain could invent.'2 The ideology of nationalism, which was spreading through Europe at this time, took hold in Ireland also, and writers and politicians endeavoured to preserve and develop the essence of Irishness often in the face of British hostility, and - what was often more difficult to manage - British interest. Prompted by the curiosity about James MacPherson's Ossian (1760-3), a work in which a Scottish writer claimed to have discovered the texts of Scottish legends (they were in fact Irish), as well as by the growth of French and German scholarship in the area of Celtic culture, there was a surge in antiquarian activity in Ireland during the nineteenth century, as scholars attempted to get a clearer idea of the outlines of the Irish past. Translation of Irish texts became increasingly refined and accurate. The fruits of this labour were pounced upon by Irish propagandists of every hue. This interest in things Irish led to the phenomenon of the Gaelic Revival at the end of the nineteenth century, and to the revolution in 1916 that precipitated the end of British rule in the greater part of Ireland. The revolution came from within the British Empire at a time when it was fighting an enemy without, and the shock was very deep for the imperialists, as it was for their subject peoples throughout the world. Three decades later the Empire would lose its greatest possession of all, India, and that country's statesmen would point out how instructive the Irish example was for them. Now, a mere century after the time of its finest flowering, the British Empire is but a memory: in comparison with the decline of that of Rome, the British Empire collapsed like a house of cards, leaving in its wake many countries around the world attempting to achieve national definition.
In the eighteenth century, Irish poets writing in English did not have as their goal the expression of national spirit, but viewed their work as an integral part of the British tradition, and wrote for a British audience. Matthew Campbell remarks that, in the nineteenth century, 'while many writers published for the large literary market in Britain and the new, English-speaking audiences of Irish origin in the United States, the poetry was often more concerned with its responsibility in preserving the authenticity of the cultural achievements of Ireland's past'.3 The audience of that literature and the Irish 'nation' were not identical. The intriguing fact about Irish culture at this time, and in some respects well into the twentieth century, was that English opinion often counted for more. Critics of several generations have tried to obscure this fact in order to preserve some pure Gaelic quality, but it no longer seems either desirable or possible to do so. For once we admit such a complication, we acknowledge a richer idea of Irish culture than we were previously accustomed to. The edges of Ireland become blurred and we see that Irish culture was not formed out some unsullied source in the misty Celtic past, but out of centuries of negotiation and conversation with Rome and early Christian Europe, and then most importantly with England in its earlier embodiments, and later as imperial centre. Like most other European cultures, Irish culture is hybrid, and becomes interesting as soon as the liens of ownership and lines of influence are most tangled and messy.
By admitting the existence of this complex situation, we immediately have a better chance of understanding Irish poetry at the beginning of the nineteenth century, both its failings and achievements. We must also recognise, as Welch again points out, that the work of Irish poets in this period was not underwritten by an Irish tradition in English - there was no secure frame of cultural reference for their work;4 and this made it cliched and fissiparous, occasionally within individual poems, and more generally across the century. In what follows, I will look at the work of three poets often said to express the essence of the Irish national spirit. They often try to do that, and they often do other things, and I will follow their work as they move in and out of the nationalist frame of reference.
The works of Thomas Moore were often published in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in large green tomes gilded with designs incorporating shamrocks, harps and other Irish symbols. The cover of one edition has, among these insignia, a short text: 'The hearts and the voices of Erin prolong for the answering future thy name and thy song'; and this is curved around a solid-looking female in gold-tooling who bears a harp.5 The front papers more or less repeat this arrangement, but now the woman is pointing with a wand to a vignette of Moore. This is Moore canonised as Irish saint with all the regalia of nationalist iconography, whose reputation lies on his Irish Melodies, lyrics he wrote to old Irish airs. The edition was published in London, and there were many others like it, in Britain, Ireland and the USA. After the application of a little astringent, however, a different design emerges that incorporates the cross of St George and, if not a John Bull figure pointing approvingly to Moore, then certainly a Prime Minister such as Lord John Russell, who was in power during the Irish Famine in the late 1840s, and was a close friend of Moore's. These British and Irish symbolisms are complementary not contradictory.
Moore was born in 1779 in Dublin (in a building which is now famed for its jazz sessions), the son of a grocer and spirit dealer. Both his parents were Roman Catholic. He entered Trinity College, Dublin, a year after it was opened to Catholics. There he became friendly with a law student named Robert
Emmet who would later lead an unsuccessful rebellion against the British in 1803, and be executed as a result; this had an important bearing on Moore's poetry. He went to England in 1799 and his first book, The Odes of Anacreon (1800), translations from the Greek, was dedicated to the Prince of Wales. The dedicatee had to agree to the dedication, and the approval of The Odes is a indication that Moore had ensconced himself in the highest echelons of English society with astonishing speed. As George Saintsbury remarked: 'He had, indeed a catlike disposition to curl himselfup near something or somebody comfortable.' However, he was never a sycophant. Saintsbury continues: 'But it does not appear that Moore was any more inclined to put up with insulting treatment than the cat itself is.'6 In 1803 he was appointed Registrar to the Admiralty Prize Court in Bermuda, which dealt with the apportionment of booty among the officers and men of the Royal Navy. He, in his turn, appointed a deputy to look after these affairs. In 1818, Moore's appointee fled Bermuda, leaving him answerable for a large debt; because of financial embarrassment, Moore had to leave England temporarily, despite the great critical and financial success of his poetry at the time.
In 1807 he engaged to write the Irish Melodies: Moore provided the lyrics and Sir John Stevenson adapted the melodies that had been recorded and published by Edward Bunting in his General Collection of the Ancient Music of Ireland (1796). The first two instalments appeared in 1808 and eight more followed till 1834. These songs had original lyrics, but Moore could not read Irish, and indeed had scant respect for the language, writing his lyrics with little reference to them.7 But there is a more general sense in which it is possible to understand Moore's work on the melodies as translation. Stevenson smoothed away the rougher edges of the original melodies and Moore provided words that would be palatable to the drawing-rooms of England; they did this in order to bring what they considered the 'national spirit' to a wide audience. Moore's description of this spirit is noteworthy:
It has often been remarked, and oftener felt, that our music is the truest of all comments upon our history. The tone of defiance, succeeded by the languor of despondency - a burst of turbulence dying away into softness - the sorrows of one moment lost in the levity of the next - and all that romantic mixture of mirth and sadness, which is naturally produced by the efforts of a lively temperament to shake off or forget the wrongs which lie upon it. Such are the features of our history and character, which we find strongly and faithfully reflected in our music; and there are many airs which, I think, it is difficult to listen to without recalling some period or event to which their expression seems peculiarly applicable.8
The political implications of this 'national spirit' are of interest. Moore was careful to imply that the 'defiance' of the melodies would never grade into revolutionary violence. Faced with the regiments of imperial soldiery, Moore refused outright battle in favour of a more oblique contest for the hearts of the mothers, sisters, daughters, wives and betrothed of those soldiers. (The same pattern appears within his works also, as we shall see in Lalla Rookh.) Most critics view this as the substitution of revolutionary passion for something as devalued as sentiment. The earlier instalments of the lyrics were particularly rich in references to Emmet's recent revolution; but there were other immediate political contexts that would have been obvious to his first audiences and which are lost to us now. These references have exactly the pitch that Moore describes above: they are a fine exercise in keeping the pot warm, and never bringing it to the boil. This is perhaps best exemplified by 'Oh! Breathe Not His Name':
Oh! breathe not his name, let it sleep in the shade, Where cold and unhonour'd his relics are laid; Sad, silent, and dark be the tears that we shed, As the night-dew that falls on the grass o'er his head.
But the night-dew that falls, though in silence it weeps, Shall brighten with verdure the grave where he sleeps; And the tear that we shed, though in secret it rolls, Shall long keep his memory green in our souls.9
This requires little exegesis, apart from the remark that the man is often taken to be Robert Emmet. If one is on the revolutionary wavelength, one will easily understand the tenor of the poem. His memory will stay locked away in the souls of true Irishmen, and the greenness implies not only Irishness, but also that his legacy will bud again. However, consider the text again from a forensic point of view, and there is nothing to connect it with the theme of Irish revolutionaries: it is simply a lament for a loved friend. Moore is a master of this kind of ambivalence.
The texts of the Melodies also meditate on their own strange relation to the music, as well as to the Gaelic lyrics that they replace. It is a kind of temporising: by considering things from a philosophical point of view, Moore once again can avoid addressing political issues directly; once again, he 'breathes not his name'. Such meditations are Moore's attempt to empty out the meaning of his own language (with the result that most of the texts of the Melodies are, to modern taste, vapid and listless). But they also display an acute self-awareness, which if it does not ultimately save the poems, it does at least provide an excuse for their blandness.
Music! oh, how faint, how weak, Language fades before thy spell!
Why should Feeling ever speak,
When thou canst breathe her soul so well?
Friendship's balmy words may feign, Love's are even more false than they;
Oh! 'tis only Music's strain
Can sweetly soothe, and not betray!10
Terence Brown remarks that 'the messages of the Melodies were the poignancy of loss, the charm of ruination, of buildings, of people's youth, and the poetic appeal of the buried life. The Melodies treat of Irish history as if its true significance was to provide a drawing-room audience with metaphors of its own indulgent sense of personal mutability.'11 This is too harsh. It would be fairer to Moore's aims and achievement to say that he opened a conduit between Irish history and English hearts, and he did so by being deliberately vague and refusing to name names. To speak with intention, to treat language as meaningful and not just as a succession of sweet sounds, is to become involved in history and politics - in short, in the messy business of the world. To write a language without meaning, a language with only the vaguest of implications, is Moore's aim. The danger is the 'betrayal' of language, and that word is particularly poignant in the wake of two failed revolutions in Ireland, in which traitors played important roles.
Moore himself was aware that his lyrics depended heavily on the melodies, and referred to the music as the better half of the work.12 One does Moore a disservice, then, by considering them purely as literary texts: they deserve to be experienced in performance rather than on the page, and indeed remain justly popular as songs, and justly ignored as poems.
Moore's opinions in the first decades of the nineteenth century do not accord with his high status in nationalist hagiography. In 1815 he visited Ireland and excoriated nationalist agitators, suggesting that they be put to the sword. He was disgusted by the crude methods that Daniel O'Connell employed in his campaign for Catholic emancipation.13 Although Moore's ideas of Ireland changed in the subsequent decades as he acquainted himself with the history ofhis country, it is worthwhile dwelling on them for a moment. They provide an index of how deeply Moore had become a part of the Whig grouping in English politics. The Whigs could hardly be called a political party in the modern sense, but, generally speaking, they espoused religious freedom as well as wide-ranging political and philanthropic reforms. In principle, the Whigs supported the drive for Catholic Emancipation; Moore's reservation about O'Connell and his methods was on a point of taste: nothing could mark his distance from the Irish scene more than this.
As a satirist, Moore mordantly pilloried anti-Catholic prejudice. An excellent example of this is to be found in the Twopenny Post-Bag (1814), published under the pseudonym of Thomas Brown, the Younger. We are told 'a Popish young lady' plotted deviously against the status quo:
(For though you've bright eyes and twelve thousand a year,
It is still but too true you're a Papist, my dear)
Had insidiously sent, by a tall Irish groom,
Two priest-ridden Ponies, just landed from Rome,
And so full, little rogues, of pontifical tricks,
That the dome of St Paul's was scarce safe from their kicks.14
What is particularly to be relished here is the pun on 'priest-ridden'. But to read his satirical poems of this period is to know Moore as an English insider. The main aim of his satire was to heap scorn on the Prince Regent, in true Whig style. His insider status is demonstrated best by the tone and the presumption of knowledge shared by a coterie. The following few lines from 'Parody of a Celebrated Letter' (1812) illustrate precisely these qualities. The speaker is the Prince Regent himself:
Neither feel I resentments, nor wish there should come ill To mortal - except (now I think on't) Beau Br - mm -1, Who threaten'd last year, in a superfine passion, To cut me, and bring the old K - ng into fashion.15
This needs a few footnotes, not just because it is taken out of context, but because it is coded for English readers in precisely the same way that 'Oh! Breathe Not His Name' was coded for Irish readers. In the last nine years of his reign, George III was insane, and his son, the future George IV, acted as regent. The Regent threw his favours on Beau Brummell, who, with this patronage and the inheritance of a tidy fortune, became the arbiter of London fashion and taste. He was also something of a wit, and this was the reason for his eventual break with the Regent in 1812, who did not like to be the subject of it. Moore depicts the Regent as a simpering fool who is afraid of Brummell, and has a go at the King himself, wickedly scouting the idea of his ever coming back into fashion. The same type of insider humour is apparent in The Fudge Family in Paris (1818). Mr Philip Fudge and his family visit France to write a book displaying the perniciousness of the new regime there in order to please his friend 'Lord C - stl - r - gh' (in the 1790s, Fudge used to write revolutionary tracts, but then betrayed the cause and became an establishment lackey). I provide this detailed explanation to demonstrate that these poems were emphatically for an English audience.
Moore made a splash in 1817 when he received a large advance for a long poem about the Orient. It was entitled Lalla Rookh, and it would richly reward the publishers' investment as it became one of the most popular poems in Europe. Much as in the present day when the financial transactions behind a book or film can become part of its marketing, so did the wealth that Moore gained from literature become the stuff of puffs.16 The poem's lack of connection with Irish subject matter, heavily influenced as it is by Byron's The Giaour (1813), worried subsequent editors and critics. Just as Moore's satires are omitted from the patriotic edition of his poems that I described above, there is no mention of Lalla Rookh in a recent history of Irish poetry.17 (Both editor and critic overlooked Byron's comment to Moore in the introduction to The Corsair about the strong parallels between Moore's story of the Orient and his own country's troubled state.) In both cases, there must have been a concern that these works would somehow discredit Moore's credentials as a poet of the Irish nation. Certainly, it confirms Moore as a poet of the British Empire, but there is no reason why that should make him any less of an Irish poet for that.
The poem is set in seventeenth-century India, during the reign of the last Mughal emperor, Aurangzeb. His daughter, Lalla Rookh, is betrothed to a prince in the Northern provinces and makes her way with her retinue to Kashmir, where the nuptials are to be celebrated. Along the way, a young Kashmiri bard joins their party and entertains the emperor's daughter with four long tales in verse. The princess gradually becomes fonder of the bard, and more apprehensive of meetingherbetrothed, Prince Feramorz. All ends happily when it turns out that the bard is indeed Feramorz, who adopted the disguise in order to discover the true character ofhis bride-to-be. Feramorz's tales constitute the body of Lalla Rookh itself, and they immediately take us out of India to Persia, and back nine centuries in time. The first is a complex story of lovers caught on opposite sides of a violent revolt against Muslim rule; and this pattern of a love-relationship cross-hatching a military and religious divide repeats itself in the third and most gripping of Feramorz's stories, 'The Fire-Worshippers'.
This story takes us back a further century in Persian history, as the Pan-Arab invasion finally deposes the dynasty of the Sasanids. These latter are Guebres, or Zoroastrians (the fire-worshippers of the title), and the Arabs are Muslim. Al Hassan is an Arab Emir, or prince, leading the suppression of the Sasanids, and through a convoluted set of events, his daughter, Hinda, falls in love with the Sasanid leader, Hafed. Just as Moore's Irish Melodies wished to conquer the hearts of British ladies, after all military resistance in Ireland was conquered by the Empire soldiers, so does Hafed conquer the heart of the Emir's daughter, and thus receive the opportunity to talk eloquently of the Zoroastrian culture that was in the process of being destroyed. Military victory is achieved, only to be closely followed by cultural defeat. Hafed also indicates that resistance will merely go underground for a while:
Is Iran's pride then gone for ever,
Quench'd with the flame in Mithra's caves? -No - she has sons that never - never -Will stoop to be the Moslem's slaves, While heav'n has light or earth has graves. Spirits of fire, that brood not long, But flash resentment back for wrong; And hearts where, slow but deep, the seeds Of vengeance ripen into deeds, Till, in some treachr'ous hour of calm, They burst, like Zeilan's giant palm, Whose buds fly open with a sound That shakes the pigmy forests round!
Yes, Emir! he who scaled that tower,
And, had he reach'd thy slumb'ring breast, Had taught thee, in a Gheber's power
How safe even tyrant heads may rest -Is one of many, brave as he, Who loathe thy haughty race and thee; Who, though they know the strife is vain, Who, though they know the riven chain Snaps but to enter in the heart Of him who rends its links apart, Yet dare the issue, - blest to be Even for one bleeding moment free, And die in pangs of liberty!18
'Tyrants' and 'liberty': this was true Whig talk, and Terence Brown, discussing the reception ofLalla Rookh,mordantly refers to 'some predictable captiousness in the Tory journals, who knew Moore for a Whig, even when bedecked in a turban'.19 Of course, it is possible to read a passage like this as an allegory for Ireland, but it is important to recall, as I remarked above, that Moore, at the period of writing, disapproved of Irish extremism.
The poem is accompanied by copious notes which situate the persons and places of the poem in Indian and Persian history. Stephen Gwynn remarked that 'whereas Scott's and Byron's descriptions savour of actual experience, Moore's reek of the lamp',20 but later readers have perhaps lost something of the original effect of Moore's scholarly exactitude. In the era of Lalla Rookh, the British Empire was undergoing an unprecedented expansion in many of the areas the poem refers to. India, for instance, was becoming less exotic to the British. For many decades they had been involved intensely in the country, first, as the East India Company established itself, and, second, as it became part of the British Empire in 1818. (Also, the East India Company set up an office in Basra in Iraq in 1763, and British interests were consolidated in the country in the subsequent century.) The place-names, and to an extent the historical personages that the poem refers to, would have been familiar to British readers. It is not hard to imagine all the family members who went back and forth to the country throughout the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, not to mention the extensive investigation of Warren Hastings's activities in India at the end of the eighteenth century. A contemporary analogy might be an American novelist setting a historical novel in Iran and Iraq. Such a book would be intensely examined for modern parallels.
Terence Brown has referred to the 'strange mesmeric absurdity' of Moore's descriptions of Oriental luxury, for instance where Moore talks of Eastern spices and sandal burning.21 At these junctures, Moore slows down the plot significantly (which elsewhere fairly races along), allowing his verse to luxuriate in these coulisses. Again it is worth recalling that these spices and smells were becoming widely available in Britain as a result of the Empire's consolidation in the Orient. The passages are the equivalent of what is to be found today in the supplements of Sunday newspapers. Certainly, this does not build a strong defence of the poem, rather it demonstrates the depth of Moore's imaginative investment in the British Empire. I do not wish to characterise him as an imperialist like Kipling; Kipling's was only one of the many forms that imperialist thinking took. Moore's ideal empire was an enlightened power that could profitably do business with various countries of the world, without suppressing those countries' cultures. He was not an apologist of the actual Empire.
Such arguments, however, cannot save the poem from Stephen Gwynn's judgement that it 'retains its place in literature mainly as an example of an extinct taste'.22 The recent surge of interest in the history of the British Empire, as distinct from postcolonial history, provides a useful historicist context for the poem's revaluation, and Lalla Rookh holds its own among other Romantic long poems. And it holds our attention in the context of Irish poetry in the nineteenth century, not because it can be read as nationalist allegory, but for the way that it exceeds Ireland.
Some of the same complexity can be seen in the brief career of J. J. Callanan (1795-1829), a Cork poet who, weakened by tuberculosis, died at a young age in Lisbon, just a month or two before the publication ofhis only book of poems, The Recluse oflnchidony and Other Poems (1829), in London.23 It was a debut of considerable achievement, but its literary impact was negligible. In the same way that Moore was censored for a nationalist readership, so too was Callanan, even as late as 2005 in an edition ofhis poems which purported to select only the Irish material, as that was deemed superior.24 Omitted and unmentioned was Callanan's fulsome poem of praise at the coronation of George IV (the same Prince Regent so despised by Moore), in which the Cork poet declares: 'God save great George our king / Honor and glory and length to his reign.'25 (This praise is given in the hope that the new King will help Ireland; nevertheless, that George IV is referred to as 'our king' lingers in memory.) The effort at censorship is all the more acute as Callanan, unlike Moore, read Irish and many critic consider that his versions caught a great deal of the originals. How then could such a poet wish to inveigle himself into British affections? But how could he not, given that Irish poetry is not the expression of some 'otherness of Ireland's Gaelic culture',26 as this editor has it, but a much more hybrid affair. Callanan's only book of poems is an achievement in precisely this way: it mixes works in the Romantic mode of Byron and Shelley, along with excellent versions, or amalgamations, of Irish originals.
The title poem is an expansive meditation in which a man finds consolation away from the crowds of mankind, in classic Romantic fashion, and this leaves him confronting the wild landscape of Callanan's native Cork. It is a strongly autobiographical poem, as Callanan also had a strong solitary streak. Moreover, the recluse of the title encounters a figure like himself who has taken ship to leave Ireland, as Callanan himself would in 1827, when he sailed for Lisbon. So far we are in the familiar territory mapped out by Shelley in Alastor; or The Spirit of Solitude (1816), but the poem then picks up some of the ghostly resonances of the defeat of the Earl of Desmond in the sixteenth century. Whereas Shelley's landscape is emptied of historical meaning, Callanan makes the egotistic sublime contiguous to Irish history. It is a unique moment in Irish poetry before Yeats. The Irish struggle is then compared with the struggle for Greek independence, which naturally leads to a eulogy for Byron, until the poem then concludes with a resounding meditation on Ireland's desire for freedom, and the recluse's own situation in relation to it. The verse-form is borrowed from Spenser's Faerie Queene (1590-1609), which had been used by Byron for Childe Harold's Pilgrimage (1812-1818) and by Shelley for Adonais (1821):
Is this the Atlantic that before me rolls In its eternal freedom round thy shore? Hath its grand march no moral yet for souls? Is there no sound of glory in its roar? Must man alone be abject evermore? Slave! hast thou ever gaz'd upon that sea? When the strong wind its wrathful billows bore 'Gainst earth, did not their mission seem to be To lash thee into life, and teach thee to be free?
The night is spent, our task is ended now,
See yonder steals the green and yellow light,
The lady of the morning lifts her brow
Gleaming thro' dews of Heaven, all pure and bright,
The calm waves heave with tremulous delight,
The far Seven-Heads thro' mists of purple smile,
The lark ascends from Inchidony's height,
'Tis morning - sweet one of my native Isle,
Wild voice of Desmond, hush - go rest thee for awhile.27
As Callanan's note tells us, the Seven Heads refer to the headlands beyond Inchadoney (the modern spelling), on all of which 'the Irish formerly had duns, or castles': this is a slow-fade with martial resonance.28 The difficult Spenserian stanza is handled with skill (although elsewhere in the poem it must be admitted that it becomes convoluted in order to get its rhyme), and the irony that Spenser came to Ireland as an important official in Elizabeth's administration just a year after Desmond died would not have been lost on Callanan. It is an irony of this kind that generated much of the best Irish poetry in the twentieth century.
Callanan has been celebrated less for his own work than for his versions of Irish poems. I say 'versions' as he did not translate particular poems, as Welch remarks, 'rather, his poems or versions seem to adapt certain kinds of Gaelic poetry to Anglo-Irish verse'. Thus while individual lines of Callanan's texts will correspond to lines in Gaelic originals, there is no case where a whole poem does. Welch continues: 'In his nine translations he extended and deepened the work of Moore. Through more immediate contact with Gaelic poetry he widened and deepened the range of expressive possibility for Irish poets writing in English.'29 This is the beginning of tradition, as a younger poet picks up the tones and themes of an older poet and develops them. One of the more well known of these versions is 'The Outlaw of Lock Lene':
0 many a day have I made good ale in the glen,
That came not of stream, or malt; - like the brewing of men.
My bed was the ground; my roof, the greenwood above,
And the wealth that I sought one far kind glance from my love.
'Tis down by the lake where the wild tree fringes its sides,
The maid of my heart, my fair one of Heaven resides; -
1 think as at eve she wanders its mazes along,
The birds go to sleep by the sweet wild twist of her song.30
Critics have identified similar elements in the Irish poem, 'Muna b'e an t-ol'. Callanan reduces some of the sexual implications of the original ('Agus ruin searc mo chleibh's geaga tharm anall', translated by Welch as 'And the secret love of my breast with her limbs spread over me', is in Callanan's poem dispersed into its elements, i.e., there is a tree near where his lover resides31), but still expresses the same aching loss with a directness and lyricism that is very near the original. This represented a novel approach to translation. In the previous century, translators did not hesitate to change the technique and idiom in order to suit contemporary tastes; thus Alexander Pope's famed translation of the Iliad is in heroic couplets, where there is no rhyme and a very different prosody in the original. He also introduced many elements of periphrasis, again to suit contemporary tastes. Exactly the same approach was employed by Charlotte Brooke in her Reliques of Irish Poetry (1789). As L. G. Kelly remarks: 'One loses count of the number of times eighteenth-century translators tried to produce "a French Vergil", "an English Homer". In contrast the Romantics aimed to reproduce Vergil and Homer in their own languages, to show the foreign poet as he was, or rather, as he related to the basic energy of the "pure speech".'32 Some critics have misunderstood this general shift in English translation and have criticised Brooke's as bad translations because they are not close enough to the originals;33 the misunderstanding is given political ramifications by Seamus Deane: 'The translation of Gaelic into English was an action that had profound political implications. When read as the translation of something wild and savage into something regulated and polished, it becomes a metaphor of the translation of catholic [sic] into protestant [sic], of native and antique authenticity into modern and equally native civility.'34 It has been suggested that Callanan's versions have a technical roughness which imitates certain rhythmic features of the original (usually this is merely the inclusion of more anapssts in iambic lines), and this is a violence done upon the English poetic tradition. Such critics assume that this is a kind of compensation for military defeat. Again there is a critical confusion here: compensation for a military defeat is provided by subsequent military victory, not by prosodic innovation. Over a millennium, the English poetic tradition has proved welcoming of those elements that would extend its registers, and that is why Callanan's poem, 'The Outlaw of Loch Lene', is a fine poem in the English tradition, which makes it no less of an Irish poem.
Callanan received scant attention in his time and just a fraction more afterwards; Moore, during his life, received the adulation of Europe, but is remembered for only a small part of his work; however, James Clarence Mangan has perhaps received more critical attention than any other nineteenth-century Irish poet with the exception of Yeats. For his patriotic poems he has received the same hagiographic treatment as Moore;35 for the incoherence of his work, he has been characterised offering resistance to both nationalist and imperialist literary forces;36 for his generally louche lifestyle and grotesqueries, he has been figured as a poete maudit ;37 for one young poet he becomes a kind of Virgil figure who reveals a hidden Dublin;38 a penny dreadful entitled The Mangan Inheritance has one of his descendants indulging in sex with a girl-child and another in incest;39 one theory suggests that he is the model for the eponymous hero of Herman Melville's 'Bartleby the Scrivener'.40 He wrote a fragment of an autobiography which was more fiction than fact, and in 2001 it was claimed that a further fragment was discovered; in true Mangan style, this turned out to be a hoax, not Mangan's own this time but one of his critic's.41 One of his editors remarks:
But there are other Mangans too, whose identities are as varied as the poet's many noms-de-plume: Mr James Mangan; M.; J. M.; J. C. M.; C.; C. M.; B. A. M.; Z.; Clarence; Drechsler; Selber; Terrs Filius; Hi-Hum; Whang-Hum; Mark Anthony; Vacuus; The Man in the Cloak; The Out-and Outer; Peter Puff Secundus; Monos; A Yankee; Lageniensis; A Mourne-r; Herr Hoppandgoon Baugtrauter; Herr Popandgoon Tutchemupp; Solomon Dryasdust; Dr Berri Abel Hummer.42
Mangan, in one poem-translation, described himself as 'Neither One Thing Nor T'Other', and the accuracy of the description has perhaps provoked critics to throw their various theories at him.
After so much uncertainty, some facts will be welcome. Mangan was born in Dublin in 1803, the son of a grocer. He received some formal education, including a grounding in Romance languages, but at the age of fifteen had to interrupt this to begin work as a scrivener; that year he also began publishing literary work in almanacs. A decade later he was appearing in the Dublin Penny Journal and the Comet; the former ran for two years and was co-edited by George Petrie. This proved a fateful connection for Mangan as Petrie was also engaged in important Irish antiquarian activities at the Royal Irish Academy and the Ordnance Survey Office. This last did not deal directly in bombs and artillery, but had the job, beginning in 1824, of establishing an accurate map of Ireland. Other antiquarians were drawn to the project, including Samuel Ferguson, and soon the Ordnance Survey became the means of gathering more information about local place-names and features of the landscape than could possibly be needed for the purpose of a military map, or any other type of map. Mangan was employed on the project from 1838 and it brought him into close contact for the first time with the Gaelic poetic tradition. Colleagues were able to provide him with literal English versions of the Irish originals - Mangan could not read Irish with ease - and from these Mangan would produce his poems, or versions. When the Survey's funds were reduced in 1841, Mangan took up a job at Trinity College Library. In 1842, when the Nation newspaper was set up by the Young Ireland agitators, Mangan began contributing. His link with the journal strengthened throughout the 1840s. A prominent Young Irelander, John Mitchel, would set the hagiographic tone in a memoir written after Mangan died in Dublin in 1849. Mangan had just recovered from a dose of cholera, and his constitution would have been considerably weakened by this, as well as by chronic alcoholism and by his possible abuse of other substances.
The writings of the last decade of his life fuel the nationalist account. Above all, there is his loose version of 'Roisin Dubh', a political Irish poem which in its turn is a version of an older love poem. The middle element - the political poem in Irish - figures Ireland as a woman. I give the first and final two quatrains, followed by a close translation:
A Roisin na biodh bron ort far eirigh duit -ta na braithre ag dul ar saile is iad ag triall ar muir, tiocfaidh do phardiin on bPapa is on Roimh anoir is ni sparailfear fion Spainneach ar mo Roisin Dubh.
Da mbeadh seisreach agam threabhfainn in aghaidh na gcnoc is dhfeanfainn soisceal i lar an aifrinn de mo Roisin Dubh; bhearfainn pog don chailin og a bhearfadh a hoighe dom is dheanfainn cleas ar chiil an leasa le mo Roisin Dubh.
Beidh an Eirne 'na tuilte treana is reabfar cnoic, beidh an fharraige 'na tonnta dearga is an speir 'na fuil, beidh gach gleann sleibhe ar fud fiireann is mointe ar crith, la eigin sul a n-eagfaidh mo Roisin Dubh.
Roisin, have no sorrow for all that has happened to you: the Friars are out on the brine, they are travelling the sea, your pardon from the Pope will come, from Rome in the East, and we won't spare the Spanish wine for my Roisin Dubh.
If I had six horses I would plough against the hill -I'd make Roisin Dubh my Gospel in the middle of Mass -I'd kiss the young girl who would grant me her maidenhead and do deeds behind the lios with my Roisin Dubh!
The Erne will be strong in flood, the hills be torn, the ocean be all red waves, the sky all blood, every mountain valley and bog in Ireland will shake one day, before she shall perish, my Roisin Dubh.43
(trans. Thomas Kinsella)
('Lios' can be a garth, a ring-fort or a fairy-mound.) The poem is loosely associated with the aisling tradition, in which Ireland is personified as a woman (aisling means 'dream') and the poet's love for her becomes the vehicle for an expression of his love of Ireland. Another important element is Catholicism, as aisling poems promise the return of the Stuart king. 'Roisin Dubh' ends in an apocalyptic scene (possibly the climax of their congress in the preceding stanza), which makes no reference to the English occupiers and does not need to in order for the import to be clear. Mangan's version follows:
Was this article helpful?