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The word mistrusted: rhetoric and self-irony in some modern irish poets

Universitat de Barcelona


The Word Mistrusted: Rhetoric and Self-Irony in Some Modern Irish Poets Rui Carvalho Homem Universidade do Porto Abstract The bardic expectations instituted by long-standing stereotypes of 'the Irish poet7 have persistently proved a source of unease for some post- Yeatsian Irish poets, generating different perspectives on the relationship between poet and audience-as well as on the power (?) of the poetic utterance. If with a poet like Paul Muldoon an avoidance of the bardic is at al1 times made evident (as part of the (self-)deflation entailed by the parodic strategies which have become a hallmark of his writing), in the case of several other poets evasion of the voice-as- authority may prove less obvious, and not devoid of contradictions. This paper will deal with different ways of representing the perplexities of the self as holder of poetic power, drawing mostly on poems by Thomas Kinsella, Derek Mahon and Seamus Heaney. The opening words of my title may seem strangely misplaced when applied to a reading of Irish poetry: surely a conspicuous and traditional mark of Irish writing, if not of Irish culture in general, is taken to be an inordinate trust in the word, and in the power it is supposed to wield. Countless references inay spring to our mind as actual or supposed confía t ion of a traditional Iris11 belief in the virtues of the word-beginning with accounts of the great respect, conjoined with fear of their literally blistering satires, due to the bards in the old Gaelic order, "second only to that of the king himself' (Leerssen 1996, 158). English reports on this early bardic prominence famously include Sidney's acknowledgment in the Defence that poets in Ireland were "held in a devout reverence", and believed to be able to inflict death by rhyming (Duncan- Jones 1994, 103, 142)' and Spenser's stern indictment of Irish bards for the political danger entailed by the "high regard and estimation" they enjoyed (Hadfield and Maley 1997,75-77). The su

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