The Oxford Book of Irish Verse: XVIIth Century-XXth Century

The Oxford Book of Irish Verse: XVIIth Century-XXth Century

The Oxford Book of Irish Verse: XVIIth Century-XXth Century

The Oxford Book of Irish Verse: XVIIth Century-XXth Century

Excerpt

During the Centuries when Ireland was a nation on the run only the portable arts could survive. Sculpture, symphonic music, the plastic arts all need fosterage, peace, security, and wealth to grow and survive: but a poem, a story, or a song may be carried safely inside a mind, can be handed on, preserved, and ornamented. Having no printing works or binderies our literature was the nursling of memory--and it was in Irish. In English little of value was written before the turn of the nineteenth century, and such verse as was written was for an English audience.

To understand why Irish poetry in English is a relatively novel art it is only necessary to know that English as the vernacular language of the country is little more than three centuries old, that the imaginative thought of the people and their poets was in Irish and that the only English known by the majority was that minimum necessary to understand an order.

The attempt to subjugate Ireland which began in the twelfth century had two main objects: to make the island a pacific colony accepting English rule and law, and to suppress the native law and language which were inimical to the new order. The first object never completely succeeded, the second succeeded only incompletely until after the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, only in small pockets around the garrison towns, and in the Pale. There were therefore two and sometimes three languages existing side by side, occasionally overlapping, but mutually exclusive --Norman-French, Anglo-Saxon, and Irish--and there was little intercourse of thought or culture between the...

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