THIS survey does not pretend to be comprehensive. The first three sections, which are thematic and historical, discuss poems and ideas about poetry, mainly in relation to Edwin Muir, Hugh MacDiarmid ( Christopher Murray Grieve), Patrick Kavanagh, Louis MacNeice, John Hewitt, R. S. Thomas, and Dylan Thomas. Several younger poets are also featured. The last section explores a specific case history: Northern Irish poetry, 1962-1992. Let the following epigraphs set the scene:
I owe my soul to Shakespeare, to Spenser and to Blake, perhaps to William Morris, and to the English language in which I think, speak and write . . . my hatred tortures me with love, my love with hate. W. B. Yeats
Ulster was British, but with no rights on The English lyric.
My function in Scotland during the last twenty to thirty years has been that of the catfish that vitalizes the other torpid denizens of the aquarium.
Regarded in England as a Welshman (and a waterer of England's milk) and in Wales as an Englishman, I am too unnational to be here at all. I should be living in a small private leper-house in Hereford or Shropshire, one foot in Wales and my vowels in England.
Dylan Thomas (talking to Scottish writers in Edinburgh)