Louis MacNeice and his influence on contemporary Northern Irish poetry
This thesis examines in close detail the influence of Louis MacNeice’s work – primarily his poetry but also his critical prose and radio plays – in the poetry of Derek Mahon, Michael Longley, Paul Muldoon and Ciaran Carson. Rather than following a fixed, unified theory of influence, the thesis explores how individual poems contain echoes – either formally, rhythmically, tonally or imagistically – of the elder poet’s work. The thesis shows how the example of a single, shared creative ancestor may manifest in many different ways. For Derek Mahon, MacNeice is present in the question of how an artist may be of use to their community, even (perhaps especially) in a community or society in which the artist is not valued. Mahon’s poetry also explores similar existential questions, through a shared interest in the work of Samuel Beckett. For Michael Longley, MacNeice presents a vital example for his war poetry through the poem ‘The Casualty’, and for his love poetry through ‘Mayfly’. As single poems of Longley’s reverberate and evolve throughout his oeuvre, so specific poems by MacNeice become touchstones throughout Longley’s poetry. Muldoon’s writing seems interested in MacNeice as a symbol as well as an artistic forebear: MacNeice appears as a dramatic persona in one poem, and remnants of his own poems, particularly ‘Snow’, ghost many of Muldoon’s collections. Carson has had a turbulent relationship with MacNeice through his career, and in his early collections this relationship is defined in negative as much as positive: Carson’s ‘Bagpipe Music’ seems a response to and a rebuke of MacNeice’s poem of the same name. Later, the creative potential of MacNeice’s determination to remain creatively unanchored seems to have been an empowering example. The thesis considers the matter of influence as far more subtle and contextually sensitive than the psychologically fraught, highly combative depiction in many existing theoretical models. Instead, it is interested in how influence works in practice, in individual case studies.