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THE IRISH LITERARY REVIVAL

By Horatio S. KRANS, Ph. D.

N the closing decade of the nineteenth century and in the

opening years of the twentieth, no literary movement has awakened a livelier interest than the Irish Literary Revival, a movement which, by its singleness and solidarity of purpose, stood alone in a time of confused literary aims and tendencies. Movements, like individuals, have their ancestry, and that of the Irish Literary Revival is easily traced. It descends from Callanan and Walsh, and from the writers of '48. It is to this descent that the lines in William Butler Yeats's "To Ireland in Coming Times" allude:

Know that I would accounted be
True brother of that company,
Who sang to sweeten Ireland's wrong,
Ballad and story, rann and song.

With the passing of the mid-nineteenth-century writers, the old movement waned, and in the field of Irish letters there was, in the phrase of a famous bull, nothing stirring but stagnation. A witty critic of the period, commenting upon this unhappy state of affairs, declared that, though the love of learning in Ireland might still be, as the saying went, indestructible, it was certainly imperceptible. But after the fall of Parnell a new spirit was stirring. Politics no longer absorbed the whole energy of the nation. Groups of men inspired with a love of the arts sprang up here and there. In 1890 Yeats proved himself a real prophet when he wrote: "A true literary consciousness--national to the centre-seems gradually to be forming out of all this disguising and prettifying, this penumbra of half-culture. We are preparing likely enough for a new Irish literary movement—like that of '48that will show itself in the first lull in politics."

Responsive to the need of the young writers associated with Yeats, the National Literary Society was founded in Dublin in 1892, and a year later London Irishmen, among them men already distinguished in letters, founded in the English metropolis the Irish Literary Society. From the presses in Publin, in London, and in New York as well, books began to appear in rapid succession—slender volumes of verse, novels, short stories, essays, plays, translations, and remakings of Irish myths and legends, all inspired by, and closely related to, the past or the present of Ireland, voicing an essentially national spirit and presenting the noblest traits of Irish life and character.

Not content with the organization of the two literary societies, Yeats, with courage and relentless tenacity, cast about to realize his long-cherished dream of a theatre that should embody the ideals of the Revival. In Lady Gregory, and in Edward Martyn, an Irishman of large means, who with both pen and purse lent a willing hand, he found two ardent laborers for his vineyard. George Moore, who in the event proved a fish out of water in Ireland, Yeats and Martyn contrived to lure from his London lodgings and his cosmopolitan ways, and to enlist in the theatrical enterprise. The practical knowledge of the stage which this gifted enfant terrible of literature contributed was doubtless of great value in the early days of the dramatic adventure, though Moore's free thoughts, frank speech, and mordant irony brought an element of discord into Dublin literary circles, which may well have left Yeats and his associates with a feeling that they had paid too dear for a piper to whose tunes they refused to dance. Be that as it may, in 1899 Yeats's dream was measurably realized, and the Irish Literary Theatre established, to be succeeded a little later by the Irish National Theatre Society. Enough, however, of the dramatic aspect of the Revival, which receives separate treatment elsewhere in these pages, as does also the dramatic work of certain of the authors considered here.

From what has already been said, it should be plain that in the last decade of the last century the ranks of the Irish Literary Revivalists filled rapidly, and that the movement was really under way. The renascent spirit took various forms. To one group of poets the humor, pathos, and tragedy of peasant life deeply appealed, and found expression in a poetry distinctively and unmistakably national, from which a kind of pleasure could be drawn unlike anything else in other litera

tures. In this group Alfred Perceval Graves and Moira O'Neill cannot pass unmentioned. Who would ask anything racier in its kind than the former's "Father O'Flynn"?

Of priests we can offer a charmin' variety,
Far renowned for larnin' and piety,
Still I'd advance you without impropriety,
Father O'Flynn as the flower of them all.

Here's a health to you, Father O'Flynn,
Slainte,* and slainte, and slainte agin.

Powerfullest preacher,

And tinderest teacher,
And kindliest creature in Old Donegal.

Or was the homing instinct, the homesick longing for the old sod, ever more truly rendered than in Moira O'Neill's song of the Irish laborer in England?

Over here in England I'm helpin' wi' the hay,
An' I wish I was in Ireland the livelong day;
Weary on the English, an' sorra take the wheat!
Och! Corrymeela an' the blue sky over it.

D'ye mind me now, the song at night is mortial hard to raise,
The girls are heavy-goin' here, the boys are ill to plase;
When ones't I'm out this workin' hive, 'tis I'll be back again-
Aye, Corrymeela in the same soft rain.

Here, too, should be named Jane Barlow, whose poems and stories are faithful imaginative transcripts' of the face of nature and the hearts of men as she knew them in Connemara. Finally there is William Butler Yeats, who, on the whole, is the representative man of the Revival. Except in the translator's sphere, his writings have given him a place in almost all the activities of this movement. As a lyric poet, he has expressed the moods of peasant and patriot, of mystic, symbolist, and quietist, and it is safe to say that in lyric poetry no one of his generation writing in English is his superior. We cannot resist the pleasure of quoting here from his “Innisfree”, which won the praise of Robert Louis Stevenson, and which, if not the high mark of Yeats's achievement, is still a flawless thing in its way: I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,

*"Your health."

And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made; Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,

And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,

Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings; There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,

And evening full of the linnets' wings.

In this place, and for convenience sake, it may be permitted to speak of aspects of Yeats's work other than that by virtue of which he is to be classed with the group we have just considered. In his narrative poem, "The Wanderings of Usheen", as well as in his plays and lyrics, he is of the best of those among them we may mention by the way Dr. John Todhunter, Nora Hopper (Mrs. W. H. Chesson), and William Larminie who have revealed to our day the strange beauty of the ancient creations of the Gaelic imagination. In prose he has written short stories, a novelette, John Sherman and Dhoya, and essays that reveal a subtle critical insight, and a style of beautiful finish and grace, suggestive of the style of Shelley's Defence of Poetry. Yeats's plays constitute a considerable and an important part of his work, but these must be reserved for treatment elsewhere in this book. In prefaces to anthologies of prose and verse of his editing, in the pages of reviews, and elsewhere, he appears as the chief apologist of the aims of the Literary Revival, and in particular of the methods of the dramatists of the Revival. Whatever he has touched he has lifted into the realm of poetry, and this is in large measure true of his prose, which proceeds from the poet's point of view and breathes the poetic spirit. A man of rare versatility, a finished artist with a scrupulous artistic conscience, he has done work of high and sustained quality, and is certain to exert a good and lasting influence upon the literature of his country.

In a literary movement in the "Isle of Saints", we look naturally for religious poetry, and we do not look in vain. This poetry, chiefly Catholic, has a quality of its own as distinctive as that of the writers of the group we have just left. Now it voices a naive, devoted simplicity of Christian faith; now it attains to a high and keen spirituality; now it is mystic and pagan. Among the religious poets, Lionel Johnson easily stands first-perhaps the Irish poet of firmest fibre and most resonant voice of his generation. A note of high courage and of spiritual triumph rings through his verse, even from the shadow of the wings of the dark angel that gives a title to one of the saddest of his poems. Often he strikes a note of genuine religious ecstasy and exaltation rarely heard in English, as in “Te Martyrum Candidatus": Ah, see the fair chivalry come, the companions of Christ!

White Horsemen, who ride on white horses, the Knights of God! They, for their Lord and their Lover who sacrificed

All, save the pleasure of treading where He first trod.

T! ese through the darkness of death, the dominion of night,

Swept, and they woke in white places at morning tide: They saw with their eyes, and sang for joy of the sight,

They saw with their eyes the Eyes of the Crucified.

Among the men of the Revival, no personality is stronger or more attractive than that of G. W. Russell—“Æ”, as he is always called—who may be regarded as the hero of George Moore's Hail and Farewell, and who alone in that gallery of wonderful pen-portraits looks forth with complete amiability. He is a pantheist, a mystic, and a visionary, with what would seem a literal and living faith in many gods, though strongly prepossessed in favor of the ancient divinities of the Gael, now long since in exile. Impressive and striking by a certain spiritual integrity, so to say, "Æ" unites gifts and faculties seldom combined. He is a poet of rare subtlety, a painter in whose genius so good a judge as George Moore believed, and a most practical man of affairs, who, as assistant to Sir Horace Plunkett, held up the latter's hands in his labors on behalf of co-operative dairies and the like. His poems have their roots in a pantheism which half reveals the secrets of an indwelling spirit, speaking alike “from the dumb brown lips of earth" and from the passions of the heart of man.

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