Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Professor Brian John


This dissertation examines the connection between Seamus Heaney's and Thomas Kinsella's poetry and the dominant themes of contemporary Irish cultural production and criticism. I begin my study by contextualizing Heaney and Kinsella within the framework of contemporary Irish literary criticism. The discipline is marked by its explicitly political orientation, and in his critical work, The Dual Tradition , Kinsella contributes to the partisan rhetoric that has made Irish studies so inflammatory. In the first chapter, "An Equivocal Response: The Explicitly Political Poetry of Thomas Kinsella and Seamus Heaney," I consider the overtly ideological poetry of both writers within the larger context of contemporary Irish postcolonial criticism. In the next section of my study, "Receding From The Public: Markers of Identity in the Poetry of Seamus Heaney and Thomas Kinsella," I argue that both poets respond to the public demands placed on poetry in Ireland by redressing the narrowly-construed vision of sectarian identity with a more complex and accommodating subjectivity. Both poets turn toward fundamental concerns like a consciousness of place, the linguistic colonization of Ireland, and the vicissitudes of the Irish literary tradition in order to distance themselves from the oppressive demands of contemporary Irish politics. In the final chapter I look at how both poets respond to what they perceive to be a discontinuous Irish literary tradition by intervening actively in that tradition. Specifically, I consider how their employment of bardic poetic modes and traditional themes suggests that both poets feel that this tradition represents a usable past for the modern writer. As well, both poets have translated numerous works from the Irish in order to demonstrate the value of this rich tradition to a contemporary, non-Irish speaking, readership. Finally, in lieu of a formal conclusion, I situate Heaney and Kinsella within the larger context of contemporary Irish poets like Derek Mahon, Paul Muldoon, Medbh McGuckian, John Montague, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, and Eavan Boland. In the work of this group of Northern Irish and Republic of Ireland poets, I perceive, in different ways, a similar desire to move contemporary Irish poetry and culture beyond the debilitating politics of sectarian identification. Here I consider a number of political, public, and cultural concerns that have come to the fore in contemporary Irish writing.

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