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Space to Think, a new book celebrating ten years of the Dublin Review of Books More Information 

The Irish Poet and the Natural World

An Anthology of Verse in English from the Tudors to the Romantics
Andrew Carpenter and Lucy Collins
Publisher
Cork University Press
Price
€39.00
ISBN
9781782050643


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Poems that examine the relationship between human and non-human worlds inevitably raise questions about collective or social identity. It is this sense of shared perspective that has been most thoroughly contested in the modern world as philosophers, theologians and poets have questioned the validity of the traditional, hierarchical view of man's place in the 'Great Chain of Being'. Few of the poets in this volume would have shared Alexander Pope's vision of an unproblematic 'we' responding to nature and the universe with shared insight and intention; instead the power of man over nature - or, indeed, that of nature over man - is mediated in varying ways throughout this anthology across a spectrum of practical, political, ethical and philosophical positions. In Ireland between the Tudor conquests and the Romantic period, these variations are especially complex, due to the layered - and sometimes merging - cultural and political dynamics of Gaelic Irish, Old English and New English communities living in and on the land. Individuals from the various tribal, linguistic or sectarian sections of Irish society held diverse attitudes towards the natural world around them; attitudes shaped by their differing intellectual, religious or ethical traditions and lived experience. Inevitably, and in particular due to the variance in language use, they expressed the dynamics of these relationships in distinctive ways. Since we are including only work in the English language in this volume, the range of these representations is necessarily circumscribed, and the perspective that is reflected in these pages is predominantly that of educated Protestants during the seventeenth, eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.2 The experience of significant social and political changes that took place throughout Ireland in these years shaped the work of the poets in this book in varying ways however. For those who identified closely with Ireland, strong ties to place and community were the basis for observation. For those living in the country for a comparatively short time, the mood was often one of discovery or evaluation. Neither of these responses is exempt from political significance, revealing the natural world in Ireland as an important site for contested loyalties with links to community and family set against economic opportunity and desire for personal aggrandisement. These tensions have produced poems rich in detailed observation of the natural world, and resonant with an array of social meanings.