Collector's Poet
John Jordan
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First published in the Irish Press (13 Nov 1971) p12.
This text has not been re-edited for this hypertext version.

Collected Poems by Thomas MacGreevy New Writers' Press, Dublin, 1971.


WITH a cover drawing of the author by Jack B. Yeats, and a Foreword by Samuel Beckett, which is a reprint of his review of MacGreevy's Poems (1934), this elegantly got-up book is bound to become a collector's item. It may without prejudice be argued that MacGreevy was a collector's poet. But here I must introduce a personal and indeed a confessional note.

About 1949, before ever I had read Eliot's "The Waste Land" in its entirety I was familiar with the MacGreevy Poems of 1934, as were some of my slightly older friends. I even began an "Homage to MacGreevy," of which three lines survive: Thomas MacGreevy / Heard unearthly music / Passing, westwards over Stephen's Green.

What was it that attracted myself and my contemporaries, barely literate by today's student standards, to a poet whose obscurity was not of the then currently fashionable kind, and for whose proper comprehension one needed some acquaintance with at least seven cultures ?

Looking back to 1949, four years af ter the War and during its aftermath of uneasiness about our country's abstention from Europe's agony, I think MacGreevy satisfied our subconscious yearning for the ideal of a thoroughly Europeanised Irishman. Of course the poem most often on our lips was his "Aodh Ruadh 0 Domhnaill," even though it required some knowledge of Spanish. But the scrap of verse of my own was based on lines from his "Homage to Hieronymus Bosch," and now, after over twenty years, reading these poems again (only five other poems complete the canon) I am astonished and touched to find how many of them have remained, like sunken treasure in my consciousness. And because one is older and presumably better educated, few of them seem obscure, even if few of them may be styled easy.

What I had forgotten was how, even as a young and iconoclastic European, MacGreevy clung to a kind of aristocratic Catholic Nationalism. In a poem such as "The Other Dublin" from Poems right down to "Homage to Vircingetorix" (1950), he is writing as an "Irish-Irishman" with disdain for what he calls a "Norman-Irishman." I think he got an impious pleasure from knowing that he, the Kerry Catholic, was so much more instructed in all the arts than his Anglo-Irish culture-dabbling acquaintances. I use the last term advisedly, for Beckett and Jack Yeats were his friends and if my memory does not trick me, he once shared a flat with Lennox Robinson. In his last, years, despite several invitations, I refused to meet him. Old man subconscious must have warned me that he wouId have hated my inclusive concept of the Irish nation.

But what a fine poet! Look at "Homage to Li Po":

I fought the fever
I made a poem
I thought I had got this too
adolescent heart, in hand—
One must be classical.
Then I set out, serene,
To enjoy the bright day,
But I met you again
I am a sick man again.

Copyright 1971 Hugh McFadden.  

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