Skip navigation

UCD Search


Scholarcast 39: Giving 'A Tongue to the Sea Cliffs': The Landless Inheritance of W.B. Yeats and Eavan Boland

Jody Allen Randolph


Irish literature has often been shaped by its relation to the national through land and the consciousness of land.  New perspectives provided by Atlantic studies, however, now allow for new narratives unrelated to land to be put into conversation with older narratives. This lecture examines work by two twentieth-century poets, one early and one late, that offer insight on this. Shaped by family history rooted in Irish maritime culture, W.B. Yeats and Eavan Boland address the non-national imaginatively through their use of the Irish Sea. As young poets, the imaginative lives of both were both profoundly shaped by the lives of nineteenth-century Irish seafarers. In "Pardon, Old Fathers," which opens his 1914 volume Responsibilities, Yeats discusses the imaginative influence of his maternal grandfather, William Pollexfen. In Autobiographies, he reports the only eulogy that had ever turned his head was one in which his father claimed "by marriage with a Pollexfen, we have given a tongue to the sea cliffs." Eavan Boland's maternal grandfather, James Kelly, also a sea captain, played a similar role in the shaping of her poetic imagination. He appears in her earliest poems to her most recent, including "Sea Change," a 2014 poem that addresses her maritime inheritance: "What did he leave me, my grandfather?" Both "Pardon, Old Fathers" and "Sea Change" contrast the lives of people caught up in a struggle for land and nation with those of sea-based people. But it is difficult to grasp from within a national paradigm just how much the traffic of people, goods and ideas across the Irish Sea, and indeed the Atlantic world, helped shape the imaginations of two young poets who later transformed Irish poetry.  This lecture will explore the connections between these archipelagic maritime identities and the imaginative worlds they shaped in the work of both poets.

Jody Allen Randolph

Jody Allen Randolph served as Assistant Dean of the British Studies at Oxford Programme at St. John's College, Oxford and has taught at the University of California at Santa Barbara, University College Dublin, and Westmont College. Her books include Eavan Boland: A Critical Companion (2008), Close to the Next Moment: Interviews from a Changing Ireland (2010), Eavan Boland's Poetry and Prose (2013), and, with Paula Meehan, A Poet's Dublin (2014). She is currently a research fellow in the Centre for Gender, Culture and Identities in UCD's Humanities Institute.


Series edited by: John Brannigan
General Editor: P.J. Mathews 
Scholarcast original theme music by: Padhraic Egan, Michael Hussey and Sharon Hussey.
Recording, audio editing, photography and development by: John Matthews & Vincent Hoban at UCD IT Services, Media Services.

Need help listening or subscribing to Scholarcast episodes? Please refer to our 'How to use this podcast page' for help.