The notion of Irish literature is often the subject of much critical contention. For some people Irish literature is reserved for works in the Irish language. The fact that the Irish language was almost eradicated during the nineteenth century is still, however few people actually now speak or write it in contemporary Ireland, an inescapable fact of Irish history and Irish literary history. Its eradication was, in part, a matter of political compulsion and also, in part, a matter of the tragic history of the vast scale of emigration which followed on the Irish Famine of 1845-8.
This is why, among Irish writers who write in the English language, language itself becomes the focus of their reflection. Literature in English in Ireland has been a literature in which ideas of Ireland — of people, community and nation — have been both created and reflected. To understand how it is true it is necessary to contemplate the conceptions of a distinctively Irish identity which have been articulated, defended, and challenged. Another point to consider is how the perception of alienation, felt almost by all Irish writers, influences their choice of themes for literary works.
For the material of my study I have chosen the works of two great Irish writers, prose writer Joyce and poet Heaney and American writer who nevertheless is regarded as English writer, Thomas Stern Eliot. The reason I choose to include Eliot in this essay is that he is much like Joyce and the comparison between those two geniuses with help to trace the ways of intersection and similarity of two cultural traditions. Another reason for choosing to study Eliot, together with Joyce and Heaney is that all three writers were exiles, the fact that influenced their literary style and themes.
They knew and influenced each other.. Eliot founded new literary movement, and Joyce’s technical innovations still occupy his followers like Heaney. The work of all three great moderns exhibits the characteristic features of modern art in being difficult to the point of obscurity, complex, allusive, experimental in form, and encyclopedic in scope. The work of all three writers, especially Heaney’s, is imbued with the modern attitude to the past–that the past was radically different from the present but eternally haunts it and so is inescapably past-present.
Of the three writers, Joyce was clearly driven into exile in order to write. Joyce wrote with scrupulous naturalism with its fidelity to detail and habit of naming names, and satiric vein. Outwardly rootless Joyce was not inwardly so. His life and art were transfixed, rooted in the Dublin he had known as a young man, which was the subject of all his work. Joyce constantly carried feeling of alienation in relation to his homeland. Joyce rejected his home, family, society, nation, and religion. Alienation is explicitly detailed in Dubliners, the collection of short stories focused on the exploration of Irish theme.
One of those stories Araby focuses on a vagrant boy energized by a desire for escape from the confinement of Irish culture. The desire for such escape appears already in the first story of collection, continues in the second and finally materializes in the third. The epiphanies at the end of first three stories metaphorize the promise of freedom. To gain clear understanding of this metaphor of the travel in quest of liberation we have to illustrate what was the place of Irish culture in the broader aspect of British literature and how it is reflected in Joyce’s literary work.
This story is a metaphor for Joyce’s life too, for his search for place where he would have been able to work. Joyce’s issue is to present the lives lived by his people and their characteristic and characteristically Irish ways of trying to make sense of them. The image of Dubliners illustrates more than the human condition; it illustrates the Dublin condition, which may be defined as an excessive degree of susceptibility to decay and loss. It is a condition not of excess but of deprivation. The first three stories The Sisters, Encounter and Araby are connected by the common hero, a boy, who is looking for something that is not there.
Araby opens with an inspection of the empty back rooms of an abandoned house on a blind street: An uninhabited house of two stories stood at the blind end, detached from its neighbors in a square ground (Joyce, 29), concludes with the lights going out in an emptied hall: The upper part of the hall was now completely dark. Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity (Joyce, 36), and in between tracks the narrator as his money and the dreams built on it come, by degrees, to nothing.
The story gives much attention to detail. In the scene at the marketplace, the narrator offers vivid metonymic of the boy’s world. The boy aspires to commence his journey to Araby, a journey which is metaphorized as chivalric quest. His destination is eastward, the East is even more important metaphorically to the boy: “The syllables of the word Araby were called to me through the silence in which my soul luxuriated and cast an Eastern enchantment over me” (Joyce, 32).
Because he had thought the East would be the proper place in which his desire might be realized, he is disillusioned, as readers, of Araby by his encounter with the actuality of the “empty” bazaar with its “magical name. ” On arrival to the Araby the boy discovers absolutely discouraging scene which makes him describe himself, in this confrontation with the real world, in one of Joyce’s most famous sentences: “Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger” (Joyce, 35).
What the boy had expected as the completion of his traveling toward Araby, namely the validation of his mastery, ends by confirming, at least in his own eyes, his powerlessness. The wanted to find what the priest, the dead father, has lost: faith in the ability to liberate himself and thereby to make at least the journey, into the unknown. Furthermore, he must find a means of bringing that “poetry” found in the books into touch with the “prose,” or reality of ordinary Dublin life. Eliot, like Joyce, was an exile.
He left United States and found in England an organic society which satisfied his hunger for tradition and order; society, politics, and religion were more closely related and institutionalized in England than in the United States. Unlike Joyce Eliot’s poetry is universal but there is little specifically local attributions, Eliot’s work is not as local as Joyce’s is. When we look at his poems for physical evidence of his adopted country, we find little. Such images as there are of city, village, church, or stately home are universalized, made symbolic.
Eliot in his poetry tends to touch upon unconventional philosophical issues like what will happen if we lose the capacity to see the community between persons and lose the capacity to believe in any real community between persons. Such a hypothetical situation is exemplified in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock where the “eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase” (Eliot, line 56) have made the community between persons unable to be seen. The climax is in the middle of the poem, where we see most clearly what the theme of this poem is; it is the peculiar affliction of our age — metaphysical blindness.
The middle is the most intricate one in the poem, but if we concentrate on what is essential, following Prufrock as he struggles up the stairs, as he wrestles with the dead lumber in his head, and as he draws near to the person he has come to visit, there is a moment of suspended thought, a moment when Prufrock is his experience, a moment typical of in Eliot’s works, where the door out of the corridor suddenly opens, and we are invaded by a sense of reality. The opening here is not much more than a crack: the flash of light to light as the lamplight is reflected from the brown hair on the woman’s arms.
But it is sufficient not only to throw Prufrock off his bent: “Is it perfume from a dress/ That makes me so digress? ” (Eliot, line 65) but almost to bring him to act. His “Shall I say . . . ?” shows him on the verge of entering a real present. But then he falls back, and rejoins the arthropods, because he has nothing to act with, just as he had nothing to confront the streets with: here, for example, he did not see the light answering light. This scene illustrates what is meant by the theme of metaphysical blindness. The poetic collection Prufrock & Other Observations had made Eliot famous in the English-speaking literary world.
The interplay between Irish and English literature is continued by Joyce’s follower Seamus Heaney. This divided tradition states the essential condition of the modern Irish mind. The Irish literary tradition proffered a sense of identity which became the preoccupation of Irish writers of the early twentieth-century like Joyce; that identity still confounds contemporary poets like Seamus Heaney. Modern poetry in general is haunted by the divided mind, a reflection of man cut off from his past, confused about meaning, and attempting to reconcile himself to his solitude.
In the Irish literary tradition that reconciliation is defined in cultural and national terms. The struggle for reconciliation becomes embroiled in the question of identity. Heaney wrote in the early seventies, his poems have as their focus the relation of England to Ireland which tends to be that of domineering male to helpless female. His was a witness of cruelty in Belfast when Catholic student arranged civil rights marches. Heaney moved from Belfast at the peak of this conflict, but his poem Punishment presents his experiences: “I can see her drowned / body in the bog, / the weighting stone, / the floating rods and boughs”.
(Heaney, 1975) In this poem Heaney explores a theme of revenge for betrayal but admits his own feebleness when facing violence inculcated for ages: “I almost love you / but would have cast, I know, / the stones of silence. I am the artful voyeur / your brain’s exposed and darkened combs… ” (Heaney, 1975) This poem as other in collection North, are Heaney’s ‘bog poems’, in which he disturbs very dark emotions and appeals to the political and social situation in his native Northern Ireland.
Heaney’s through the interpretation of the past gives his comments on the present in concealed yet strong manner. In conclusion, Heaney, Eliot, and Joyce all exemplify the case of the artist who due to various reason is forced to abandon his homeland. Eliot freed himself from America in order to transplant himself elsewhere. Joyce was trying to find a perfect place for his creative activity. Despite his love-hate relationship with Ireland Joyce remained faithful to Ireland in spirit. Heaney deserted North Ireland because of unstable political situation but often resorted to it in his works.
Thus we see, beyond certain similarities in their work, striking contrasts in the lives of these three writers. Joyce preceded and prepared the way for Heaney, as an Irishman writing happily in English. These should enable us better to understand them and the general problem of the alienation of the modern artist. Works Cited List: Eliot T. S. “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” in Prufrock and Other Observations. New York: Bartleby. Com, 2000 Heaney, Seamus. “Punishment” in North. London: Faber and Faber, 1975 Joyce, James. Dubliners. London: Penguin Group, 1996