The Intersection of Irish Nationalism and Celtic Literary Revival in the Works of Joyce and Yeats

One thing which struck me out of our many class discussions was the use of mythology as a theme within Irish literature of the last century. Mythology, in general, was one of my first loves as a young reader, as well as one of my first exposures to “close-reading” as I began to notice patterns across stories and cultures, my favorite of which being Celtic myth, so I was very drawn to the allusions of Yeats and Joyce towards the folk stories of a more primitive Ireland. This is why the Celtic Literary Revival period interests me, so I knew I wanted to include it within my research. It’s quite intriguing that a movement drawing upon the oral histories and rituals of the past would arise much around the same time as one of resistance and rebellion like that of Irish Separatism and/or Nationalism. But I think, at their core, both movements stem from the same desire to envision an Ireland untouched by the blight of English colonization and control, the first by harkening back to the cultures past (seen as the essence of “pure” Irishness in Ireland), and the second by imagining a liberated future in which the Irish people once again determine themselves and their culture. Yeats utilized the allusions to mythology in poems such as “The Song of Wandering Aengus” to allow for transformation and transportation outside of the plight of his present-day to examine the self and larger themes like love or dedication. Though Joyce was a self-proclaimed “enemy” of the Revival Movement, his stories in Dubliners still feature folk traditions as a facet of Irish life, such as in the story “Clay,” which centers on Samhain rituals turned into party games of the modern-day. These represent the ways in which Modern Dublin still adhered to a cultural tradition, and though as we mentioned in our student discourse, these rituals hold no greater symbolism beyond their “face value,” I believe their inclusion still presents an attempt on the part of the author to draw upon their established significance to a knowing audience in order to relate the interpersonal interactions of the common people, as well as remind us of Maria’s mortality. Through a close-reading comparison of these pieces, I hope to track the connection between the two movements, as well as the competing influences of both within the opposite spectrums of both writers’ own beliefs. 

1 Comment

  1. I think that this is an interesting research topic, Spencer! I think it’s great to explore the intent of envisioning Ireland at its purest form of identity and culture. I think it’d be great to see specific instances of how Ireland is represented in its untouched form without colonizers in the texts that you are discussing!

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