The Context and Development of Irish Literature:
History, Poetry, Landscape


The Ireland of the early 20th century--the Ireland inherited by the Modern Irish Writers--was a place of centuries-long conflict.  These conflicts--political conflict, religious conflict, social conflict--often split families right down the middle.  During the Civil War, it was not uncommon for families to divide, or for neighbors to oppose each other.  Although these conflicts can be traced historically, it is nearly impossible to "settle" them, to choose a right or a wrong side.  The conflicts remain in place today, particularly in the Protestant-controlled North, which remains part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain.

Thus, in the midst of astonishing political events and almost constant conflict, the Modern Irish writers worked out their craft.  Yeats began to produce his early poetry in the late 1880s, right when Irish Nationalism was gaining speed; he and Lady Gregory formed the Irish Theater as part of the Nationalist movement, and Synge was the greatest playwright of this theater; Joyce was obsessed with the figures of Irish history, and saw his own life as a desperate effort to fly past the nets of politics and strife that had claimed so many Irishmen before him.  As in Latin America in the late 20th century, Ireland in the early 20th century seemed to be a fertile ground for a powerful modern literature that arose out of and in response to intense political and social upheaval.  The links between Irish literature and Irish history are powerful and ever-present, as even the briefest glimpse of Irish writing confirms--no Irish writer can write in a vacuum: the historical conditions surrounding the Irish poet are undeniable and make themselves felt in every line the poet writes. 

End of Chapter Four

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