The Sonnet in Irish Poetry from the Literary Revival to the Present Day

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis examines the sonnet in Irish poetry from the turn of the twentieth century to the present day, considering how a range of poets use the form in order to shape and reflect the concerns of their work. Poets discussed include W. B. Yeats, Augusta Gregory, Eva Gore-Booth, Alice Milligan, Patrick Kavanagh, Blanaid Salkeld, Brendan Kennelly, Seamus Heaney, Eavan Boland, Paul Muldoon, Medbh McGuckian, Ciaran Carson, David Wheatley, Justin Quinn, Vona Groarke, Leontia Flynn, and Trevor Joyce. The thesis is arranged thematically, exploring the sonnet through its engagement with multiple currents within modern and contemporary Irish poetry. The first chapter thinks about the sonnet in the work of poets of the Irish Literary Revival, considering how questions of form played out at a moment in Irish history when poets were induced to address the relationship between poetic and political imperatives. The second considers nation, focusing primarily on ideas of postnationalism and transnationalism in Irish poetry and criticism, and the way the sonnet catalyses these debates through its invocation of specific European and global poetic influences. The third chapter addresses literary and artistic history through an examination of biography, ekphrasis, and allusion in the Irish sonnet, discussing poets’ use of these devices to examine poetry’s relationship with the real and with various cultural traditions. Chapter Four explores the sonnet in the work of Paul Muldoon, with a focus on his use of the form to write the Northern Irish conflict and to examine contradictions, discrepancies, and slippages in language and identity, and Chapter Five thinks about the Irish sonnet and history, discussing colonial and revolutionary history, Irish poets’ readings and rewritings of early modern English literature, and the relationship between history and fantasy. The final chapters look at place—natural and agricultural in Chapter Six, domestic and architectural in Chapter Seven—and the ways Irish poets have used the sonnet to embody physical space and associated ideas of work and the home. Throughout the thesis, I work at the intersection of formalist and materialist readings of poetry, seeking to integrate both by considering form as expressing, interrogating, and commenting on social, historical, and political concerns. I also challenge readings of the Irish sonnet as necessarily a response to England and the English poetic tradition, thinking instead about how Irish poets’ renderings of the sonnet engage with and animate a range of other cultural histories and push back against the idea that there is an inherent tension in Irish use of the form.
Date of Award1 Jun 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorRichard Kirkland (Supervisor) & Elizabeth Scott-Baumann (Supervisor)

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