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Ecology in Modern Irish Poetry: graded paper

Class at Faculty of Arts |



NB: Please note that the classes begin on 23 February 2021. The selection of texts in the syllabus is tentative; please check the course site on Moodle to find an updated reading list and questions for each week of the course.

Week 1Introduction: The Impossible Irish Pastoral

Week 2Romantic Legacies: W. B. Yeats, J. M. Synge Texts:W. B. Yeats, “The Fisherman”, “The Wilde Swans at Coole”, “The Second Coming”, “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”, “The Municipal Gallery Revisited”J. M. Synge, The Aran Islands (selection), “Samhain”, “Queens”H. D. Thoreau, Walden (selection)

Week 3Patrick Kavanagh’s Rural AlienationTexts:Patrick Kavanagh, The Great HungerOliver Goldsmith, The Deserted Village (selection)Selection of poems by John Clare

Week 4Irish Language Poetry and EcolinguisticsTexts:Selection of poems by Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, Máirtín Ó Direáin and Ailbhe Ní GhearbhuighJames McCloskey, “A Global Silencing”, The Poetry Ireland Review 52 (Spring, 1997): 41-46.

Week 5Seamus Heaney’s Pastoral PoliticsTexts:Selection of poems from Heaney’s The Death of a Naturalist, Field Work and Sweeney Astray   Selection of poems by William Wordsworth and Ted Hughes Seamus Heaney, “The Makings of a Music: Reflections on Wordsworth and Yeats”, Preoccupations: Selected Prose 1968-1978 (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1980), 61-78.

Week 6Sea and Beach: Derek Mahon’s Fluid AllegiancesTexts:Selection of poems by Mahon, including “Homage to Gaia”, “The Disused Shed in County Wexford”, “North Sea” and “The Apotheosis of Tins” Eóin Flannery, “‘Listen to the Leaves’: Derek Mahon’s Evolving Ecologies”, Criticism, 57.3 (Summer 2015): 377-401.

Week 7Nature, Science, Culture: Caitríona O’ReillyTexts:Selection of poems by O’Reilly, including “Polar”, “Amanita Virosa”, “Cedar of Lebanon” and The Sea CabinetSelection of poems by Emily Dickinson and Sylvia PlatJefferson Holdridge, “Reclaiming the Wilderness: Nature and Perception in Caitríona O'Reilly”, Études irlandaises, 31.1 (2006): 11-25.Derek Woods, “Scale in Ecological Science Writing” in Scott Slovic, Swarnalatha Rangarajan and Vidya Sarveswaran eds., Routledge Handbook of Ecocriticism and Environmental Communication (Oxon: Routledge, 2019), 118-128.

Week 8More Mushrooms: Ailbhe Darcy Texts:Selection of poems by Darcy from Imaginary Menagerie and Insistence, including “Silver”, “Mushrooms”, “Jellyfish” and “Alphabet”  Ailbhe Darcy, “Or, How I Learned to Keep Worrying: Collaborative Writing, Motherhood, and the Atom Bomb”, The Critical Flame 48 (May/June 2017). Wineapple, “The Politics of Politics; or, How the Atomic Bomb Didn't Interest Gertrude Stein and Emily Dickinson”, South Central Review 23.3 (Fall, 2006): pp. 37-45.

Week 9Deep Time: Eiléan Ní ChuilleanáinTexts:Selection of poems by Ní Chuilleanáin, including “The Crevasse”, “Glacier”, “Permafrost Woman”, “Pygmalion’s Image” and “Letter to Pearse Hutchinson”Timothy Clark, “Ecofeminism”, The Cambridge Introduction to Literature and the Environment (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 121-135.Joseph R. DesJardins, “Radical Environmental Philosophy: Deep Ecology and Ecofeminism” in Environmental Ethics: An Introduction to Environmental Philosophy, fifth edition (Wadsworth, Boston, MA: Cenage Learning, 2013) 203-231

Week 10Embodied Perception: Medbh McGuckianTexts:Selection of McGuckian’s poems from her more recent collections, including “Mr McGregor’s Garden” and “The Contingency of Befalling”

Week 11In the Animal Skin: Sinéad Morrissey and Leontia FlynnTexts:Selection of poems by Morrissey, including “Restoration”, “Pilots”, “Gull Song” and “Monteverdi VespersSelection of poems by Flynn, including “The Fish in the Berlin Aquarium”Les Murray, “Ariel”, “Emerald Doves”Sections on “Anthropocentrism” and “Anthropomorphism” from Timothy Clark, The Cambridge Introduction to Literature and the Environment (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011).

Week 12On Weather and Ghosts: Conor O’CallaghanTexts:Extracts from O’Callaghan’s novel Nothing on Earth and a selection of his poems, including “January Drought”, “The Modern Pastoral Elegy”, “Any day Now” and “Trailer Park Études”Rachel Carson, Silent Spring (selection)Greg Garrard, “The Trouble with Apocalypse” in Ecocriticism (Oxon: Rougledge, 2012), 113-117.  


For the period of compulsory distant teaching, the seminar will take place online via Zoom. Prior to the first class in the semester, students will be provided by access details via email.


Ireland’s traditional image as a “green-meadowed” island situated on the edge of Europe and its current position as one of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gasses per capita in the EU make it a questionable site of pastoral myth. As it reflects the nation’s complex cultural and linguistic identity informed by a post-colonial mix of victimhood and guilt, Irish poetry appears to be particularly well suited for eco-critical analysis. In this course, we will read works by Irish and Northern-Irish poets of the last one hundred years and explore them in the light of a changing climate and the ongoing archipelagic as well as transatlantic poetic connections.

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