Thomas MacGreevy


1893-1967 [family name McGreevy; later signed himself and published as MacGreevy]; b. Tarbert, Co. Kerry, his father being a policeman and his mother a teacher, her occupation counting for more than his; replaced a dead brother (Michael, b.1890) in his mother’s affections; commissioned in Royal Field Artillery regt. in WWI, his friend Geoffrey England Taylor being assigned to trench mortars; saw action at Ypres and Somme, studying French in billets behind the lines; twice wounded and mentioned in dispatches; demobbed with rank of lieutenant; lived in Dublin 1920-25;
entered TCD, studying history and political science under Prof. Allison Phillips; reviewed music for T.C.D. Miscellany; appeared as Bassanio in Merchant of Venice; art critic and literary reviewer; contrib. articles on paintings to New Ireland Review, ed., P. J. Little; passed over opportunity to join Foreign Affairs on establishment of Irish Free State; assisted Lennox Robinson and Christina Keogh in foundation of Irish Central Library for Students; mbr. of Drama League and Dublin Arts Club;
published poems in Irish Statesman (Dublin), Transition and New Review (Paris), Criterion and Dublin Review (London), and Dial (NY); wrote for Irish Times (as art critic); succeeded William McCausland Stewart as lecteur d’anglais at École Normale Superieure, Paris, 1926, staying on after the cessation of his two year post and befriending his replacement, Samuel Beckett, whose many candid letters he later deposited in the archives of Trinity College, Dublin;
contrib. “Crón Tráth na nDéithe” to transition (1929), rendering Dublin in the aftermation of the aftermath of civil war with a method of ‘objective reality’ derived from Eliot’s Wasteland; fashion disturbed by marriage of Dolly Smith (‘the only woman of complete importance’) to Lennox Robinson, 1931; close friend of Joyce, who secured him post on the review Formes; present at ‘Déjeuner Ulysse’, the party given by Adrienne Monnier to celebrate the launch of the French translation of Joyce’s book, 27 June (though actually published in Feb.);
introduced Beckett to Joyce, 1928; travelled to Dublin at death of his father, April, 1930; published a study of T. S. Eliot interpreting The Wasteland in a timeless, Christian tradition; also wrote on Richard Aldington; occasionally travelled in Italy; introduced Beckett to Yeats at Killiney, 1932; contributed ‘‘Homage to James Joyce’’ to transition (1932) and wrote favourably of the early drafts of Joyce’s Finnegans Wake in Our Exagmination round His Factification for the Incamination of Work in Progress;
lived in London, 1933-41, residing at house of Hester Travers-Smith (15 Cheyne Gardens), of Wildean fame, and lecturing freelance on paintings at British National Gallery; two poems printed in Yeats’s Oxford Book of Modern Verse (1936); said to have been present at Joyce’s death in 1941, and to have acted as his executor [err.]; trans. Montherlant’s les jeunes filles; chief critic of The Studio, contrib. The Connoisseur and Times Literary Supplement; returned to Dublin, 1941; issued Jack B. Yeats: An Appreciation and an Interpretation (1945), reviewed by Beckett for The Irish Times; wrote an essay on, and BBC interview, with Jack B. Yeats, 17 May 1948;
app. Dir. National Gallery of Ireland, 1950-1963 [var. 1964], succeeding George Furlong; contributed articles extensively to the Father Mathew Record and The Capuchin Annual (ed., Fr. Senan); wrote on Nicholas Poussin and pictures of the Italian School in National Gallery of Ireland; fnd.-mbr. of Arts Council, 1951; close friendship with Jack B. Yeats, and an executor of his will; organised Jack B. Yeats exhibition in Irish Section of Venice Bienniale, 1962; spent two weeks in Venice with Samuel Beckett, and invited Thomas W. Moore to join them [q. date];
honours incl. Chevalier of Legion d’Honneur, 1948, Officer de la Legion d’Honneur, 1962; Cavaliere Ufficiale al merito della Repubblica Italiana, 1955, and Italian Silver Medal for Culture, 1963; awarded honorary DLitt. (NUI), 1957; d. Dublin; Irish Times obit., 7 March 1967; there is a portrait drawn by Seán O’Sullivan in NGI; his papers are in the Trinity College, Library, incl. letters from Beckett - over 300 in number (prev. viewed by Deirdre Bair for her life of Beckett in the 1970s); some letters included in edition of those of Wallace Stevens; a Tarbert Week-end Seminar was inaugurated in Oct. 1999. DIB DIW DIL FDA OCIL

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  • ‘‘School of — Easter Saturday Night (Free State)’’, ‘‘Gloria de Carlos V’’, ‘‘For an Irish book, 1929’’, all in transition, 18 (Nov. 1929), pp. 114-19.
  • ‘‘Homage to James Joyce’’ , in transition, 21 (1932), pp.253-55.
Collected edns.
  • Poems by Thomas McGreevy [sic] (London: William Heinemann; NY: Viking 1934), 60pp. [contents].
  • Thomas Dillon Redshaw, ed., Collected Poems, foreword by Samuel Beckett (Dublin: New Writers’ Press 1971), and Do. (Dublin: Raven Arts 1983) [incls. reviews by Beckett].
  • Susan Schreibman, ed., Collected Poems of Thomas MacGreevy: An Annotation Edition (Dublin: Anna Livia; Washington: Catholic University of America 1991), with a bibliography.
  • ‘A Note on Work In Progress’, in transition, 14 (Fall 1928), pp.216-19.
  • Review of Anna Livia Plurabelle by James Joyce, in New Statesman (16 Feb. 1929), p.475.
  • ‘The Catholic Element in Work in Progress’, [chapter-essay] in Our Exagmination Round His Factification for Incamination of Work in Progress (Paris: Shakespeare & Co. 1929), pp.117-27 [available at Scribd - online].
  • Richard Aldington: An Englishman [Dolphin Books] (London: Chatto & Windus 1931), 73pp. [ded. ‘for Bridget’ [i.e., his mother], with epigraph: ‘Yesterday is not a milestone […] the calamity of yesterday’ [from Samuel Beckett’s Proust].
  • Thomas Stearns Eliot [Dolphin Books] (London: Chatto & Windus 1931).
  • ‘Eric Gill: An Appreciation’, in Studio, 121, 574 (Jan. 1941) [whole issue].
  • Jack B. Yeats: An Appreciation and an Interpretation (Dublin: Victor Waddington 1945) [pamphlet].
  • Pictures in the National Gallery (London: B. T. Batsford 1946) [rep. from Capuchin Annual].
  • Leonardo da Vinci, 1452-1519 ([Dublin]: [?priv.] 1953), [being a paper read before the Royal Irish Academy on the occasion of the Leonardo quincentenary, May, 1952].
  • Nicholas Poussin (Dublin: Dolmen 1960) [pamphlet].
  • ‘Art Criticism and Science’, in Capuchin Annual (1960), pp.161-66.
  • Some Italian Pictures in the National Gallery of Ireland (Dublin: Italian Institute 1963) [lecture given at the Italian Institute in Dublin, October, 1963.]
Translations (from French)
  • trans., , Introduction to the Method of Leonardo da Vinci, by Paul Valéry (London: J. Rodker 1929).
  • trans., Lament for the Death of an Upper Class, by Henri de Montherlant (London: John Miles 1935), and Do., rep. as Perish in their Pride (NY: A. A. Knopf 1936).
  • trans., Pity for Women, by Henri de Montherlant [containing Young Girls, trans. by McGreevy, and Pity for Women, trans. by John Rodker] (London: G. Routledge & Sons 1937), and Do. (NY: A. A. Knopf 1938).
  • trans., , Forbidden Journey: From Peking to Kashmir, Ella Maillart (London/ Toronto: W. Heinemann 1937).

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Bibliographical details
Poems by Thomas McGreevy [sic] (London: William Heinemann Ltd. 1934), 60pp.; [written 1917-1918]: Nocturne; De Civitate Hominum. [written 1920-1930:] The Six Who Were Hanged; Autumn 1922; Homage to Hieronymus Bosch; Crón Tráth na nDeithe; Anglo-Irish; The Other Dublin; Homage to Jack Yeats; Ten Thousand Leaping Swords; Dechtire; Exile; Golders Green; Seventh Gift of the Holy ghost; Aodh Ruadh O Domhnaill; Gloria de Carlos V; Did Tosti Raise his Bowler Hat?; Fragments; Homage to Marcel Proust; Recessional; Nocturne of the Self-Evident Presence; Saint Senan’s Well; Homage to Li Po; Promenade a Trois; Giorgionismo; Gioconda; Nocturne; Winter; Arrangement in Gray and Black; Sour Swan. Notes [Crón Tráth na nDeithe: ‘The title is an Irish equivalent for the German word Gotterdammerung ...]; Aodh Ruadh O Domhnaill [... went to Spain in order to consult with King Philip III after the defeat of the Irish and Spanish at Kinsale in 1601].

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  • Andrew Belis [pseud. of Samuel Beckett], ‘Recent Irish Poetry’, Bookman 86 (August 1934), [q.p.], rep. in Michael Smith, ed., The Lace Curtain, 4 (Summer 1971), pp.58-63; extract.
  • Samuel Beckett, ‘Humanistic Quietism’, review of Poems, in The Dublin Magazine , IX, 3 (July-Sept. 1943), pp.79-80 [rep. in MacGreevy, Thomas Collected Poems, Dublin: New Writers Press 1971, pp.11-13, and Beckett, Samuel Disjecta: Miscellaneous Writings and a Dramatic Fragment, London: John Calder, 1980, pp.68-69; see extracts].
  • Samuel Beckett, ‘MacGreevy on Yeats’, review of Jack B. Yeats: An Appreciation and an Interpretation in The Irish Times (4 Aug. 1945) [as attached].
  • John Jordan, ‘Collector’s Poet’, review of Collected Poems of Thomas MacGreevy, in The Irish Press (13 Nov. 1971, p.12 [extract].
  • Brian Coffey, ‘Thomas MacGreevy: A Singularly Perfect Poet’, review of Collected Poems, in Hibernia Review of Books (4 Feb 1972), p.10.
  • Stan Smith, ‘From a Great Distance, Thomas MacGreevy’s ‘‘Frames of Reference’’’, in Lace Curtain, 6 (Autumn 1978), pp.47-55.
  • Anthony Cronin, ‘Thomas MacGreevy: Modernism Not Triumphant’, in Heritage Now: Irish Literature in the English Language (Dingle: Brandon 1982), pp.155-60 [extract].
  • J. C. C. Mays, ‘Young Beckett’s Irish Roots’, in Irish University Review [‘Beckett Special Issue’], 14, 1 (Spring 1984), pp.18-33 [extract].
  • Hugh J. Dawson, ‘Thomas MacGreevy and James Joyce’, James Joyce Quarterly, 25 (Spring 1988), pp.305-21.
  • John P. Harrington, The Irish Beckett (Syracuse UP 1991), p.11 [extract].
  • [q.a.], review of Susan Schreibman, ed., Collected Poems, in Books Ireland (May 1991), [q.p.].
  • John Coolahan, ‘Thomas MacGreevy: The Man and his Work’, in Gabriel Fitzmaurice, ed., The Listowel Literary Phenomenon: North Kerry Writers: A Critical Introduction (Indreabhán: Cló Iar-Chonnachta 1994), [q.p.].
  • Terence Brown, ‘Ireland, Modernism and the 1930s’, in Patricia Coughlan & Alex Davis, eds., Modernism in Ireland: The Poetry of the 1930s (Cork UP 1995), pp.24-42.
  • John Purser, ‘Voices of the Past: Jack Yeats and Thomas MacGreevy in Conversation’, in Yeats Annual , 11 (1995), pp.87-104.
  • Tim Armstrong, ‘Muting the Klaxon: Poetry, History and Irish Modernism’, in Patricia Coughlan and Alex Davis, eds., Modernism in Ireland: The Poetry of the 1930s (Cork UP 1995), pp.43-74.
  • J. C .C. Mays, ‘How is MacGreevy a Modernist?’, in Patricia Coughlan and Alex Davis, eds., Modernism in Ireland: The Poetry of the 1930s (Cork UP 1995), pp.103-128 [extract].
  • Susan Schreibman, ‘The Unpublished Poems of Thomas MacGreevy: An Exploration’, in Patricia Coughlan and Alex Davis, ed., Modernism in Ireland: The Poetry of the 1930s (Cork UP 1995), pp.129-149.
  • Anthony Cronin, Samuel Beckett: The Last Modernist (London: HarperCollins 1996) [extract].
  • Susan Schreibman, ‘The Unpublished Poems of Thomas MacGreevy: An Exploration’, in Modernism and Ireland: The Poetry of the 1930s, ed. Patricia Coughlan & Alec Davis (Cork: Cork University Press, 1995), pp.129-49.
  • J. C. C. Mays, ‘MacGreevy’s Tarbert Poem’, The Recorder: Journal of the Irish American Historical Society, 13, 1 (Spring 2000), pp.91-121.
  • Seán Kennedy, ‘Beckett Reviewing MacGreevy: A Reconsideration’, in Irish University Review (Sept. 2005), pp.273-88.
  • Edwina Keown & Carol Taaffe, ed., Irish Modernism: Origins, Contexts, Publics (Bern & Oxford: Peter Lang 2009) [contains Rhiannon Moss, ‘Thomas MacGreevy, T. S. Eliot, and Catholic Modernism in Ireland’, and Karen E. Brown, ‘Thomas MacGreevy and Irish Modernism’].
  • Waclaw Grzybowski, ‘Thomas MacGreevy and Samuel Beckett: Affinity and Controversy’, in Crossroads in Literature and Culture, ed. Jacek Fabiszak, Ewa Urbaniak-Rybicka, Bartosz Wolski [Second Language Learning and Teaching] (Berlin & Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag 2013), pp.307-15 [see extract].
Note: Justin Quinn, Gathered Beneath the Storm: Wallace Stevens, Nature and Community (UCD Press 2002), contains chap. on MacGreevy. For listing of articles & reviews available at the Thomas McGreevy Archive (ed. Susan Schreibman), see infra.

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Andrew Belis [Samuel Beckett], ‘Recent Irish Poetry’, Bookman 86 (August 1934), [q.p.], characterises MacGreevy ‘an existentialist in verse’ (rep. in The Lace Curtain 4, ed. Michael Smith, Summer 1971, pp.58-63).

Samuel Beckett, ‘Humanistic Quietism’, review of Poems, in The Dublin Magazine, IX, 3 (July-September 1943), pp.79-80: calls MacGreevy’s poetry the ‘adult mode of prayer syntonic’ (Quoted in Waclaw Grzybowski, ‘Thomas MacGreevy and Samuel Beckett: Affinity and Controversy’, in Crossroads in Literature and Culture, ed. Jacek Fabiszak, et al., Springer-Verlag 2013, citing the reprint in Collected Poems, ed. Thomas Redshaw Dillon, 1971, p.11).

See also Samuel Beckett, ‘MacGreevy on Yeats’, in The Irish Times, 4 Aug. 1945 [q.p.], rep. in “Editor’s Choice” [column], in The Irish Times (6 Jan. 2013) - as attached.

John Jordan, ‘Collector’s Poet’, review of Collected Poems of Thomas MacGreevy, in Irish Press (13 Nov. 1971, p.12: ‘[T]he poem most often on our lips was his “Aodh Ruadh Ó Domhnaill”, even though it required some knowledge of Spanish. But the scrap of verse of my own was based on lines from his “Homage to Hieronymus Bosch”, and now, after over twenty years, reading these poems again (only five other poems complete the canon) I am astonished and touched to find how many of them have remained, like sunken treasure in my consciousness. And because one is older and presumably better educated, few of them seem obscure, even if few of them may be styled easy. / What I had forgotten was how, even as a young and iconoclastic European, MacGreevy clung to a kind of aristocratic Catholic Nationalism. In a poem such as “The Other Dublin” from Poems right down to “Homage to Vircingetorix” (1950), he is writing as an “Irish-Irishman” with disdain for what he calls a “Norman-Irishman”. I think he got an impious pleasure from knowing that he, the Kerry Catholic, was so much more instructed in all the arts than his Anglo-Irish culture-dabbling acquaintances. I use the last term advisedly, for Beckett and Jack Yeats were his friends and if my memory does not trick me, he once shared a flat with Lennox Robinson. In his last, years, despite several invitations, I refused to meet him. Old man subconscious must have warned me that he wouId have hated my inclusive concept of the Irish nation. / But what a fine poet!’ (For further, see under John Jordan, Quotations, supra, and go to Thomas MacGreevy website archives [link].)

J. C. C. Mays, ‘Young Beckett’s Irish Roots’, Irish University Review, 14, 1 (Spring 1984), pp.18-33, writes: ‘MacGreevy’s argument was politically inspired, but it amounted to a depreciating [of] Yeats’s example. ... the Celtic revival was deplored as a phase in English literature, an aspect of English colonialism foisted on a gullible native talent. The same argument elevated the later Joyce, ... conceiving that, with national independence, Ireland had rejoined a concert of European culture after being divided from it for centuries. Whereas the dominant model in Irish literary history linked the idea of Irishness with place, and assumed literature should be mimetic, this alternative, which is no less nationalistic, linked Irishness with an attitude towards European traditions in all the arts. It was consciously open to experimental techniques, less interested in realism; it looked more to the Joyce of Ulysses (as a book, not just as local history) and Finnegans Wake than of Dubliners.’ (q.p.; Cited in John P. Harrington, The Irish Beckett, Syracuse UP 1991, p. 12.)

John P. Harrington, The Irish Beckett (Syracuse UP 1991), writes that ‘MacGreevy ... is generally accredited with introducing Beckett to Joyce.’ Further: ‘MacGreevy later repatriated himself and became director of the National Gallery; he wrote a book about the national importance of Jack Yeats that Beckett found difficult to praise, but, out of obligation, tried to do so. Also, Beckett’s review of MacGreevy’s appreciation of J. B. Yeats appeared in the Irish Times under the title ‘MacGreevy on Yeats’ (4 Aug. 1945). [Harrington, p.138]. Further: ‘MacGreevy drew an open distinction between the English mind, which he termed ‘secularist’ and the Irish mind, which he called ‘not secularist’; he argued that Yeats painted ‘the Ireland that matters’ [cf. Corkery, ‘Ireland that counts’], and claimed that Yeats ‘so identified himself with the people of Ireland as to be able to give good and beautiful and artistic expression to the life they lived, and to that sense of themselves as the Irish nation.’ (p.10) Beckett managed to praise MacGreevy’s work as an ‘affirmation of capital importance, not only for those who feel in this way about Mr Yeats, but also for those who as yet feel little or nothing about Mr Yeats, but also for those, such as myself, who feel in quite a different way about Mr Yeats.’ (p.11.)

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J. C. C. Mays, ‘How is MacGreevy a Modernist?’, in Modernism in Ireland: The Poetry of the 1930s, ed. Patricia Coughlan & Alex Davis (Cork UP 1995), writes; ‘An essayist in the London Times Literary Supplement [TLS] has claimed that the reference to Proust and the dedication to Jean / Thomas in the present poem [“Homage to Proust”] contribute to the evidence that MacGreevy should be read as a homosexual writer. The suggestion that MacGreevy was homosexual is not new. James Liddy appropriated him for the emerging gay movement soon after he died; more recently, Anthony Cronin’s biography of Beckett makes a similar assumption; in MacGreevy’s lifetime, an amount of speculation flourished on the edges of his acquaintance. I recall both Arthur Power and Hubert Butler asking if I could throw light on it … These vague suspicions and confident assertions rest on fragile coincidences to which further coincidences could be added. […/]’. Mays mentions the ideas of homosexuality associated with Byron and with Proust and remarks, ‘so a heap of gossip can accumulate.’ Further, ‘The counter-argument, is, of course, that the incorporation of Byron as a gay writer has only recently become fashionable and is clearly at variance with what MacGreevy knew when he began his poem …]. all told, the offhand description of MacGreevy as a gay writer rests on casually-handled evidence. The imputation that he belongs in a tradition of writers like Joe Orton and Edmund White, or (in Ireland) like Oscar Wilde and Micheál Mac Liammóir, is misleading.’ (pp.104-05.). Mays cites an unpublished poem, “Oedipus complex”, in which MacGreevy reflects how he might have replaced his dead brother in his mother’s affections in the lines ‘You clung to her, so she to me’, and ‘Life took a twisted path’, and the phrase ‘this wrong road’. [Cont.]

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J. C. C. Mays, ‘How is MacGreevy a Modernist?’, in Modernism in Ireland [ ... &c.] (1995) - cont.: Mays comments: ‘no single cause of unhappiness is proposed; changing perspectives explore different solutions.’ (p.105.) Further, ‘While some World War poems explore homoerotic situations with surprising candor, and at first appear to bear out the TLS essayist’s claim, they are misappropriated if they are not read with care’; quotes MS lines ending ‘We thought that was enough for love, and so/ Plunged into foolish passion bitterly’, and remarks: ‘The TLS argument is too crude because it overrides the bravery and the timidity which are the distinguishing elements of such experimental lines’ (p.106); Mays writes, ‘speculation on the autobiographical element, in a literary sense, gets nowhere. … The poem celebrates an experience which is literarally missing and which cannot be retrieved because it has been overtaken by events which are sealed by a pact of discretion.’ (p.108); ‘I have argued that the sense of displacement and exclusion registered by MacGreevy’s published and unpublished writing is associated with the sensibility and openness which enabled him to mediate with particular freedom between cultures. the capacity to dramatise the frustrations of his emotional life without the pressure to act upon them left him a specifically sympathetic friend, the better ambassador of art, and, on the occasions when he reconciled these contradictions … the better poet.’; finally speaks of ‘human absence and a commitment to poetry’ living together ‘at the heart of MacGreevy’s life and friendships’ as ‘both a sad and a wonderful thing to know’. (p.109.) Note that Mays mentions a undated postcard, conjecturally 1931, in which MacGreevy confides to Jean Coulomb that he was deeply troubled when Dolly Smith, dg. of Hester Travers Smith and ‘the only woman of complete importance’, married Lennox Robinson (p.121).

Anthony Cronin, ‘Thomas MacGreevy: Modernist Not Triumphant’, in Heritage Now: Irish Literature in the English Language (Dingle, Brandon Books, 1982): ‘ Thomas MacGrcevy occupies a place of peculiar importance in the history of Irish letters in that he was the first specifically and a consciously modern Irish poet.’ (p.160.) ‘[... O]nce again we are confronted with the Irish flawed achievement and we have to ask what went wrong. To all intents and purposes after 1934 MacGreevy was silent, though he was to live for another thirty years. It is tempting to blame Ireland and indeed I do not think that Ireland is entirely guiltless in the matter. As I remember it, MacGreevy’s position in Dublin was of the ambiguous one of the returned exile. He was the one who had tried and (the assumption was) failed in literary London, he was also the ex-Parisian who had known Joyce. (In fact there were locals who got more mileage out of one meeting with Joyce than MacGreevy was at all interested in getting out of a fairly intimate acquaintance.) A man of exquisite manners and great dignity, he was, as I recollect it anyway, locally a bit of a joke. What Samuel Beckett called “the antiquarians, delivering with the altitudinous complacency of the true Gael the Ossianic goods” occupied the foreground. One doesn’t suppose that the cosmopolitan MacGreevy was asked for many poems.’ (p.166.)

Anthony Cronin, Samuel Beckett: The Last Modernist (London: HarperCollins 1996): ‘From whatever fate held in store for him as a minor civil servant, however, he was rescued by the Great War: he volunteered in 1916, moved, like so many others, by romantic notions about the rights of small nations. He was posted to the Royal Artillery in which he served with distinction on the Western Front, attaining the rank of lieutenant, being twice wounded and mentioned in dispatches. / The war was an important experience for MacGreevy, though he did not talk much about it. After demobilization it also opened up new options for him, in particular that of going to university. Though a devout Catholic, he opted for Trinity rather than the new National University which had been established in 1908. The particular small nation to which he belonged was at the time involved in a conflict with Britain, the object of which was the attainment of that right to self-determination for which he and others had supposedly fought. Soldiers wearing the uniform which he had just taken off were, as he saw it, committing atrocities against Irishmen whose only crime was the assertion of that right and an affirmation of the ideals but lately claimed by British politicians to have been the object of the war. A certain anti-Englishness was, perhaps understandably, to be part of MacGreevy’s outlook from then on, though, since he was a civilised person, it did not influence him in his practical dealings or personal relations with English people.’ (p.85; see also 86-88, et passim; and note that Cronin deals unambiguously with MacGreevy’s homosexuality); Further, ‘[…] MacGreevy was an intensely patriotic man who drew a good deal of poetic sustenance from some central Irish reality which he (convincingly) glimpsed’; goes on to remark that Beckett attached the term ‘existentialist’ to MacGreevy in possibly the first literary instance. (p.194).

Waclaw Grzybowski, ‘Thomas MacGreevy and Samuel Beckett: Affinity and Controversy’, in Crossroads in Literature and Culture, ed. Jacek Fabiszak, Ewa Urbaniak-Rybicka, Bartosz Wolski [Second Language Learning and Teaching] (Berlin & Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag 2013), pp.307-15: ‘MacGreevy’s understanding of consciousness was more linked with the classidal notion of three transcendentals and with Catholic spirituality, in particular with St. Francis de Sales, to whom he ascribed the initiation of the neoclassical period in French literature (1943, p.2). As he claimed in his famous essay on the art of Jack B. Yeats, the knowing of the transcendental reality of truth, good and beauty constitute the core of human spiritual awareness. (1945, p.7.) If Beckett’s poetry and prose suggested an immanent character of conciousness creating its own world by transcending from passion to pain, from one indefinite state to another, MacGreevy’s poems and essays spoke of a different immanence and transcendence, i.e., about the immanence of artistic consciousness creating the reflection of its self-image, open, at the same time, to order of Being and thus participating in the transcendence of truth, good and beauty. If MacGreevy was praised by Beckett as a metaphysical poet, it was not only becuase of his theological alusions, rare though they were, but most of all because his poems conveyed a powerful expression of the intuition of the non-physical ground of Being.’ (p.308.)

Waclaw Grzybowski
‘Thomas MacGreevy and Samuel Beckett [...]’, in Crossroads in Literature
and Culture
, ed. Jacek Fabiszak, et al. (2013) - online.

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“Crón Tráth na nDéithe”: ‘Ter-ot. Stumble. Clock-clock, clock-clock! Quadrupedante, etcetera, / And heavy turning wheels of lurching cab / On midnight streets of Dublin shiny in the rain! / No trams squirt wide the liquid mud at this hour. / The dark-and-light-engulfing box / Wheels through the wetness / Bringing me / From empty healthy air in Mayo / To Dublin’s stale voluptuousness / Trot / Trot / Clock-clock / Lurch / Such rutty, muddy streets to clock, clock-clock on, horse!’ Further, ’Wrecks wetly mouldering under rain, / Everywhere. / Remember Belgium! / You cannot pick up the / Pieces / But, oh, Phoenicians, who on blood-red seas / Come sailing to the Galerie des Glaces / And you, gombeenmen / On blue hills of office / No man hath greater lunacy than this.’ (The foregoing quoted in Alex Davis, ‘Irish Poetic Modernisms: A Reappraisal’, Critical Survey, 8, 2 1996, p.186-97, and copied on Thomas MacGreevy Archive [link].)

Nocturn of the Self-Evident Presence”: ‘I see no immaculate feet on those pavements, / No winged forms / Foreshortened, / As by Rubens or Domenichino, / Plashing the silvery air, / Hear no cars, // Elijah’s or Apollo’s / Dashing about / Up there. / I see alps, ice, stars and white starlight / In a dry, high silence.’ (Quoted in Anthony Cronin, ‘Thomas MacGreevy: Modernism not Triumphant’, in Heritage Now: Irish Literature in the English Language, (Dingle, Brandon Books, 1982 pp.166-160; also given on the Thomas MacGreevy Archive [link].)

Poems (1934) - Notes: ‘I do not suggest that eighteenth-century Dublin was, culturally, a capital city. It must have been even less so than the Dublin of to-day. For the Irish people, being Catholic, were excluded from its cultural as from its social life, which were English and Protestant. Naturally it was one of the important functions of the people, in Ireland as elsewhere, to pay for the public buildings erected by their rulers. But in eighteenth-century Dublin the people, having paid, might not obtain honourable employment in these buildings or enter them except on sufferance. The ecclesiastical buildings for which they paid in earlier ages are even still in the possession of a tiny minority of descendants of British colonials of the type known as Anglo-Irish who religiously and culturally are alien to the tradition of the people.’ (Parenthesis, in note on “Crón Tráth na nDeithe”, supra; Poems, 1934, pp.58-59). Further: ‘As a matter of fact I think the mode in which a writer strings words together is of secondary importance. The influences he has allowed to act on his mind seem to me to be of much more consequence. In my own case the profane influences that matter most are probably Pierre Corneille, Giorgio Barbarelli, Franz Schubert. I am afraid this may seem like a pretensious [sic] attempt at mystification, but it cannot be helped.’ (p.59). [Note that the volume includes a typographical error, viz., ‘archietect’ (p.58).]

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Jack B. Yeats: An Appreciation and an Interpretation, Dublin: Victor Waddington Pub. 1945): [T]he Civil War ended in 1923. / Since then, the sensitive minds that first reveal the direction in which a society is moving have shown two of the major tendencies that, in more settled countries than Ireland, were already identifiable and distinguishable one from the other. The first tendency is to use such liberty as has been achieved to attain to greater abundance of individual life, a subjective tendency. The second is to insist on the need for a definitive solution of Ireland’s political and, more particularly, social problems which is a more objective tendency. [... T]hat Jack Yeats’s work shows something of the subjective tendency should simply mean that he remains as Irish as ever, but as a mature man and artist, in a new Ireland realising itself with less interference from outside’ (Quoted in John Harrington, The Irish Beckett, 1991.)

Jack Yeats (2) - ‘[He is] the painter who in his work was the consummate expression of the spirit of his own nation at one of the supreme points of its evolution’ (Irish Times 4 Aug. 1945, [q.p.]; quoted in Francis Doherty, ‘Watt in an Irish Frame’, in Irish University Review, Autumn 1990, pp.187-203; p.200.)

Jack Yeats (3): ‘What was unique in Ireland was that the life of the people considered itself, and was in fact, spiritually and culturally as well as politically, the whole life of the nation. Those who acted for the nation officially were outside the nation. They had a stronger sense of identity with the English governing class than with the people of Ireland, and their art was no more than a province of English art. The first genuine artist, therefore, who so identified himself with the people of Ireland as to be able to give true and good and beautiful artistic expression to the life they lived, and to that sense of themselves as the Irish nation, inevitably became not merely a genre painter like the painters of the petit peuple in other countries, and not merely a national painter in the sense that Pol de Limbourg, Louis Le Nain, Bassano, Oslade or Jan Steen were national painters, but the national painter in the sense that Rembrandt and Velasquez and Watteau were national painters, the painter who in his work was the consummate expression of the spirit of his own nation at one of the supreme points in its evolution.’ (Quoted in Samuel Beckett, ‘MacGreevy on Yeats’, in The Irish Times, 4 Aug. 1945 [q.p.], rep. in “Editor’s Choice” [column], in The Irish Times (6 Jan. 2013) - as attached.

Women Artists in Ireland’: ‘The dissenting members of the board of the Royal Hibernian Academy might consider what the world will think if they persist in excluding women. It will think that it is because the women are better artists than themselves.’ (Irish Independent, 1923; quoted in Irish Women Artists, from the Eighteenth Century to the Present Day, NGI & Hyde Gallery 1987). [Also cited [in part] in Clodagh Finn, ‘Recalling Sarah Purser and her towering ambition’, in The Irish Examiner [available online; accessed 01.01.2023. Note: Finn cites McGreevy (sic).]

Francis Stuart - MacGreevey’s remarks on The Coloured Dome (1932) , in a letter to W. B. Yeats: ‘that Dorothy MacArdle [sic] kind of Catholicism in it is so contemptible [...] He is writing very well, I think but it is a monstrous crime for any Irishman to flatter Irish vanity at a time like this. Save Europe’s soul indeed! If we could find a soul for ourselves to begin with we might be able to consider ourselves fit to associate with other European countries. I doubt that except modern Greece and Roumania [sic] there is any European country as ruined in its soul as we are - the Scotch [sic] of course.’ (Quoted in Geoffrey Elborn, Francis Stuart - A Life, Dublin: Raven Arts Press 1990, p.94.)

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Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 3, gives a selection from Poems (1934), ‘‘De Civitate Hominum’’, ‘‘Aodh Ruadh Ó Domhnaill’’, ‘‘Nocturne of the Self-Evident Presence’’.

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Brian O’Doherty calls MacGreevy a ‘defrocked courtier lost in his own dram of Ireland’ in his essay ‘Jack B. Yeats, Promise and Regret’, in Jack B. Yeats, A Centenary Gathering, ed. Roger McHugh (Dublin: Dolmen 1971), pp.77-90; cited in Harrington, The Irish Beckett (Syracuse UP 1991), p.142.

Protest: With Brian O’Nolan (Myles na gCopaleen), Evie Hone, Mainie Jellett and Con Curran, MacGreevy launched a protest against the Muncipal Gallery’s rejection of the Roualt painting (“Christ and Soldier”) offered by the Friends of the National Collections as blasphemous and offensive in 1942.

George Yeats: Mrs. W. B. Yeats wrote in a letter to MacGreevy: ‘I’ve been reading nothing but poetry just lately not his!! and it has made me realise how damnably national he is becoming. Nationality throws out personality and there’s nothing in his verse worth preserving but the personal.’ (Quoted in Ann Saddlemyer, ‘George Hyde Lees: More than a Poet’s Wife’, in A. Norman Jeffares, ed., Yeats the European, Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 1989, p.192; see also Saddlemyer, Becoming George, 2002, p.322, and Margaret Mills Harper, Wisdom of Two: The Spiritual and Literary Collaboration of George and W. B. Yeats, OUP 2006, p.339.)

Wallace Stevens: the penultimate chapter of Lee Margaret Jenkins, Wallace Stevens: Rage for Order (Brighton: Sussex Acad. Press 1999) covers Steven’s correspondence with Thomas MacGreevy, whose lines Stevens adapted for his own. (See TLS notice, 31 Dec. 1999.)

Derek Mahon quotes Beckett on MacGreevy and poetry generally to the effect that ‘a poem is poetry … in so far as the reader feels it to have been the only way out of the tongue-tied profanity’. (Journalism: Selected Prose 1970-1995, Gallery Press 1996, p.52.)

Swan & Lobster: MacGreevy’s poems ‘‘Fragments’’ and ‘‘Sour Swan’’ turn on the same line from Inferno XX, 28 as Beckett’s ‘‘Dante and the Lobster’’.

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