Robin Flower


Life
1881-1946 [Robin Ernest William Flower; fam. “Blaithín”]; b. 16 Oct., Meanwood, Yorkshire; ed. Leeds Grammar School and Pembroke College, Oxford; encouraged to visit Blasket Islands by Carl Marstrander at the School of Irish Learning (Dublin), and encouraged K. H. Jackson to go in turn; learned Irish there from Tomas O Criomhtain; issued Eire and Other Poems (1910) - some prev. in Country Life and Academy; Dep. Keeper of MSS at BML, 1929-1944; m. Ida Mary Streeter;
 
trans. Tomás Ó Criomthain [O’Crohan], The Islandman (1934); he continued the catalogue of Irish MSS in the British Museum initiated by Standish Hayes O'Grady (1926-53) - ultimately concluded by Myles Dillon - and introduced O'Grady's trans. of The Triumphs of Turlough by Sean Mac Ruaidhrí Mac Craith for the Irish Texts Society (1929);
 
he issued a memoir of the Blaskets as The Western Island or Great Blasket (1944), illustrated by his wife Ida; his The Irish Tradition (1947) containing ‘a selection he had put together of what he had already said or written on the subject on various occasions over a long period of years’ [q. source] was published posthumously; his translation of “Pangur Bán” - the scribing monk’s marginal verses on his cat - is an anthology piece; d. 16 Jan. 1946; his ashes were scattered on the Blasket Islands. DIH DIL OCIL FDA

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Works
Poetry
  • Eire and Other Poems (London: Loeke Ellis 1910), 18.6cm.;
  • Hymenea and Other Poems (London: Selwyn & Blount 1918), 3, l., 9-47, [1], 20cm. [rep. in part from Eire ... &c.]
  • The Leelong Flower (London [q.pub.] 1923);
  • with Ida M. Flower, The Great Blasket (London: D. Macbeth 1924), 20pp. [14cm./16°] ;
  • Monkey Music (London 1925), poems [see details]; Do. as Monkey Music: song cycle for soprano (or tenor) and piano, words by Robin Flower; set to music by Lionel Pike (West Hagley: Lynwood Music [1995]), 59pp. [score].
  • with Ida Flower, The Great Blasket (London [q. pub.] 1924);
  • Love’s Bitter Sweet: Translations from the Irish Poets of the 16th and 17th Centuries (Dublin: Cuala 1925) [500 copies];
  • Trirech inna n-en, from the Irish (London: D. MacBeth 1926);
  • The Pilgrim’s Way (London 1927);
  • Fuit Ilium (London: D. MacBeth 1928), 17pp. [trans. from Irish];
  • Poems and Translations [incl. material such as ‘The Blackthorn Brooch’, from O’Rahilly, prev. printed in Love’s Bitter-Sweet, 1925] (London: Constable 1931; rep. Dublin: Lilliput 1994);
  • The Irish Tradition (OUP 1947; rep. Dublin: Lilliput 1994) [translations - see extract].
Scholarly editions
  • Intro. and notes to Caithréim Thoirdhealbhaigh [Triumphs of Turlough] by Sean Mac Ruaidhrí Mac Craith, ed. & trans. by Standish Hayes O'Grady [2 vols.; Irish Text Society, Nos. 26, 27] (London: Simpkin, Marshall / for the Irish Texts Society 1929), Vol. I: xvi, 237, 26pp.; Vol. II: 252, 32pp. [see details];
  • with R.W. Chambers, Max Förster, Exeter Book of Old English Poetry (London: Percy Lund, Humphries & Co., for the Dean and Chapter of Exeter Cathedral 1933), 94pp., ill. [15pp. of pls., facs.), 40 cm. [viz., vide chaps. 6 & 7: R.W. Chambers and R. Flower, ‘Transcription of the damaged passages of the Exeter book’; R. Flower, ‘Script of the Exeter book’]
  • Intro., Dánta Grádha: An Anthology of Irish Love Poetry 1350-1750, collected and edited by Thomas F. O’Rahilly; with an introduction by Robin Flower, Pt. I [2nd rev. & enl. edn.] (Cork: Cork UP 1926).
Prose
  • Ireland and Medieval Europe [Sir John Rhys Lecture; From the proceedings of the British Academy, Vol. XIII, 1927] (London: OUP 1928)., 35pp.;
  • The Western Island or Great Blasket (Oxford: Clarendon Press 1944), viii, 141pp. , ill. [by Ida M. Flower];
  • trans., The Islandman, after Tomás Ó Criomthain (Dublin: Talbot Press; London: Chatto & Windus 1934) [num. eds. after OUP 1951 - see Prefatory remarks on style, infra];
  • Irish High Crosses (London: Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 1954), [10pp.], [rep. from Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol.17, nos.1-2, 1954; 27cm].
Miscellaneous
  • ‘Byron and Ossian’ [Byron Foundation Lecture; delive4red 7 Dec. 1928] (University College, Nottingham 1928), 19pp. [rep. from The Trader and Citizen].  
  • A Duel Without Seconds: When Wilkes Met Martin - The Strange Sequel [q.d.]. 1 sh.

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Bibliographical details
Monkey Music (London: D. MacBeth, 1925), 27pp., ill. [1 lf. of pls.] - CONTENTS: “The monkey day”; “The rebel”; “The monkey sailors”; “Ancient wisdom”; “Man”; “Paripace and Paripale”; “Lullaby”; “The wood beyond the wood”; “The moon monkey”; “The parrot”; “The forest ball”; “The blooming of the flower”. (See Notes, infra.)

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Caithréim Thoirdhealbhaigh [Triumphs of Turlough] by Sean Mac Ruaidhrí Mac Craith [Irish Text Society, Vol. 26, 27, 2 vols. (London: Simpkin, Marshall for the Irish Texts Society 1929), Vol. I: xvi, 237, 26pp.; Vol. II: 252, 32pp.). Middle Irish text with English translation, introd. and notes taken from the MS of 1509 in the Royal Irish Academy [23 Q 16], and another at TCD [H. 1. 18, No. 1292) written by Aindrias Mac Cruitin in 1721; bibliographical references and indexes. CONTENTS: Vol. I: Caithréim Thoirdhealbhaigh, ed. by Standish Hayes O'Grady [wiht] an introduction and index by Robin Flower; Vol. II. Caithréim Thoirdhealbhaigh / The triumphs of Turlough by John Mac Rory Magrath, translated by Standish Hayes O'Grady.

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Criticism
  • Sir Harold Idris Bell, ‘Robin Ernest William Flower, 1881-1946’ [obit.], in Proceedings of the British Academy, 32 (1948) pp.23-27 [with bibl. of his writing], and Do. as off-print pamphlet;
  • Mícheál de Mórdha, ed., Bláithín: Flower – Ceiliúradh an Bhlascaoid, 1 (Dingle [An Daingean]: An Sagart 1998) [incls. Patrick Sims-Williams, ‘The Medieval World of Robin Flower’, pp.75-79.]
  • Andrew Prescott, ‘Robin Flower and Laurence Nowell’, in Old English Scholarship and Bibliography: essays in honor of Carl T. Berkhout, ed. Jonathan Wilcox [Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute, Western Michigan University] (Old English Newsletter Subsidia 2004), pp.41-61.

[ There is a Robin Flower page at Wikipedia - online; accessed 03.09.2011. ]

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Commentary
Sean O’Sullivan, The Folklore of Ireland (NY: Hastings House Publs. 1974), p.11-12: ‘Flower remarks somewhere that “by the accretion of centuries” there came into existence a “kind of Dictionary of National Topography which fitted the famous sites of the country each with its appropriate legend.’ (Cited in J. W. Foster, Fictions of the Irish Literary Revival, Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1987, p.15.)

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Brian Fallon, reviewing rep. edn. of Poems and Translations in The Irish Times (11 June 1994), remarks: ‘He was an ardent Hibernophile who did much good in his day, but as a poet he was no better or worse than several hundred minor Georgians between the two world wars. In general, the translations from the old Irish read far better than the “original” verse and at least one of them, ‘Pangur Bán’, has become an anthology piece.’

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Quotations
The Irish Tradition (1947): ‘There is one characteristic of Celtic speech ... which gets little notice in modern criticism, although it was the first thing to strike the Romans when they came in contact with the Celts. The elder Cato tells us that the Celts were distinguished for their aptitude for fighting and for subtle speech. The Irish have maintained these two characters. Indeed, I think if one asked what characteristic was to be found everywhere in Irish literature from the first records down to the tales and popular sayings current among the peasantry to-day, the answer must necessarily be: a sharp and homely brevity of epigrammatic speech eminently calculated for the rapid thrust and return of contentious talk.’ (p.110; quoted in John Wilson Foster, ‘The Islandman: The Teller and the Tale’, in Between Shadows: Modern Irish Writing and Culture, Dublin: IAP 2009, p.22; see also under Thomas O’Crohan [Ó Criomthain], infra.)

On Translation: ‘Some apology is perhaps necessary for the substitution of simpler English lyrical measures for the intricate and subtly interwoven harmonies of alliteration and internal rhyme in the Irish. But the attempt to borrow those qualities of verse could only end in a mechanical exercise, which might be a metrical commentary, but could not be poetry. And to translate poetry by less than poetry is a sin beyond absolution.’ (Poems and Translations, Dublin 1931; rep. 1994 [q.p.]; quoted in Alan Titley, ‘The Reshaping of Tradition’, Nailing Theses: Selected Essays, Belfast: Lagan Press 2011, p.107.)

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The Islandman (trans. Robin Flower; 1st edn. 1927; OUP 1985), Prefatory remarks on style: ‘For the method adopted in this translation a word of excuse may be offered. Irish and English are so widely separate in their mode of expression that nothing like a literal rendering from the one language to the other is possible. It is true that there has come into being a literary dialect, sometimes used for translation from Irish or for the purpose of giving the effect of Irish speech, which in books or on the stage has met with considerable applause. And in skilful hands this mixture of Irish and English idioms has often an effect of great charm. It does not to my ear, however, convey the character of the language as naturally spoken by those to whom it is their only speech. There is always something slightly artificial about it, and often a suggestion of the pseudo-poetic. This literary dialect could not be used to render the forthright, colloquial simplicity of the original of this book. For the same reason the more sophisticated forms of literary English are also excluded. It seems best therefore to adopt a plain, straightforward style, aiming at the language of ordinary men who narrate the common experiences of their life frankly and without any cultivated mannerism. The constant charm of Irish idiom, which is so delightful in the original, must necessarily be lost. But rouge is no substitute for a natural complexion.’ (p.x.)

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References
Frank O’Connor, Book of Ireland (Collins 1979 Edn.) selects “Passage at Night – The Blaskets”, from The Western Island. The poem is an aisling, or reports an aisling overheard. (Note: there are no allusions to Flower in O’Connor’s A Backward Look, A Survey of Irish Literature, 1967.)

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Notes
Buggering Bede: Flower is accredited with discovering the interpolations by Laurence Newell in Bede's works (Eccles. History, &c.. (See Proc. of the British Academy, 21, 1935, p.62.)

Monkey business?: see The Maguires and the Monkey: Comic Song and Chorus (NY: M. Witmark & Sons [1894]), 5p., fol.

Pegging along: Robin Flower and Kenneth Hurlstone Jackson gleaned some further stories from Peig Sayers and printed them in Béaloídeas (See Flower, The Western Island or The Great Blasket, 1945.)

Sean O’Faoláin: O’Faoláin received a supportive reference from Robin Flower in seeking the chair of English at UCC, 1931 - a chair which was awarded to Daniel Corkery (though the latter was not in fact a competent Irish-speaker).

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