Michael Longley: Commentary


Brendan Kennelly
Seamus Heaney
Peter McDonald
Derek Mahon
Neil Corcoran
Michael Parker
Gerald Dawe
Tim Kendall
Keith Sidwell
Nuala Ní Dhomnaill
Eileen Battersby
Terence Brown
Stephen Knight
Ruth Ling
Sean Lysaght
Wesley McNair
Liam Heaney
Nicholas Wroe
Robert McCrum
Fran Brearton
John Burnside
Catriona O’Reilly
Andrew Motion
Kate Kellaway
Sean O’Brien
Theo Dorgan

Brendan Kennelly, review of Ten Poems in Dublin Magazine (Spring 1966), [q.p.]. In the same issue appears a poem by Longley, ‘Dr Johnson on the Hebrides’ ending, ‘His downcast eyes, riding out the brainstorm, / His weatherproof enormous head at home.’ (p.37). It shares the same page with a poem by Eavan Boland (‘Shakespeare’) and the occurrence of the word “sycophant” in the first line. (p.37). Another poem, ‘Leaving Inishmore’ [‘I shall name this the point of no return’], appears here (p.67).

Seamus Heaney, ‘Place and Displacement: Recent Poetry of Northern Ireland’ [Laver Lecture, Grasmere, 1984]: ‘Longley’s poems count the phenomena of the natural world with the particular deliberate pleasure of a lover’s fingers wandering along the bumpy path of the vertibrae. The names for the parts of the body reappear constantly ... the contact between the world and the language is lip-brushing or stealthily caressing ([... &c.]’; rep. in Contemporary Irish Poetry, ed. Elmer Andrews (1996): pp.124-44; p.140).

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Peter McDonald, ‘Michael Longley’s Homes’, in Neil Corcoran, ed., The Chosen Ground (Bridgend, Wales: Seren Books; PA: Chester Springs Dufour 1992), pp.65-81; ‘It is just this element of desription, and its development in the process of naming, which is crucial for the success of Longley’s poetry. At the same time, it is also one of the principal risks taken by the poet, for much of the ground onto which he ventures is not unqualifiedly “his own” until made so by the poetry. Inded, the poet does seem to be often a figure “materialising” in the landscape of the West of Ireland from another point of origin, a home in the North, to which the poetry itself obliquely relates. It is in the light of this that Longley’s poems need to be read: their pastoral serenity, their sure-footed excursions into natural history and folklore, and their pervasice feeling for the buoyancy of love and the gravity of death, all rely on the exploration of a “home from home” where origins and destinations meet. “News from home” is thus refracted to become news for home.’ (p.67.)

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Peter McDonald, review of Selected Poems in ‘Poetry Now’ Irish Times (24 Oct. 1998), [column; q.p.]: ‘disarmingly slim’; ‘poems have attained a kind of anonymity … self-sufficient’; cites “Frozen Rain” as a case in which the first person ‘seems to speak for the poem itself’; ‘what is happening here is the creation of a world in which the precision of observation not only enacts itself in the phrasing and perfectly pitched rhythm, but is at the same time able to voice itself’; ‘the autobiographical depth in some of Longley’s later poems can be employed to heartbreaking effect’; quotes “The Ice-Cream Man”; ‘The question (if it is a question) of how lyric poetry could be written in Northern Ireland thought the Troubles is one about which Longley has always been properly wary … such answers as it has received have been expressed in terms of poetry’s formal shapes and possibilities.’; ‘understated rhythmic and sound patterns of much of his 1970s work’; ‘poetry’s capacity through to be true to things and people’.

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Peter McDonald, review of Fran Brearton, The Great War in Irish Poetry (OUP), in Times Literary Supplement, 15 Sept. 2000; quotes Longley’s poem “Poppies”: ‘Some people tried to stop other people wearing poppies / And ripped them from lapels as though uprooting poppies / From Flanders fields, but the others hid inside their poppies / Razor blades, and added to their poppies more red poppies.’ Quotes Breareton: ‘In a two-way process, the Great War offers a way into writing about Northern Ireland, as Northern Ireland prompts an eternal imaginative return to the earlier conflict.’ Contents incl. “The Art of War”, chaps. on Yeats, Graves, and MacNeice; “The Northern Renascence”, chaps. on Mahon, Heaney and Longley. MacDonald quotes Longley: ‘It was rushes of air that took the breath away / As though curtains were drawn suddenly aside / And darkness streamed into that dormitory / Where everyboy talked about the war ending / And always it would be the last week of the war.’ Remarks: ‘Those “rushes of air” could signify bomb-blasts as readily as openness and release; the poem hopes for one thing, but does not deny the possibility of the other. It is important to see how this fragile balance, which Longley inherits from and shares with other writers, constitutes a position taken in no man’s land, now, as before, “an actual and metaphorical space” between the lines.

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Peter McDonald, ‘Faiths and Fidelities: Heaney and Longley in Mid-Career’, in Last Before America: Irish and American Writing: Essays in Honour of Michael Allen, ed. Fran Brearton & Eamonn Hughes (Belfast: Blackstaff Press 2001): ‘Longley’s poetry is not capable of this kind of comfort [viz., Seamus Heaney’s], partly because it draws so much of its strength not from the shared and communal, but from the unique and the unrepeatable. On the face of it, this seems odd in a poet of Longley’s evident humane feeling, imaginative compassion, and openness of interest. But the ambition which Longley’s poetry has made good, especially since Gorse Fires, is one for precision and fidelity rather than an ambition for some achieved and verifiable authority: authority, in these terms, is not the poet’s business, and can be of no productive interest to his poetry. Put in this way, this tells only half the story, for the formal medium of the writing is crucially important, and Longley has perfected a voice which combines an instinct for natural expression with an extraordinary elegance, economy, and suppleness in its range. Furthermore, Longley’s insistence on the individuality of perception and perspective does not drive his poetry towards a position of human or social isolation; on the contrary, an insistence on a broadly conceived civility and human openness has become more and more explicit in his writing in recent years. In terms of religion, Longley accepts the situation faced more bluntly by Heaney, that “The god has, as they say, withdrawn” [vide Heaney, “Station Island”] , and his poetry, again like Heaney’s, comes to terms with the human spaces left by this deus absconditus. However, where Heaney tries, in effect, to do this by strengthening what Yeats called “the infallible Church of poetic tradition”, Longley allows his poetry to take more direct, spontaneous, and apparently improvisatory routes, in which the issue of the poet’s function, powers, or responsibilities is never the poems’ central concern. / The artistic effort, for Longley, remains essentially that of making the mind believe the eyes; and that belief, in its way, demands artistic work analogous to religious faith in its realisation. [...]’ (Cont.)

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Peter McDonald (‘Faiths and Fidelities: Heaney and Longley in Mid-Career’, 2001) - cont.: ‘Longley’s attraction to the miniature, to short poems and poems that work [14] in short units of expression, might give a misleading impression of a poet who works on a small scale. In fact Longley’s writing, especially since Gorse Fires, has established large, albeit unfixed, structures of association and reference, in which shifting patterns of recapitulation and development give his volumes their own kind of resonance and intensity. In this way, the Longley of the 1990s has achieved what the Heaney of the 1980s failed to do, creating a poetry of high ambitions in which those ambitions can remain implicit. A poem like “The Ghost Orchid” brings such issues close to the surface, but at the same time it knows all about keeping them in their place: “Added to its few remaining sites will be the stanza / I compose about leaves like flakes of skin, a colour / Dithering between pink and yellow, and then the root / That grows like coral among shadows and leaf-litter. / Just touching the petals bruises them into darkness.” [Selected Poems, p.123.] / To call poetry like this programmatic, or to identify it as a kind of manifesto, would be to ruin the poem itself, or kill it in critical translation. Of course, that is the point; but the poem’s success, like its delicacy, is also a pointed business. The perception, acuteness, and restraint of this poetry are those of a voice which can face loss, love, public and private murder, and a century’s history with the same absolute attention to the individual detail; its faith lies in fidelities like these.’ (For longer extract see RICORSO Library, “Criticism”, via index or direct.)

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Peter McDonald, ‘Cold comfort’ review of Snow Water, in The Guardian (22, May 2004), quotes lines on Michael Hartnett in “An October Sun”: ‘“Something inconsolable in you”, he writes, “looks me in the eye”, and quotes further, ‘Good poems are as comfortlessly constructed, / Each sod handled how many times. Michael, your / Poems endure the downpour like the skylark’s / Chilly hallelujah, the robin’s autumn song”’, remarking that Longley here ‘comes face to face with the kind of otherness that fails to put his poetry at its ease: with the comment that ‘the idea of the comfortless sits awkwardly beside a compliment, even one paid with this degree of memorable elegance.’ Further: ‘Snow Water marks a decisive moment in Longley’s poetic development - as decisive, perhaps, as that signalled by Gorse Fires. But it is a mixed book, where the genuinely original has not quite broken free from the overly mannered. For poets, all stylistic and formal breakthroughs can become repeatable tricks, and much of Longley’s best writing has created a repertoire of subject and style that can seem, at times, a slightly predictable routine: the townland of Carrigskeewaun in County Mayo, observed and celebrated repeatedly by its holidaying poet; wildlife and botany, recorded with spare and beautiful precision; family and friends, merging with flora and fauna; and the use of classical poetry - Homer especially - in the light of both Irish pastoral and modern horrors. In terms of form, the Longley poem has been characterised by long, immaculately cadenced lines, supple (sometimes miraculously stretched) syntax, and an increasing tendency towards overall brevity, with poems weighing in at four, two, or even single lines. / What is best in Snow Water begins to move in another direction, away from what has become both comfortable and (maybe too readily) comforted, towards the “Something inconsolable” that dazzles - however briefly - “An October Sun”.’ Speaks of Longley ‘opening his poetry to increased levels of strangeness and unpredictability’, and writes: ‘“The Front” is not alone in Longley’s new collection in its radical refashioning of an already perfected manner’, citing “Sleep & Death” [as] ‘one of two powerful new poems taken from Homer’. [Guardian online.]

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Derek Mahon, review of Poems 1963-83, in The Literary Review (1985), [q.p.], rep. in Journalism: Selected Prose 1970-1995 (Dublin: Gallery Press 1996), pp.98-101: ‘Longley hasn’t advertised himself as a Muse-poet, but that is what he is, a love poet and a nature poet, a celebrant of the female principle; and like Graves he is also a war poet, of the two world wars in which his father fought, and of the war of nerves of Northern Ireland, where he lives.’ (p.98).

Neil Corcoran, ‘Ovid in Ulster’, review of The Ghost Orchid, in Times Literary Supplement (7 July 1995), p.13; ‘the willingness to borrow widely and then reveal source and stimulus - is a gesterure of accommodation and exchange, an imaginative generosity and inclusiveness’. Further, ‘Despite the several reworkings of Homer in the book, notably “Ceasefire” [...] it is Ovid who predominates in The Ghost Orchid.’

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Michael Parker, review of The Ghost Orchid, in Irish Studies Review (Spring 1996), pp.50-52 [extract phrases]: Syntax, rhythms, sounds and images unravel and propel themselves towards a closure which suggests the existence of a mysterious circuitry within the natural and the human order, one which exists within language itself; profound sense of the sacred; series of tender praise poems to father figures; orchid derives from Gk. ‘orchis’, testicle; feels not a whit of anxiety in comparing his protagonists with those from the classical canon; “Poseidon”; “A bed of Leaves”’ [‘as when a lonely man on a lonely farm smoors the fire, / And hides a turf-sod in the ashes to save an ember, / So was his body in the bed of leaves its own kindling. / And sleep settled on him like ashes and closed his eyelids.’ “The Kilt” [‘I waken you out of your nightmare as I wakened / My father when he was stabbing a tubby German / Who pleaded and wriggled in the back bedroom. // He had killed him in real life and in real life had killed / Lice by sliding along the pleats a sizzling bayonet / So that his kilt unravelled when he was advancing // You pick up the stitches and with needle and thread / Accompany him out of the grave and into battle / Your arms full of material and his nakedness’]; moves towards the rite of redress; conflation of Great War with Trojan War, and Trojan War with Troubles; sonnet, “Ceasefire” [laid out in uniform, ready for Priam to carry / Wrapped like a present home to Troy ... I get down on my knees and do what must be done / And kiss Achilles’ hand, the killer of my son.’] [Note, Parker gives courtesy acknowledgement to Jonathan Cape for extracts.]

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Gerald Dawe, ‘Bring it all back home’, review of Selected Poems and Broken Dishes [along with Sampson’s biography of Brain Moore], in Fortnight (Jan. 1999), pp.128-29; Amazed by “it all”, Longley’s natural world has its own suburban ceremonies, townie beauty and civic splendours as well as the dark side when niggardly violence destroys the givers of bounty like the Ice Cream Man, the Green Grocer, the Civil Servant, the Linen Workers. In Longley’s hands their very names become somehow enriched and living as other figures, such as his father and mother-in-law who reiterate their own lives in the rhythms and possibility of simply being [quotes]: “‘Where am I? Consulting the Modern School Atlas / You underline Dalkey in Ireland, in Scotland Barrhead. / ‘What day is it?’ Outside the home, house-sparrows / With precision tweetle and wheep under the eaves. // Although you forget their names, you hear the birds / In your own accent, the dawn chitter, evening chirl, / The woodpigeon’s rooketty-coo and curdoo. ‘Who Am I? Where am I?’ is what a bird might sing.” / Selected Poems is a marvellous collection to read: confident, various and substantial. And in Broken Dishes, a collection of new poems, the poet’s journeys, here, there and everywhere, give elegiac praise to fellow-poets George Mackay Brown, and Sean Dunne as well as the artistic lives of friends; like Yeats, Longley is a true poet of companionship. The thirty or more years Selected Poems represents in Michael Longley’s writing life, placed alongside the forty years and more of Brian Moore’ s novel writing, proves just how rich and heterodox a place Belfast is to have produced, out of often terrible times and so-called dour circumstances, writers such as these.’

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Tim Kendall, ‘Even here in Hades’, review of Selected Poems (Cape), in Times Literary Supplement (8 Jan. 1999), [q.p.]; identifies poet’s theme as ‘acute awarness of impermanence; “Epithalamion”, opening No Continuing City and Selected, ‘epitomises this sensitivity’; ‘pre-emptive elegy for its own celebration’; quotes Longley’s rebuttal in 1971 of the demands of “Troubles poetry”: ‘the artist has a duty to celebrate life in all its aspects, to commemorate normal human activity. The more normal it appears in the eyes of the artist and his audience, the more potent a force it becomes’ [source uncited]; remarks the poet’s ability to write about animals without sounding like Ted Hughes; love rarely offers security in Longley’s work; quotes Heaney on the deliquescent mysteries of his love poetry: ‘as if the back of a hand that has fone to the floor to life a napkin strayed against the warm limb of a neighbour’; quotes fully his elegy to his mother from Broken Dishes, which he compars with Yeats’s “Cuchulain Comforted”, and calls Longley ‘one of the most exacting, and certainly one of the most moving, of contemporary elegists’; poems cited incl. “Wounds” (also quoted); “The Linen Workers”, “Galapagos”, “Options”.

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Keith Sidwell (Chair of Latin & Greek, UCC/NUI), Arts Fac., Conferring Address (20 July 1999): ‘[...] Homer’s Iliad composed about 700 BC - is a poem about an episode in the Trojan War. During the fighting, Achilles’ dearest friend, Patroclus, is killed by Hector, son of the Trojan king Priam. In vengeful anger, Achilles slays Hector in single combat. Instead of returning the body, he ties it to his chariot and drags it three times around the walls of Troy, before the eyes of Priam and the Trojans. The gods are angered and aid Priam in his mission through enemy lines to Achilles’ tent to beg for the return of the corpse. When Priam arrives, he speaks to Achilles in entreaty [Iliad, 24, ll.486-506] “Think of your father, godlike Achilles, an old man like I am, at the cruel edge of old age. ... But he at least can hear that you are alive, and feel joy in his heart, and look forward every day to seeing his dear son return from Troy. But my fate is utter misery. The one son I had, who guarded our city and people, you have now killed as he fought to defend his country Hector. And it is for his sake that I come now to the ships of the Greeks, to win his release from you Respect the gods, then, Achilles, and have pity on me, remembering your own father. But I am more pitiable than he. I have endured to do what no other mortal man on earth has done I have brought to my lips the hands of the man who killed my child.” / In 1994, the following poem was written. It was published first in The Irish Times. It is entitled Ceasefire. [Quotes poem, a supra.] / The poet is a Belfast man, Michael Longley, educated in Greek and Latin at school in Belfast and at University at TCD. He has not just plagiarised Homer. He has asked us to lay Homer’s text as a template over the political situation in Northern Ireland in 1994 after the first IRA ceasefire - and to draw our own conclusions. He told me himself that he thought of Priam in his poem as Gordon Wilson, whose daughter was killed in the Eniskillen bombing. You will think of other parallels. But the poem requires us to know Homer first. Otherwise we will not see the true depth of thought here. And an established knowledge of Homer’s poem is only possible because it is still read and still studied in our Universities.’ (Accessed online 22 March 2007 [link].)

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Nuala Ní Dhomnaill, ‘explains who she picked, and why’ (feature-article on Duffy & Dorgan, eds., Watching the River Flow: A Century of Irish Poetry [anthology], in The Irish Times, Weekend, 27 Nov. 1999): ‘This Irish preference for obliqueness and the great artistic advantages to be gained by speaking of the personal and ht here and now through an “objective correlative” or a distancing lens of some kind, is best exemplified by one of the great poems of the 1990s, Michael Longley’s “Ceasefire” [...] its effect was dynamic, and rippled right through the community, both North and south, having a galvanising effect that can only be imagined of some lines of Yeats, perhaps, at the turn of the century - the “Did you see an old women going down the road” of “Kathleen Ni Houlihan” or the “terrible beauty is born” of “Easter 1916. / Trusting the words of the Odyssey to speak to us through the ages, Longley has Priam sigh: “I get down on my knees and do what must be done/And kiss Achilles’ hand, the killer of my son” - lines which have been taken to hear by many on this island and are among those most quoted in conversation or in print during this last decade.’

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Eileen Battersby, ‘The Future is Behind Us’, interview with Michael Longley, in Books Ireland (Summer 1995), includes quotation: ‘Though the poet’s first duty must be to his imagination, he has other obligations - and not just as a citizen. He would be inhuman if he did not respond to the tragic events in his own community, and a poor artist if he did not seek to endorse that response imaginatively ... In the context of political violence the deployment of words at their most precise and suggestive remains one of the few antidotes to death-dealing dishonesty.’ (p.5; quoted in Wesley McNair, ‘Michael Longley’s Journey to the Real World in The Weather in Japan’, Colby Quarterly, 39, 3, Sept. 2003 [pp.270-75], p.270.)

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Eileen Battersby, ‘Observing the Sons of Ulster’ [interview-article], in The Irish Times (Thurs. 9 March 2000), p.13. ‘Asked to describe the role of the poet, Longley doesn’t hesitate. It is a subject he has thought long and hard about. Though the poet’s first duty must be to his imagination, he has other obligations and not just as a citizen. He would be inhuman if he did not respond to tragic events in his own community, and a poor artist if he did not seek to endorse that response imaginatively ... In the context of political violence the deployment of words at their most precise and suggestive remains one of the few antidotes to death-dealing dishonesty.” / “I write for everyone and no one in particular. The first person I try to, please is myself. A poem is an organism in which relationships on many levels between words fuse various orders of experience into a unique perception. A poet makes the most complex and concentrated response that can be made with words to the total experience of living. For these reasons I would go on trying to write poems, even if nobody wanted to read them.” Where does poetry for him originate? He agrees it is of the moment. “I believe in the old fashioned notion of inspiration, the breathing into the mind of some idea, the suggestion of an emotion or impulse.” Aware of its delicacy, he says, “if you try too hard, it disappears.” His first poems were written as a schoolboy and he says they weren’t any good. / “I didn’t write anything worthwhile until I was 23, not like Mahon who began writing brilliantly at 16.” It didn’t matter; Longley had other interests, largely involved with his decision to be an aesthete which he says he was from an early age. “I’ve always been interested in the arts.’ (For full text, go to RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index, or direct.)

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Eileen Battersby, ‘I wish I could appear more tormented, more Byronic’ [interview with Michael Longley], in The Irish Times (27 March 2010): ‘[...] Off he went to Trinity in 1958. Why not Queen’s? “The classics department in Trinity was far superior. There was also the appeal of going ‘down there’. It was an adventure,” he says. / Just as Longley was beginning to settle into being a romantic figure - good-looking, charming, the college poet - along came Mahon. It was 1960, and Mahon walked up and asked, “are you Longley?”. Prepared to hear his work praised, Longley instead heard Mahon ask to borrow his typewriter. It is a great image, of the two young poets taking their first steps. / Flash forward a few years, and there is another young Northern poet, though this time a bit different. Instead of being a middle-class Belfast Protestant, Seamus Heaney is the son of a Catholic farmer from Co Derry. The three poets go and stand at the graveside of Louis MacNeice. Elegies are vowed to be written and the one that first appeared, Derek Mahon’s “In Carrowdore Churchyard”, is so definitive that the other two decide not to compete. / More than 40 years later, on September 15th 2007, as part of a conference celebrating the centenary of MacNeice’s birth, two of the three poets stood at the graveside again. Heaney and Longley had returned. Mahon did not arrive, “so I read the poem”, recalls Longley.’ (For full text, go to RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index, or direct.)

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Terence Brown, [opening chapter] in The Poetry of Michael Longley, ed. Alan J. Peacock (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 2001), […] shows how Longley brings characteristic elements of English poetry into the Irish tradition while avoiding experimental modernism, and this is reinforced by Neil Corcoran’s linking of the pervasive botanising of Longley’s poems to an English tradition founded in Lycidas and The Winter’s Tale. [q. source.]

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Stephen Knight, ‘Swaddled in White Silence’, review of Michael Longley, The Weather in Japan (Jonathan Cape 2000), 68pp., calls the collection ‘almost purely elegiac’ and mostly consisting of poems shorter than a sonnet. ‘Habitual tropes include the list and the construction of whole poems from one sentence. Although there are a couple of hazy examples here, these single sentence poems continue to be quiet tours de force that eschew the earliest work’s overwrought stanzas, while retaining a satisfying formality; it is perhaps uncharitable to imagine the more refined examples in glass cases, awaiting the admiring glance.’ Knight quotes “Options” from An Exploded View: ‘I could have / Implied in reduced haiku / A world of suffering, swaddled. In white silence like babies’, and also from the title-poem of the present collection: ‘The Weather in Japan / Makes bead curtains of the rain, / Of the mist a paper screen.’ Further quotes Longley in interview on poetic brevity: ‘a king of tact, the only way I have of dealing with mementous subject matter without being offensive or impertinent.’ Knight cites “The Snow Leopard” (‘No wreathes of frost flower on bedroom window, / No snowman in the garden as your memorial’’)’, and remarks: ‘For all its contemplation of death, The Weather in Japan is far from bleak. It is telling that one of th ebook’s ubiquitous items returns as a quilt, an altar cloth, a blanket, an eiderdown but not, most obviously, a shroud.’ Further Remarks that it is ‘in the Irish poet’s grammar that these acts of remembrance are most impressive’ and cites and quotes ‘marvellous revivification’ in “Death of a Horse”, derived from short stor by Keith Douglas: ‘its expression resigned, humble even, as if it knows / And doesn’t mind when the man draws the first diagonal / In white across its forehead, form ear to eyeball, then / The second, death’s chalky intersection, the crossroads // Where, moments before the legs stiffen and relax and / The knees give way and like water from a burst drain / The blood comes jetting out, black almost, warm and thick, / The horse goes on standing still, just staring ahead.’ (Times Literary Supplement, 7 April 2000, 29.)

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Ruth Ling, ‘The Double Design of Michael Longley’s Recent Elegies The Ghost Orchid and Broken Dishes’, in Irish Studies Review (April 2002), pp.39-50: ‘[quotes Alan Peacock:] “Longley realises the potential for consolation in the forma elegiac mode [...] while shimultaneously acknowledging the assuaging fictions endemic in the received conventions”. Yet, unlike the Christian elegist Amy Clampitt, who paradoxically exploits rhetorical tricks and paradox better to resurrect her dead, Longley rarely goes so far as to undermind or deconstruct the very procedures he is using. Instead, hallowed and kept sacrosanct, such mourning rites are gently but appreciably complicated by the attendant admissions of his failure to achive them any lasting transcendance. / Underpinning this dialogue with its literary heritage, inevitably, Longley’s work finds itself negotiating with contemporary elegy and its unspoken apprehension of the psychoanalytical theories of “grief-work”. [... / ] This self-reflectivity of Longley’s historically resonant processes of elegising has developed most obviously from his frequent tribute for dead artists.’ (p.40.)

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Sean Lysaght, reviewing The Weather in Japan, in The Irish Times (11 March 2000), Weekend, calls it ‘the third installment of Michael Longley’s remarkable self-renewal as a poet’; Longley immersed himself in Homeric poems in the 1980s and wrote little; Lysaght speaks of ‘Audenesque voice … at home in a tight prosody, with an argumentative density that we recognise as characteristic of the English tradition’ in Poems 1963-83, compared with the ‘new voice of the 1990s’ with its ‘an airiness, a lightness of touch’ [...] more fully opened up to the great outdoors’. Quotes “The Comber”: ‘Water and sunlight contain all the colours / And suspend between Inisboffin and me / The otter, and thus we meet […]’, and suggests that the poem - first published in The Irish Times - now ‘pushes the analysis a little bit further’ by suggesting that ‘it’s really the poem that constitutes their meeting (”this is the only sound I make”).’ Also quotes “January 1996”, on his father’s would-have-been 100th anniversary, quoting “How he would lift with tongs from the brazier an ember / And in its glow reads my words and sets them aside.” Lysaght describes Longley’s use of the horse of Patroclus to in a poem on the First World War commemorating ‘the wounded and dying horses who will not move following the death of their champion.’ “The Vision of Theocymenus” deals with Odysseus’s revenge against the suitors of Penelope; ‘“The Bullet Hole” deals with an episode where his Uncle Matt fires into a house in World-War II Italy, ‘leaving / In the chestnut crossbeam a hole, a stray bullet,/That has taken half a century to find its mark. “Birds and Flowers”, dedicated to a Japanese friend, Longley argues that ‘The world of letters is a treacherous place. We are weak / And unstable. Let us float naked again in volcanic / Pools […]’. “‘Invocation”, at the close speaks of the poet: ‘a caged cricket / Cheeping for the girl who plants the last rice seed. / I have a good idea of what’s going on outside.’ Lysaght variously remarks: ‘There is a tendency in Longley at this stage to cast doubt, however, on the whole process of literary achievement, with its aspirations towards awards, recognition and a place in the currency of the marketplace. This is why the oriental touch, with its atmosphere of removal from the busy world, is so congenial and fitting.’ ‘So the writer points away from his work to the world beyond, a gesture of Zen wisdom from someone sufficiently secure in his reputation that he can do without it. This unusual challenge from a poet to his readers is one which will echo deeply in many of us, busy in the rush of our own manners and motives.’ (p.9.)

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Wesley McNair, ‘Michael Longley’s Journey to the Real World in The Weather in Japan’, Colby Quarterly, 39, 3 [UC Berkeley] (Sept. 2003), pp.270-75: [Art. 10] ‘The theme of the quilt in The Weather in Japan culminates in “All of These People,” which brings the issue of multiculturalism home to Northern Ireland. The people of the poem’s title are members of Longley’s neighborhood, and he speaks proudly of the community they have created. Like the patches of a quilt, they have their dissimilarities, yet each makes a contribution that helps to create the larger social order. Though there is diversity, there is an acceptance of difference. “Our cobbler,” Longley tells us, “mends shoes for everybody.” The butcher, he adds, blends “into his best sausages leeks, garlic, honey,” the sausages by themselves illustrating the benefit that can come from diversity in combination. And when the “Catholic greengrocer” is murdered by a terrorist in this community, he dies “in the arms of the Methodist minister,0 each of the two having settled beforehand the very sectarian strife that causes the greengrocer’s death. The important question Longley asks about peace in this poem - “Who can bring peace to people who are not civilized?” - does not refer to the citizens of his civilized community, then, but to the people who have visited upon it, and upon Ulster generally, the barbarity of war. / Longley’s question in “All of These People” resonates well beyond The Weather in Japan. For though his poems and the motifs that integrate them lead us through the doors of Theoclymenus’s nightmare toward his real world, hostilities persist in Northem Ireland, and war continues throughout the globe. The task of bringing the ways of peace to a world ravaged by conflict is a daunting and perhaps a futile one. Yet by writing small poems with large implications in The Weather in Japan, Michael Longley takes on the task. [End]’ - available online; accessed 07.07.2011.)

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Liam Heaney, ‘Natural Perceptions: The Poetry of Michael Longley’, in Studies (Summer 2002): ‘When a poet is engaging with Nature, there is present not only the external world and the poet’s acute and penetrating observations playing upon it - present also is the crossing of a new threshold on the part of the poet’s own creative power. / We see this at a quite direct level in poems like The Badger and The Osprey. The badger’s exploring and manipulative paws play upon the earth underground as he burrows to hollow out a sett. The osprey’s long-range vision spies a fish from a height, and the bird swoops and snatches. Each is chosen as a figure or emblem of a poet’s gifts of perception grappling with reality...But the engagement leaves the poet changed - with an enlarged understanding of his own self and of the nature of his creative enterprise. The conception and nurturing of a poem permanently alters the mind and heart of the artist. Then, as day by day the poet’s awareness of and sensitivity to phenomena develops, unfoldings and disclosures of his perceptions become creative acts of his own. / But a poet so involved with nature is affected at a deeper level still. In order to perceive Nature’s beauty and depth to the full, Longley is challenged to allow his imagination awaken, come alive...And this is what he has to come to terms with if he is to acknowledge all the elements constituting poetic creativity. So, in a poem like We follow the footprints of animals, the animals’ footprints, which represent the world of Nature, and Longley’s own footprints remain together; Longley could be said to be ‘at one’ with Nature. Just as the naturalist instinctively follows the discovered prints to determine their origin and to identify the creature that made them - in the same way the artist must follow his poetic sensibilities and intuitions to record reality as he perceives it. When Gerald Dawe says that “Longley takes the natural world to heart and humanises it in the process”, he is perhaps implying that Longley’s perception of Nature is emotionally and intellectually charged and that Nature itself becomes a part of his very being. / Perhaps it is because he resonates so deeply with Nature, that Longley is even able to pin-point well-springs of a hope for survival in the face of apparent extinction. The white butterfly (in the poem of the same name) explores the crannies of a dead horse’s skull - only to escape and fly untrammelled over the hillside. The personal background of the poem is the death of someone close; but the imaginative background is an Irish folk tradition about the soul of a deceased person being metamorphosed into the cabbage white butterfly (a conception not too distant from the Judaeo-Christian motif of personal survival). Similarly, The Snow Leopard may be interpreted as the perduring spirit of a young woman who has been killed: ‘The snow leopard that vanishes in a whirlwind of snow / Can be seen stalking on soft paws among the clouds’. (See Studies, online.)

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Nicholas Wroe, ‘Middle Man’ [interview-article], in The Guardian [Sat.] (21 Aug. 2004): ‘When Michael Longley was offered the prestigious Queen’s gold medal for poetry in 2001, he did not immediately accept. “I’m from Northern Ireland,” he explains. “It can be a very complicated business. I asked if I could sleep on it and I thought about the Good Friday agreement, which I support, and the fact that two Shinners [members of Sinn Féin] were then sitting in a partitionist Stormont government. So on that basis I said yes. But thinking about it later, I think I accepted it mainly for my dad.” / The ghostly presence of the late Colonel Richard Longley, who served in both world wars, haunts his son’s poetry, drifting through his recurring preoccupations with nature, war, love and the classical world. When Michael went to Buckingham Palace to receive his award from the Queen, he was following in his father’s footsteps: Longley Sr. had received the Military Cross there from King George V for single-handedly knocking out a German machine-gun post. He later won a Royal Humane Society medal for gallantry when he saved two nurses from drowning. “I talked to the Queen about the first world war and I liked her a lot,” Longley says. “She is an intelligent woman and said some very humane things about the war.” / He had good cause to expect criticism for his decision.’ [.... &c.; discusses range of critical responses among N. Irish literary contemporaries in course of introducing Snow Water.] (For full text version, go to RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index, or direct; or visit Guardian [online].)

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Robert McCrum, ‘As English as Irish Can Be’ [interview with Michael Longley], in The Observer (29 Oct. 2006): ‘With no hint of majesty, and the merest suspicion of irony, poet Michael Longley describes himself as “Britannic’. For a man born to English parents in Belfast at the outbreak of the Second World War, then raised in Northern Ireland and, finally, remaining resident in Ulster throughout the Troubles, “Britannic” is the mot juste. And so, he concludes, looking back on his early life from the eminence of his 68th year: “I was brought up in a house with English voices and I had to go out and find my way.” / He’s been doing that all his life, with an innate English diffidence that is not insecurity so much as a loathing for “side’. In this, as in so much else, Longley’s Roman, rumpled, chunky demeanour evokes a schoolmaster of that bygone age. “You take your poems seriously,” he instructs, “but you don’t take yourself seriously. What the muse hates more than anything is self-importance. Shakespeare wasn’t self-important, was he?”’

Robert McCrum (Observer, 29 Oct. 2006 - cont.): ‘[...] Longley insists, rebutting the cliché about war and poetry, that the Troubles have nothing to do with his creativity, except in the negative sense that for some years he wrote nothing: “All the time, there was this black cloud hanging overhead.” He is modest about his considerable contribution to the creative healing that had to be done in the aftermath of fratricidal violence and couches it in classical terms. One of his finest poems, “Ceasefire”, written after the first IRA ceasefire, takes its inspiration from The Iliad. Possibly the poets “stopped things getting worse,” he thinks, “and what you can do is remember the dead’. Another of his most celebrated acts of remembrance, “The Ice-Cream Man”, is a lovely elegy for a murdered shopkeeper: “I got a letter from his mother thanking me for the poem. I treasure that letter. It’s worth all the good reviews put together.” [...]’

Robert McCrum (Observer, 29 Oct. 2006 - cont.): ‘He tells a story about driving with Heaney to a protest march after Bloody Sunday. “It was a time when things were very tense and cars were being stopped at gunpoint. I said to Heaney, "If we’re stopped, what do we say?" We decided that, at the point of a gun, I was a Protestant and he was a Catholic. We’d simply swim by what we were.’ / Longley is probably most comfortable swimming in English water. [...]’ Longley ends by expressing ‘deeply jealous of those people who pick it [Irish] up as a matter of course, as children.’ (For full text version, go to RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index, or direct; or visit Guardian [online].)

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Fran Brearton, Reading Michael Longley (2006) - publisher’s notice: ‘[...] Longley’s long silence between The Echo Gate (1979) and Gorse Fires (1991), she argues, helped him to re-shape and strengthen his poetry, so that his later work is in some ways a re-reading of his earlier poetry, but taken in new and unexpected directions. In this highly readable book, Fran Brearton draws on letters, manuscripts, published and personal interviews with Michael Longley, as well as on his memoir, “Tuppenny Stung”, and his recent researches into his father’s military career. She shows how his poetry is shaped by the dislocations and tensions of his English parentage and Irish upbringing, making him one of the most imaginatively various and formally inventive poets writing today’; also called ‘highly readable’.(See COPAC online; accessed 19.10.2010.)

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Fran Brearton ‘“Wounds” by Michael Longley’, in Irish University Review: A Journal of Irish Studies [Special Irish Poetry Issue, guest ed. Peter Denman] (Sept. 2009): ‘As a poem of dual perspectives, a response both to the early 1970s and to the Great War, “Wounds” has had something of a critical double life too. Paul Fussell’s early discussion of “Wounds” as a text which draws on the Great War to establish ‘an archetype for subsequent violence - as well as a criticism of it’ in the closing chapter of his highly influential The Great War and Modern Memory has helped to ensure a critical afterlife for the poem outside an Irish context. “Wounds” belongs in a tradition of war poetry and protest-elegy that dates back to 1914-18, even as it has redirected that tradition in response to the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland; it appears in anthologies both of Irish and of First World War poetry. That the poem is in some ways ahead of its time in terms of Ireland’s historical memory of the Great War, and that it reveals Longley’s indebtedness to an English as well as an Irish poetic tradition has also made it, and the poet’s work more broadly, subject to some misreading in an Irish critical context. Various labels have been tried - Longley as Anglocentric, as a benign unionist, as a poet whose work is akin to a Larkinesque post-war Britishness - and none has proved satisfactory. It is, however, a measure of how much the cultural and political climate has changed that such critical perspectives (which tend to assume the two world wars are somehow remote from a genuinely “Irish” experience) now look rather dated. “Wounds” is notable for its uncompromising presentation of sectarian bigotry, its complex acknowledgement that ideological certainty can engender an almost insane bravery that commands “admiration”, its simultaneous expose of the human capacity to commit atrocity, and its subtly sustained critique of identity politics. The way it filters the Troubles and the Great War through each other complicates both to help eliminate some of the “frontiers” that politicize and circumscribe memory. The poem is, in consequence, enduringly resistant to being read in the identitarian terms which it undermines.’ (For full text version, see RICORSO Library, “Journals > Critical > IUR”, via index, or direct.)

Fran Brearton, review of Angel Hill by Michael Longley, in The Guardian (17 June 2017) ‘In these centenary years, he has proved himself the outstanding laureate of that war, in which his father fought, partly because the war has been part of his imaginative hinterland from the beginning, but also because he has ‘remembered’ across the archipelago, elegising soldiers and soldier-poets from the Gordon Highlanders, the London Scottish, the Ulster Division, the Inniskilling Fusiliers. For Longley, memory of the war is always complicated; the Irishman, as much attuned to the problem of remembrance as to the urgent need to remember, is painfully aware of how much and how little poetry can do in wartime: in “The Sonnets”, a soldier’s ‘leatherbound book’ of Shakespeare’s sonnets ‘stopped a bullet just short of his heart’. The poetry is ‘life-saving’, but it is also ‘shredded’. /[...] It is fitting that, almost half a century later, when a Longley collection has earned a place name title, the name is at once of this world and otherworldly. Unafraid to capture the intimacies and specifics of this life, Longley is also one of the very few poets able to take us, time and again, to a place as ‘Wild and melodious’ as the birdsong he celebrates.’(For full text version, see RICORSO Library, “Journals > Critical > IUR”, via index, or direct.)

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John Burnside, ‘Recovering civilisation’, review of Michael Longley, Collected Poems, in The Irish Times (7 Oct. 2006), Weekend. ‘[...] Another of Longley’s recurring subjects - one that blithely invites accusations of mannerism - is the Far East, especially Japan. Indeed, one of his collections is titled The Weather in Japan, while another, Snow Water, begins with an invocation of the tea ceremony. Yet, like Charles Wright, whose fondness for Chinese art and philosophy permeates his work, Longley knows that, while an Oriental poet might find himself in an iris garden, gazing up at the full moon, he is just as likely to complain about his haemorrhoids or the persistent effects of a hangover. And, in truth, what he relishes in the Japanese tradition is exactly what he loves in Carrigskeewaun or Belfast: that is, the names of things, and the alchemical power of the well-chosen word or phrase to renew our wonder at those things-in-themselves. Longley is not, in other words, a western aesthete, scribbling haiku about sparrows and chrysanthemums in his little notebook, any more than he is the nature poet as minimalist. It can seem inviting, given the sometimes extreme economy of much of his recent work, to see him as a miniaturist - admittedly a superb miniaturist, but a miniaturist nonetheless. At the same time, his many poems about animals, birds and plants invite the label of “nature poet”, with all the connotations of slightness that this categorisation suggests. Yet the heart of his enterprise remains that quest to make us turn around, in the midst of our preoccupations, and see where, and so what, we are. / This is, perhaps, why Longley values craft-work so much.’ (See full-text version in RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index, or direct.)

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Catriona O’Reilly, review of Collected Poems, in Times Literary Supplement (16 March 2007), pp.10-11: ‘[...] Michael Longley’s Collected Poems is a volume of rare quality in many ways, not least in its unity. It makes visible for the first time the profound continuities in Longley’s work, like magnetic lines running from the early formal tautness of No Continuing City (1969) to the more relaxed structures of his poetry from the 1990s. The much-written-about “silence” which Longley endured during the 1980s (he did not publish a full collection between Poems 1963-1983 in 1985 and Gorse Fires in 1991) has taken on a perhaps unwarranted significance among the critical myth-makers; Collected Poems indicates a very significant adjustment that took place at this time, the organic midpoint of his career, but it also demonstrates just how naturally and consistently prolific a poet he is. The happy copiousness of recent years is the fruit of Longley’s meticulously achieved and maintained balance, his formidable artistic stamina. He is fortunate or careful enough to be deeply intuitive about the nature of his own gift, and one of the thrilling things about reading this volume from start to finish is that one witnesses a remarkable critical intelligence at work also: marshalling its resources, beating a strategic retreat when necessary. Longley is the supreme poet of tact, and this instinctive delicacy pervades all of the genres in which he has laboured over the years.’ (&c.; for full text, go to RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index, or direct.)

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Andrew Motion, ‘Meeting Harry’ [Harry Patch, a 109-yr old WWI veteran and former member of a Lewis-gun team at Paschendaele], in The Guardian (5 Nov. 2008), G2, p.4-7, ends: ‘[...] A good many poets writing. after the first world war - sometimes long after it - have tried to catch this combination of immediacyand distance. Ted Hughes and Michael Longley are both especially good at it. Longley, indeed, is evidently so haunted by memories of his father’s experience in the trenches, and by his own sympathetic identification with Edward Thomas, that he often writes about the war as if he had fought in it himself - and feels continually a prey to its images and remembrances. This is his short poem “Pine Marten”, for instance: “That stuffed pine marten in the hotel corridor / Ended up on all fours in nineteen-thirteen / And now is making it across No Man’s Land where / A patrol of gamekeepers keeps missing him.” In his curiosity about the war, and his skill in showing how it touched and touches all aspects of life, and not just the lives of soldiers in the frontline, Longley is exemplary. His poems tell us that we are all survivors of the war - not just because we might hippen to have relatives who fought in it, but because its footprint is still visible somewhere near where we live, and because our sense of good fortune at living in a peaceful Europe is constantly animated by evidence from elsewhere that things could be otherwise. He, confirms our communal sense that the first world war looms at the threshold of how we think about ourselves as citizens in our own later world. It is part horror-show, part cautionary tale, and partly heroic example. That’s why Harry Patch and the few other survivors are so important to us. Even in their frailty, they make these things intimate. We won’t entirely lose this when they are gone, but we will have to work harder to find it elsewhere. In the stones, and statues, and archives, and exhibitions, and, on Remembrince Day, in the notes of bugles calling from sad shires.’ [p.7.; end.]

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Kate Kellaway, review of A Hundred Doors, in The Observer (20 March 2011): “[...] He is, in every way, a family man. He made his audience laugh at a recent reading on the South Bank when he said: “I am the only person I know who writes love poems to a critic.” And while his wife is no poetic referee, he is delightful on the subject of how much the Edna Longley “household seal of approval” means. / “I don’t give a damn what anyone else thinks, if she likes it. She has perfect pitch,” he says. And when she says, “that’s lovely,” he feels like “doing a war dance of relief and celebration”. / He is superstitious about writing: “I dread old notebooks in which there are failures – in case they are contagious. I don’t want to be like a French chef, trying to save scraps.” He finds today’s poetry scene congested with “too much poetry” and not enough “poems”. He is left cold by “new formalists – chunky, overwritten, musclebound”. His key companions remain John Clare, John Keats, Yeats, MacNeice, Edward Thomas, the war poets and Larkin. / He says: “I believe in inspiration and the old-fashioned notion of the muse.” And, above all, in the continuing inspiration of Carrigskeewaun, a cottage in County Mayo where he and Edna have been holidaying for 40 years. He explains: “We can’t take being there for granted. It can be cut off. We get there sometimes by stripping to our belly buttons and wading through the tide. We have it to ourselves which seems important, although I have introduced the grandchildren to it, so I must want to share it.” (See full-text version in RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index, or direct.)

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Sean O’Brien, review of A Hundred Doors by Michael Longley, in The Guardian (9 April 2011): ‘[..] The central landscape of Longley’s work has for many years been Carrigskeewaun in County Mayo. Now, he writes, “Sitting up in bed with binoculars I scan / My final resting-place at Dooaghtry,” while also preparing to introduce his grandsons to a place that has taken on a sacred quality. Although he declares “I am writing too much about Carrigskeewaun”, and notes a tendency to “burble”, he cannot help but try for a further exact rendering of a place that will be his afterlife in the imagination of the grandchildren: “I want you both to remember me / And what the wind-tousled wren has been saying / All day long from fenceposts and the fuchsia depths, / A brain-rattling bramble-song inside a knothole.” As well as urgency there is acceptance. The poet and his wife observe a beech tree growing near the cottage and hope it touches the house before it dies, or, more probably, before they do. Poems about tending to an Italian garden stand alongside several elegies for friends and other poets. [...] Yet Longley’s reverence for the living and the dead alike has been one of the constants of his work. He is still returning to the first world war, in which his subaltern father served with distinction and troops from both the north and south of Ireland took heavy casualties. “Citation” gives details of the leadership in a raid on German positions that gained the elder Longley the Military Cross: “Kept alive by his war cry and momentum,” Longley writes, “I shiver behind him on the fire-step.” The euphemistic phrase “mopping-up” transfers itself from this poem to the single unrhymed couplet of the next poem, “High Wood”: “My father is good at mopping up. / Steam rises from the blood and urine.” Longley has written before now of Ulysses’ brutal return to Ithaca, slaughtering Penelope’s suitors and hanging the disloyal housemaids, but much earlier he also produced a brilliant version of a poem by Tibullus, “Peace”, which imagines the kind of pastoral contentment he has sought to discover at Carrigskeewaun, knowing that the transience of our joys must not be allowed to rob us of one drop of their sweetness. The lover and the killer must both have their due.’ (See full-text version in RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index, or direct.)

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Theo Dorgan, ‘Giving thanks for small things’, review of A Hundred Doors by Michael Longley, in The Irish Times (19 March 2011). ‘There are four green fields in the world, according to Michael Longley: the killing grounds of the first Word War, Belfast and its hinterlands, undying Greece and the botanist’s paradise of Carrigskeewaun, in Co Mayo. Tending his fields assiduously as he does, Longley moves like a figure in The Eclogues  from pasture to pasture, quiet, unassuming, attentive to small things but raising his head from time to time to look history square in the face. Easy to see him in the timeless light of enduring Greece, but where Yeats found artifice and God’s holy fire in the mosaics of Byzantine Ravenna, Longley prefers to find time and redemption in small things. Take the opening lines of the title poem:

God! I’m lighting candles again, still
The sentimental atheist, family
Names a kind of prayer or poem, my muse
Our Lady of a Hundred Doors

For Longley naming is indeed, literally, invocation, the impulse to prayer and the memorial more urgent and natural than the mind’s rejection of the idea of God. Speaking in poems is a ritual instinct as rooted and human as the tenderness of neighbours or, for that matter, the jealousy of architects. / Carefully, with a botanist’s precision and a cool eye, Longley, at intervals through this new book, names daughters, friends, grandchildren and neighbours, granting each a benediction, the gift of his attention, wishing them all well. “ (See full-text version in RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Reviews”, via index, or direct.)

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